There’s some very interesting product-differentiation going on inside
the Howard government at the moment around the rights and
responsibilities of women.

On Tuesday, Joe Hockey and Mal Brough unveiled a far-reaching package
of reforms to Australia’s child support system which dramatically tilts
the power balance away from single mums and back towards divorced dads.

Anything to do with family policy is assumed to carry the personal
authority of John Howard and this package looks like a classic example.
Mothers will now have even greater financial incentive to simply stay
at home and put up with their troubled marriage rather than breaking
out and forging a new life.

The following day, Peter Costello delivered his wide-ranging Press Club speech
in which he declared one of his future goals was to “look at how to
improve opportunities for women, create the most female-friendly
environment in the world.”

The next day John Howard and fellow conservative Tony Abbott announced
their $50 million abortion counselling policy after both were rolled on
the RU486 debate.

Costello supporter Judith Troeth has come out today attacking some of
the conservative men in the Howard camp, such as factional warrior
Santo Santoro who claims present counselling services are tilted in
favour of pro-choice advocates.

And then there’s the absolute shocker from another Howard backer Mal
Brough, who made the following boast in Parliament yesterday:

In the area of superannuation we have the co-contribution
helping families and we are actually letting women be able to
contribute to their own superannuation whilst being at home.

And what about the PM’s speech in Canberra on Wednesday when he
celebrated the fact that 30% of new businesses being run from homes
were being set up by women. Then there was the passion he displayed for
the family benefits system – the very system which creates huge
incentives for mothers to stay at home.

John Howard and his male conservative backers are not exactly creating
the most female friendly environment in the world and Peter Costello
appears to have cottoned onto this fact as he continues to work on
product differentiation.

Meanwhile, where are all the feminists at the moment commenting on
these developments? The silence is just as deafening as when the PM
fawned all over that well known sexist patriarch, Kerry Packer.

Peter Fray

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