Peter Abetz: Gender equality should apply to raising children

Pictured: Peter Abetz

Southern River MLA Peter Abetz has highlighted a WA government report that advocates for more women in business and argued that gender diversity is equally essential in the family.

Mr Abetz highlighted to his followers on Facebook that the government’s ‘2015 Women’s Report Card’ argues that women should have equal representation in the workforce and on company boards. Mr Abetz suggested the same standards should also apply to the make up of families.

“Strange: As a Government we put out the report on the status and progress of women. We are told that there should be equal number of women as men on the boards of companies, that there should be more male primary school teachers etc… Why? We are told we should strive for this because each of the sexes bring their unique perspectives. …. But the advocates for Same Sex Marriage are busy trying to convince us that in raising children, it suddenly makes no difference at all!” Mr Abetz wrote on Facebook.

The conservative politician was referring to a recently released 2015 Women’s Report Card. A tri-annual report that measures the representation of women in the workplace and where women are being paid equally.

The report, which was issued by the Minister for Women’s Interests, Liza Harvey, highlighted that the women’s labour force participation rate increased from 43 per cent in 1978 to 61 per cent in 2014, and that more men are making use of flexible work arrangements.

Mr Abetz highlighted to his followers the reports key findings including Western Australia having a higher difference of pay levels between men and women, 25.4 per cent compared with 18.5 per cent nationally, and that government boards had a female representation of 43%.

Later the conservative MP posted a second comment comparing the need for gender equality in the workplace to his belief that families should have both a mother and a father.

Diversity adviser Conrad Liveris said Mr Abetz was looking at the issues very superficially.

“Peter Abetz has a superficial understanding of diversity and inclusion, he relentlessly pursues interests that are out of step with contemporary society.

“Increasing the number of women in management harnesses the different perspectives that men and women, through socialised differences and experiences, can bring to organisations. A body of research is emerging, such as that from Melbourne University’s Cordelia Fine, that show neuropsychological differences between men and women are minor.

“By conflating gender equality and LGBT rights Abetz fails to see the nuances in society and limits our capacity for inclusion and innovation.

“The engagement of people in non-traditional fields – women in executive roles, men in stay-at-home – aids better decisions in and for society.” Mr Liveris told OUTinPerth.

Rodney Croome, National convener of Australian Marriage Equality responded to Mr Abetz’s comments saying there should be equality in the work place and under Australia’s marriage laws.

“Men and women should be equal in the workplace,” Mr Croome said, “and gay and straight people should be equal under marriage law, for the simple reason we are all human beings who deserve equal respect and fair treatment.”

“Peter Abetz is welcome to his particular ideas about women and men bringing different talents to work or parenting but they are not the basis for making good law or policy.”

Joey Cookman McCauley, who is raising two daughters with her partner, and is the Vice President of community group Playgroups with Pride, said workplace equality and families were not comparable issues.

“In the business world and the political world there is a lack of female presence – which is huge, there needs to be more women in good positions in politics and business, but when it comes to families, that’s the whole other side of the coin, sexuality and how are families are run, has nothing to do with more women being present in the workforce.

“He’s looking at the world from a very cis-gendered, white, straight, male perspective and saying how he sees the world. He sees things as very black and white, but the world is made up of a lot of grey.” Ms Cookman McCauley said.

Cookman McCauley said her personal opinion was that all couples, regardless of their sexuality, had a level of femininity and masculinity. The community leader said her children had a great mix of male and female role models.

“Every family has uncles and brothers and grand fathers, there is no shortage of male role models in my children’s lives. We hang around a lot with straight male friends, so it’s not like they don’t get to see that side, they’re not surrounded by women only.”

OUTinPerth spoke to Mr Abetz this afternoon and asked him if comparing diversity in the workplace to relationships was a case of comparing ‘apples and pears?’ Mr Abetz said it was reasonable to compare our expectation for the workplace with family dynamics.

“In terms of equality in the workplace, that’s one part of gender equality, when they say that we should have equal representation of men and women on boards and that type of thing, the reason that is given is not that people are equal but women bring a different perspective to things than men.

“That’s why we say in primary schools we’re very keen to get male teachers because having only female teachers in a school does create quite a different environment. There is an inherent difference in male sand female in the way they think, the perspectives that they bring and so on. That’s part of the reason people say its beneficial for a company’s to have women on the board because of the unique perspective in the way they see things.” Mr Abetz said.

“We recognise the uniqueness of the sexes in that area, but when it comes to parenting by same sex couples they say there is no difference. You can’t have the cake and eat it at the same time.”

Mr Abetz  said that while gender role models include other family and community members, it is the time spent with parents that have the most effect on children.

“In the home that’s where Mum and Dad have a huge impact on children because they spend a lot of time at home the parents. Mothers bring a different perspective to fathers.”

Responding to the suggestion that good parenting was more important than who the parents are, Mr Abetz said both were preferable, but also acknowledged that some close families successfully involved grand parents, uncles and other family members in raising children.

“Good parenting is important, there’s no doubt about that, but a mother and a father bring different perspectives. and unless you have that diversity the child is missing out on something.” Mr Abetz said.

OUTinPerth asked Mr Abetz if it was his belief that the majority of children in rainbow families were unaware of who there biological parents were, or if he recognised that many couples actively involve sperm donors, and former partners, in their children’s lives.

“At this point in time most same sex couples, where there  are children involved, one of the couple has been living in a heterosexual relationship that produced a child. So it certainly involves a ‘divorce like’ situation, and so the child most of the time is able to see their father.” Mr Abetz said.

The politician said he realised there were unique families where friends who donated sperm were actively involved in their children’s lives, but described these as the exception rather than the rule.

Mr Abetz said he had read stories of people raised in same sex relationships and most often they had been born into a heterosexual relationship.

“Mum or Dad decides that they are same sex attracted and goes and lives with a same sex partner, and the child then lives with them. What you read from people who have experienced that upbringing is that ‘we really missed out on something’, especially when they didn’t have significant contact with the father or mother.” Mr Abetz said.

Mr Abetz said more quantitative research was needed, but there were certainly a lot of stories had been published highlighting that being raised by same sex parents had caused challenges for people later in life.

“The theme that comes through is ‘Hey, I missed out on something, when I got married I didn’t know how to relate to my husband, (or the other way round).’ Those things are real issues.” Mr Abetz said.

WA’s Minister for Women’s Interests Liza Harvey was contacted for comment.

Graeme Watson

Update: This article was updated to correct an error about the gender of Joey Cookman McCauley’s child. We’re really sorry. 

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