OPINION: There is much to envy about Australia – its wealth, its climate and its cosmopolitan culture.
For all the "lucky country's" sophistication and glamour, however, in some areas it is light years behind New Zealand.
One of those areas is its treatment of indigenous people. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were denied the right to vote in federal elections till 1962, and were not counted in national censuses till 1967. Today they still suffer the consequences.
Another is its treatment of women. Despite women rising to the top in all walks of Australian life, including briefly the prime ministership, a surprising number of Australian men appear to find women in positions of authority a threat to their masculinity.
It was evident in the male commentariat's near-universal condemnation of Julia Gillard during the three years she served as prime minister, and it was front and centre again this week when new Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced his Cabinet. Of the 19 positions up for grabs, just one went to a woman, his Liberal Party deputy Julie Bishop.
Here such an imbalance would be unthinkable. No party which showed such disdain for 50 per cent of the electorate would get anywhere near the levers of power. But in Australia, the normally admirable Sydney Morning Herald found the under-representation of women not a matter for concern but a matter of reassurance. Mr Abbott had resisted the temptation to spring surprises in his new lineup and deserved credit for making appointments on merit. However, the paper did note in passing that even the last coalition Cabinet headed by John Howard, a politician from a different era, had contained three women.
The regression is either a commentary on the candidate selection policies of the National and Liberal coalition partners, or a reflection of Mr Abbott's personal prejudices.
Certainly he has never hesitated to share his views on sex, abortion and the role of women with Australian voters, or to comment on the appearance of women.
Commending himself to contestants in the Big Brother television show, he volunteered that he was the candidate with the "not bad-looking daughters". Commending Liberal Party candidate Fiona Scott to voters in her west Sydney electorate of Lindsay, he described her as having "a bit of sex appeal".
What is peculiar in the 21st century is that a father of three daughters would encourage others to judge them by their appearance.
What is even more peculiar is that Australian voters are not embarrassed by a potential leader expressing such antediluvian views.
Winters in Central Otago might not be as warm as those in Queensland, salaries in Auckland might not be as high as those in Western Australia, and the programme at the Michael Fowler Centre might not always be as exciting as that at the Sydney Opera House – but at least in this country we judge people by what they can do, not their gender.
That is something to be grateful for and proud of.
- © Fairfax NZ News