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Federal Ministers told to mind their language in an effort to strengthen the women's vote and gender gap

EXTRACT, (from Parliament):

PAUL KEATING: Mr Deputy Speaker, in deference to you I withdraw, but can I point out that the Leader of the Opposition hurls all sorts of abuse at me, and all through Question Time these two pansies over there want retractions of the things which we said about them. Anyway, sit down. You're a bunch of nobodies going nowhere. Now, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me just make this point ....

PETER THOMPSON: The Treasurer in full flight. But after yesterday's full Ministry meeting in Canberra, that rhetoric could be a thing of the past. The Prime Minister told his Ministers parliamentary language which is unattractive to women must stop. The new approach is part of the Government's drive to woo the women's vote and bridge the widening gender gap. But the move has been described by Democrat's Leader, Senator Janine Haines, as patronising to women. One of the Labor Party's most senior women, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Ros Kelly, is in our Canberra studio with John Shovelan.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Ros Kelly, is the boots and all style of people like the Treasurer and Senator Walsh unattractive to women?

ROS KELLY: Well, it is really. But, I mean, people have to first of all understand that the sorts of comments like we've just heard from Paul Keating are the sort of theatre of Question Time. Most of the time, of course, Parliament isn't like that. But that's not the impression that people generally, and women in particular, have of the Parliament.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Well, are women just interested in the image of our parliamentarians, of the Government?

ROS KELLY: No, of course they're not. They're very interested in our policies. And I think there's nothing wrong with our policies towards women. In fact, I think our record is impeccable as far as women are concerned, not just in the narrow sense of what we call the sort of feminist issues, but in the broader sense of issues for women. But I think it is a question of perceptions and really how you get a message across, because women don't like that sort of rough toughness, brutality of language.

JOHN SHOVELAN: But wouldn't some women find that attractive?

ROS KELLY: I don't think so, not when you're trying to communicate a message. And that's what politics is about. It is about communicating what you are doing for them, showing that you do care for them, and not because you necessarily want to win their votes but because they deserve, as your voters, to hear what you're doing for them.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Well, how does the Government propose to win back the hearts and minds of the women's vote - I think that's how Mr Hawke put it? Are we likely to see a new benign front bench?

ROS KELLY: Well, first of all, we haven't really lost the women's vote. In the late 70s there was a gender gap of between about 7 and 8 per cent, that is between 7 and 8 per cent more women voted for the conservative party than for Labor. That gap has definitely narrowed and we're now looking at about 3 to 5 per cent. But we're not just about trying to win the women's vote. What we are out, is to say what the Prime Minister's message was, let's get our style more appropriate for today's society.

JOHN SHOVELAN: So we will see a change of behaviour then?

ROS KELLY: Well, I'm not so sure that in the cut and thrust of Question Time you will see a significant change, although, I mean, one of the problems is that the Opposition's tactics have been to disrupt the Parliament. Now, the problem is when one group disrupts, we get the blame for it. And I think we've got to realise that. Disruptive parliaments don't help governments.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Ros Kelly, thanks for joining us.

PETER THOMPSON: Ros Kelly, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel with John Shovelan.