Country for old men: little diversity in Abbott’s picks
See if you can spot a pattern among the following appointments by the Abbott government.
In October, the government announced that a National Commission of Audit would be headed by 69-year-old Tony Shepherd. In December the government announced a financial services inquiry, to be headed by 65-year-old David Murray. In February the government announced 72-year-old Dick Warburton would lead a review of Renewable Energy Target. The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Panel is headed by 76-year-old Maurice Newman. It has two female members out of 12 and an average age of 59 years old. In January, 66-year-old Peter Cosgrove was named the new Governor-General. Sixty-three-year-old Patrick McClure will head a welfare review. Seventy-year-old Dyson Heydon will head the royal commission unions; 67-year-old Ian Hanger will pursue Labor through the pink batts inquiry. Nick Minchin, 60, is off to New York as Consul-General; 62-year-old Alexander Downer is off to London as ambassador. Ziggy Switkowski, 65, was brought in to head NBN.
It’s not that there aren’t female appointees of the Abbott government: Amanda Vanstone is on the Commission of Audit, along with Peter Boxall (65) Peter Crone (47) Tony Cole (66) and retired WA public servant Robert Fisher. Carolyn Hewson is on the Murray Inquiry, along with Prof Kevin Davis (65), Craig Dunn (49) and Dr Brian McNamee (56). Shirley In’t Veld is on the RET review, along with Matt Zema (53) and Brian Fisher (63). Heather Henderson, who is 85, was appointed to the Old Parliament House Advisory Council, along with 72-year-old David Kemp and 80-year-old David Smith (in place of 63-year-old Barrie Cassidy, appointed by Labor).
It’s not that Labor didn’t have a similar pattern. Who is the most quoted name in education reform? Sixty-year-old David Gonski. And if you remove the once-ubiquitous Heather Ridout (and Christine Bennett, who headed the health and hospitals review), the profile of a number Labor reviews wasn’t that different to the Coalition’s.
But it’s one thing to ask older, and often retired, figures to conduct reviews — they have the experience and, at least ostensibly, the detachment to bring an objective but informed mind to public policy. It’s quite another for almost the entirety of a government to be made up of such people. The first Rudd ministry had four women; Julia Gillard’s did as well (plus up-and-comers like Tanya Plibersek and Kate Ellis in the outer ministry). Tony Abbott’s cabinet has Julie Bishop. And the average age of Abbott cabinet is a tick below 53. That compares to well below 51 for the cabinet of John Howard’s last term. And that last Howard cabinet had three women (Julie Bishop entered cabinet when Kay Patterson retired), with another five in the outer ministry.
Some of its appointees are highly competent. But this is a government with less diversity and greater age than John Howard’s last ministry in the cabinet as well as a predilection for old white male figures to review and investigate things.
“The Abbott government, to a degree remarkable even for the Coalition, is hopelessly unbalanced.”
And consider the institutions that support the Coalition. The Business Council now has a female CEO, but Gail Kelly is the only other female board member. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has only one female board member out of 12, although Kate Carnell is the incoming CEO. The Liberal think tank the Menzies Research Centre has one woman on its board of nine; no prizes for guessing the demographic of the remaining directors (check out the Centre’s event list for how often they hear the views of women). News Corp is controlled by a geriatric billionaire, with its Australian newspaper editors and commentators almost exclusively middle-aged and old men, an eternally raging prostatariat. The Minerals Council of Australia has a board composed entirely of white males, mostly middle-aged or old. The views of these organisation are highly influential within the government.
Old white men (and I’m 46 and Anglo-Celtic, so I’ll soon be one myself) have their place. Males over 60 make up about 10% of the population. Their views and experience, which are of course as diverse as those of any other demographic, are a welcome addition to the policy mix. But these aren’t just any old white males. For example, there are no older former blue-collar workers who know what it’s like to struggle to adjust to economic reform. There are no old environmentalists, and hardly anyone from outside traditional business circles, or academia (provided they’re sufficiently conservative) or former senior public servants for conservative governments.
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