When you look around either the Reps or the Senate chamber it quickly becomes clear which side has the greater representation of women. John Howard used to refer to Labor’s “patronising use of quotas” but currently 35% of Labor MPs and Senators are women, compared to 26% of Liberal MPs and Senators and 14% — which means two — of the Nationals.
When it comes to ministerial representation, however, the conservative side has lifted its game. Seven of Labor’s 30 ministers are women, compared to seven of 32 on the Coalition side. And the senior portfolios of Treasury and Foreign Affairs on the Coalition side are now with women, and Helen Coonan will also be manager of Opposition Business in the Senate. Foreign Affairs is an odd choice for Coonan, but it brings her closer to the action, which is no bad thing given her experience.
Some other women are also worthy of note. Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who has demonstrated neither intelligence nor basic decency during her time in the Senate, has obtained a shadow Parliamentary Secretaryship. And Sophie Mirabella becomes shadow minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare, Women and Youth.
Given that Mirabella opposes paid maternity leave, attacked Julia Gillard for not having children and reckons no Aboriginal children were stolen, she would appear to be the ideal spokeswoman for women and children’s issues. Given her comments on Muslim women, it’s a pity she wasn’t given immigration as well.
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Bronwyn Bishop, however, lost her job. Some will be foolish enough to declare an end to the career of the former next Prime Minister of Australia, but she is in fact indestructible and will almost certainly grace the frontbench again at some point. Indeed, our great grandchildren will probably delight in the unveiling of a late 21st century Coalition ministry containing a Davros-like Bishop, a dried-out husk kept alive by cybernetic technology and an implacable malice toward the world.
There will be many amongst Tony Abbott’s colleagues who think he was lucky to keep his job, given his yabbering over the last nine months, during which time he has spoken about the leadership, about Peter Costello, about his book, about the Federation — about everything, pretty much, but his portfolio, except to say that he didn’t want it. One imagines Turnbull won’t have quite the same forbearance toward Abbott that his predecessor had. Abbott was absent from Question Time yesterday and might do well to take the same approach to his media appearances for the time being.
Michael Ronaldson retained his current job, but has also become shadow Cabinet Secretary. As shadow special minister of state, Ronaldson has done nothing but oppose John Faulkner’s reforms to improve — or restore — governmental and electoral accountability.
Mind you, if the Coalition can squeeze another year or two out of the Howard Government’s corruption of the political donations system, all to the better now that a rainmaker like Turnbull is in charge. And who knows, maybe a buffoon like Steve Fielding could be convinced to vote with the Coalition to retain the current arrangements.
Nick Minchin marking Stephen Conroy will make the latter’s life rather more difficult, but losing Defence is undoubtedly a demotion. As if to stave off reports that he was unhappy, Minchin immediately issued a press release welcoming his move to Communications, which referred to “digital switch-off” — a policy that those of us without a lot of time for TV would fully support.
Minchin, as Australia Defence Association’s Neil James noted, has a solid grounding in major defence procurement issues from his time as Finance Minister and his absence will be noticed, although James pointed out that his replacement, David Johnston, has plenty of committee and Estimates experience in the area.
I commented yesterday that Greg Hunt will be unhappy at losing the ETS. But his office pointed out that Hunt has not so much lost an ETS as gained an Andrew Robb. Hunt also now has full control of water issues, without the inconvenient presence of John Cobb, who saw his role as vigorously representing the interests of irrigators.
Cobb replaces Nigel Scullion in the Agriculture portfolio, while Scullion — light on the fizz so you can slam it down fast — moves to Human Services, a portfolio a Top End fisherbloke like him may rightly regard with complete incomprehension.
The biggest problem for Andrew Robb is that — industrial relations apart — he has the three areas where the Coalition are furthest behind the Government in policy terms. It is Labor that has established Infrastructure Australia, allocated a portion of the budget surplus to infrastructure, and declared that the days of the Federal Government steering clear of urban infrastructure are over. It is Labor that has revived COAG, after John Howard let it drift in preference to using the states as a political punching bag. And for all the purported political danger of an emissions trading scheme, the Coalition has managed to make itself the issue ever since the Green Paper launch.
Robb will have a tough job to avoid looking reactive while updating Coalition policy and keeping on the same page as Turnbull and Hunt. At least Bruce Billson’s role in Sustainable Development and Cities indicates the Coalition — which wiped out Labor’s urban programs in 1996 — is interested again in sustainable cities.
Which leaves Julie Bishop. A Gallery colleague summed up the “clash” between Swan and Bishop as a fight between chihuahuas. Turnbull may yet rue putting his deputy and good friend into the hot seat. There are opportunities to be taken here that look beyond Bishop, and if Julia Gillard ever replaces Swan, it’ll be painful to watch.