Australia’s flirtation with having women at the apex of politics is well and truly over, with Tony Abbott selecting just one woman in his 19-member cabinet.
The PM-elect unveiled his new-look ministry in Canberra this afternoon. Hamstrung by his pre-election commitment to stick with his existing frontbench, and keen to present an image of stability, Abbott has made minimal changes to his ministry. He’s lost a little dead wood and promoted a few bright sparks, but he hasn’t overhauled his ministry, and he hasn’t addressed his party’s blokey vibe.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be the only woman sitting around the cabinet table, which will be 95% male. Female candidates for a senior role missed out; Bronwyn Bishop has been nominated as speaker, while Sophie Mirabella grudgingly dropped her case to remain on the frontbench as her seat of Indi is in doubt.
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“Plainly I am disappointed that there are not at least two women in the cabinet,” Abbott told journalists. He blamed Mirabella’s struggle to retain her seat, and Labor’s rules which set a cap on the size of the ministry, for the under-representation of women in his senior ranks.
There were women in the former junior ministry — including Sussan Ley, Marise Payne and Fiona Nash — but Abbott didn’t find room for them in cabinet. So he has worn the political and budgetary pain of a very generous paid parental leave scheme, presumably to increase his appeal to female voters, while possibly alienating some of them with his party promotions. Before the election, women made up six of 20 members in Kevin Rudd’s cabinet.
The big winner from today is conservative Western Australian Senator Mathias Cormann, known as “the Cormannator” by some colleagues for his rich Belgian accent. Cormann was the Coalition’s assistant treasurer and has been promoted into cabinet as Finance Minister. John Howard’s former chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos was tipped for the role, but he’s only made it as far as Assistant Treasurer (not a cabinet job). Andrew Robb, also talked about as a future finance minister, stays in cabinet as Trade Minister — a role the Nationals covet, but missed out on.
Another surprise winner is Peter Dutton. The underwhelming health spokesman has picked up sport as well, not previously a cabinet role.
As for the losers, Nat John Cobb is out of cabinet, losing the agriculture ministry to colleague Barnaby Joyce, while Ian Macdonald, Andrew Southcott and Teresa Gambaro were demoted.
Outside of cabinet, Abbott has promoted a few women into the outer ministry. Articulate Nat Fiona Nash — demoted some years ago when she stood up to her Liberal colleagues over water policy — becomes assistant Health Minister, while firebrand WA Senator Michaelia Cash is now the assistant Minister for Immigration. Cash, a conservative street fighter, will provide back-up to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison — they’re likely to be a hardline duo on boat people.
Another new entry in the junior ministry is the amiable and media-friendly Jamie Briggs, who becomes assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.
Turning to the gaggle of parliamentary secretaries, Abbott has found room for comms guru Paul Fletcher, Melbourne blue-blood MPs Josh Frydenburg and Alan Tudge, Michael McCormack and comeback kid Steve Ciobo. Rising star Kelly O’Dwyer has missed out on a frontbench spot. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has been demoted.
Abbott made much of his paring down of ministers’ titles, which includes scrapping the role of minister of climate change, minister for science, etc.
Coalition MPs will extend Abbott some latitude not to make sweeping changes to his ministry after the vindication of his thumping election win, but ambitious junior MPs will be closely watching the likes of cabinet members Kevin Andrews, Peter Dutton and David Johnston to see if they make more of an impression in government than they did in opposition. If errors are made, pressure will build on Abbott to get rid of more dead wood and open up the senior ranks well before the next election.
Veteran MP Philip Ruddock has a role once more — he’s to be chief whip, or “tutor in chief” to new MPs (as Abbott described him). The new ministry will be sworn in at Government House on Wednesday.
Interim Labor leader Chris Bowen responded to Abbott by saying the cabinet of Afghanistan had more women than the government of Australia. This statement appears to be correct; this story from last year says there are three women in Afghanistan’s cabinet, while the Afghan President’s website lists at least two senior ministers as female, although it’s not clear if they are cabinet ministers.
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development
(Leader of the Nationals)
Minister for Foreign Affairs
(Deputy leader of the Liberal Party)
Minister for Employment
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Public Service
(Leader of the government in the Senate)
Minister for the Arts
(Deputy leader of the government in the Senate)
(Vice-president of the Executive Council)
Minister for Agriculture
(Deputy leader of the Nationals)
Minister for Education
(Leader of the House)
Minister for Indigenous Affairs
(Leader of the Nationals in the Senate)
Minister for Industry
Minister for Social Services
Minister for Communications
Minister for Health
Minister for Sport
Minister for Small Business
Minister for Trade and Investment
Minister for Defence
Minister for Environment
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
Minister for Finance
Assistant Minister for Social Services
(Manager of government business in the Senate)
Assistant Minister for Employment
(Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senator)
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State
Assistant Minister for Education
Minister for Human Services
Minister for Justice
Assistant Minister for Defence
Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women
Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance