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Sep 17, 2013

Abbott delivers voters what he promised: a dearth of women

There can be no complaints about the lack of women in Tony Abbott's cabinet: it's exactly what he promised voters. The Liberals and Nationals have long had a woman problem.


The angst over the lack of women in Tony Abbott’s cabinet is one of the more perplexing political reactions of recent years.

Unveiling his cabinet yesterday, the new Prime Minister gave us more or less what he said he would: the same frontbench he’s had since 2010. There have been a few adjustments amid the continuity: Mathias Cormann (inexplicably) gets promoted, a couple of frontbenchers like Ian Macdonald have hit the fence, but it’s by and large the same team Abbott has had since the last election.

And on gender, the only difference in cabinet is that Sophie Mirabella, whom the entire Left in Australia (as well as plenty of Liberals) are death-riding in Indi, isn’t there. That means the representation of women in cabinet drops from two out of 20 to one out of 19. In the outer ministry, four out of 12 shadow ministers were women, and four out of 11 ministers are, although Bronwyn Bishop has been expunged and given the Speakership, amid the usual hilarious incantations that all incoming governments make about wanting to improve the standard of debate. The only difference is among Abbott’s parliamentary secretaries: three out of 15 opposition parliamentary secretaries were women; one out of 12 are in government.

So Abbott has delivered exactly what he promised voters: very few women. Having promised a “no surprises” government, there should be no surprise when he does just that.

Did people not notice this about his frontbench earlier? Did people not notice, indeed, that the Coalition’s ranks before the election included just 21 women in total? John Howard used to proudly boast of how the Liberal Party would never use “patronising quotas” to lift the proportion of women in its ranks; the number of Liberal women in the House of Representatives peaked in 1996 and declined  thereafter. That’s why Julie Bishop is now easily the highest-ranked Liberal female minister ever; before her, Helen Coonan was the most senior, being deputy leader in the Senate during the Howard government. And the Coalition has never produced a female premier.

What about at this election? The Liberals, the LNP and the Country Liberals together offered 33 female candidates to voters in 140 electorates, or 24%. The Nationals offered one out of 20. By way of comparison, Rise Up Australia offered 34 women in 77 seats and Family First offered 28 women in 93 electorates. In the Senate, 12 out of 31 Liberal, LNP and Country Liberals places were filled by women. The Nats had one out of seven.

“So even when the Liberals do preselect women for around a third of seats, the country cousins still drag them down anyway.”

So even when the Liberals do preselect women for around a third of seats, the country cousins still drag them down anyway.

You can see where this leads: without women in Parliament, there are no women knocking on Tony Abbott’s door, whatever he might claim. That’s before you get to someone like Kelly O’Dwyer, who Tony Abbott declared was “knocking hard” on the door of shadow cabinet in 2011, but who apparently knocked in vain. Poor O’Dwyer’s knuckles must be red-raw from such wasted effort. Ditto former parliamentary secretary Teresa Gambaro, who doorknocked herself right onto the backbench.

While Gambaro and O’Dwyer’s travails are unexpected (O’Dwyer was heavily tipped to get a gig), the rest isn’t: the current incarnation of the Coalition is middle-aged, white and male, more so than in previous years, and that hasn’t changed since 2010. Voters have thus received exactly what they were promised for that last three years.

There’s also continuity in that, apart from Julie Bishop, women have ended up with traditional “female” portfolios — Marise Payne got Human Services; Sussan Ley is in Education, Fiona Nash is in Health, the demoted Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is in Social Services. It’s a ministerial line-up that wouldn’t have looked too unusual in the Fraser or Hawke years.

How the ministry actually functions, however, remains to be seen: we won’t know the administrative arrangements orders until tomorrow. Then we’ll have a clearer idea of what the public service will look like — what sort of department Nigel Scullion will have for Indigenous Affairs, for example, and will it sit within Prime Minister and Cabinet; what the split will be between Ian Macfarlane’s mega-department of Industry (including Resources), Bruce Billson’s Small Business and Andrew Robb’s Trade and Investment portfolios, and so on.



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32 thoughts on “Abbott delivers voters what he promised: a dearth of women

  1. Josi V

    What has happened to the Minister for the Status of Women? Vanstone was there 2001-2003 and Bishop herself was there 2006-2007. In fact, since 1983 (30 years), there have been 8 ALP and 6 LNP women to advise the PM. Now it has been wiped off the map because the ‘boy’s club’ works better for women? Did Abbott tell the electorate about this (and the dumping of Science) before they voted for him? There is a bigger narrative here and just looking at the nitty-gritties won’t eliminate it.

  2. klewso

    Maybe they were too intent on reading his thought bubbles to notice his actions?

  3. klewso

    Get real, you can’t make the tea & scones : and sit in parliament?
    This is the Nats – other than afternoon delights, and maybe a couple of other things – to them women only seem to be good for their votes?
    A bit like those milk producing dairy farmers when you sit down to consider it? Remember what they did to them, udder Howard and his “ultimate solution rationalisation”? Kick ’em up the ribs, who else are they going to vote for?

  4. klewso

    After her stunt using “poor forgotten Kevin” on Valentine’s Day, it must be O’Dwyer’s turn for a red rose – of consolation?

  5. klewso

    “Women! Positions Vacant : Various – Abbott’s Promises R’ Us, Front Bench. Must have sex appeal and be more than a just pretty face – those without need not apply! Apply c/- Ms O’Jennist.”?

  6. Phen

    Exactly – there are no additional decent women on their side, and no-one who deserved a ministry missed out so anyone calling for more is effectively calling for tokenistic representation.

  7. tonysee

    Why surprised Bernard? Because it’s one thing to have a male-dominated shadow cabinet but the real thing is another thing altogether.

    New government ministry appointments usually step on someone’s toes, usually (factional and other) friends are rewarded and enemies shoved aside. But this is really ham-fisted. Given that it’s a ‘meritocracy’, Abbott clearly regards the door knockers as lacking merit. And he’s disappointed?

    One of those issues he needs to fix is his perceived attitude to women. It’s a proportion of the population that will not change come next time around and, until then, he’ll remind them whenever a cabinet minister speaks or whenever there are photo ops of the cabinet, what he thinks of them.

    There’s a power vacuum on the other side and he’s just had a big win so what does he do? Kicks an own goal.

    Promise of things to come. He’s obviously forgotten how things can quickly go sour for a popular PM.

  8. John Taylor

    Bernard, matter of fact only while there they have not produced a female Premier, and while the ACT may be a poor relation, someone called Kate Carnell, a member of the Liberal Party, was Chief Minister.

  9. wbddrss

    Women voted with their feet for Tony Abbott. Women should not complain. They are 1/2 population and did not support ALP/Julia Gillard.

    Again IMO , women have no-one to blame but themselves, there was a clear difference & women voted for the stereotypical alpha male.

  10. Josi V

    wbddrss – that does not apply to me. I never voted for the LNP, so why can’t I say what I think, and why am I -supposedly- to blame? P.S. an alpha male and TA are an oxymoron.

  11. wbddrss

    Josi, thank you ; I qualify my remarks with the word … “statistically”. Again thank you for your kind comments.


  12. Savonrepus

    Support for Gillard disappeared when she played the gender card. Oh yes she sounded very smart at the time but not so smart when she sums up with chest thumping statements like it is better to put principle before popularity. The media is running this story because they are oh so clever at telling the difference between a man a woman but when their audience starts turning off as a result all that will be left will be for the Bernards of the world is to go and sit beside the lonely Julias and watch the world go by on the tele. At least they say two is company.

  13. Josi V

    Perhaps you might wish to qualify your statement, Savonrepus? The footage of her speech ‘went viral’ all over the world. Lots of people supported her. Australia is not the sum total of the known world. Mind you, I’ve admitted that I never liked her for many, many years – but credit where due, and all that…

  14. beachcomber

    Julie Bishop only got promoted to Deputy when the Rudd-Gillard team came to town. The Liberals thought a woman would blunt Gillard’s appeal, and she was all there was around. She was a light weight in Opposition. It is alarming to think how she will perform as Minister. After her, there’s stuff all. Successive Liberal leaders have avoided promoting women to positions of power, and now they are in office they have none with experience. Abbott must really hate Bronwyn Bishop, given the lack of women he has to choose from. Or else he knows she would a disaster as a Minister.

  15. bushby jane

    I think everything about the new govt is alarming, lack of women is only one of the things that noone noticed about them before the election. Although to be fair we weren’t told most of it….A good cartoon in today’s Age about Julie Bishop gong to be missing most of the time anyway.

  16. Blair Martin

    No surprise? Look at what Campbell Newman did here in Queensland. Same. Plus, he’s had the great gift of two of his women ministers (one a former minister now) being absolute liabilities and best kept away from the media.

    I wonder, did Gambaro’s demotion have anything to do with her late in the day media release professing a conversion to marriage equality? (It was a very mean spirited media release, blaming others for trying to wedge her in the election campaign and that she was capable of making up her own mind.) This is the sitting member who poo-pooed her own survey of the electorate that showed overwhelming support for marriage equality (she does represent the entire gay ghetto of New Farm and the ancillary “pink” suburbs of Teneriffe, Newstead, Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley). What made her change her mind is curious but not really earth shattering. Though, being dumped by Abbott does make one wonder if that’s the reason she’s no longer ministerial material. (I also note that O’Dwyer has made a similar supportive call for marriage equality, did she suffer the same conservative religious boys club smack down?)

  17. dazza

    Why the surprise? Gillards efforts really showed what this goose is capable of. He’d be a disaster trying to deal with real women. Slip of the tongue ‘dopey dad’ sexist remarks and punched walls episodes on front pages. ‘Stop the females could be the next slogan.

  18. Phil Lynch

    Helen Coonan highest ranking Liberal female of all time?
    Does Margaret Reid’s senate presidency count?

  19. zut alors

    @ Dazza, or perhaps Stop the Broads. ‘Broads’ being 1950s terminology – the era with which Abbott is most comfortable.

  20. dazza

    ‘Stop The Broads’ .. good one zut alors 🙂

  21. AR

    klewy – this clearly exercises your passion but, I just gotta know, was this a pun – “Remember what they did to them, udder,/I> Howard and his “ultimate solution”?

  22. Carlene Colahan

    Exactly Bernard – delivered as promised why the surprise?

  23. klewso

    Udderstandable isn’t it – the way he stripped them out?

  24. bref

    Its no surprise that with Abbot we have the most ‘catholic’ of governments. Women can be smart and talented of course, but they really should be home cleaning house and raising children…

  25. mikehilliard

    I didn’t vote for Abbott and as such I didn’t vote for a front bench of men wearing blue ties.

  26. PDGFD1

    Bernard… how about a piece on the fact that we no longer have a Science Minister (said to be the first time in 50 years) but we have a Minister for Sport.

    As to gender issue in Lib-land… totally expected.

    I might also mention that when asked if Tanya P should run for Labor leadership, Hawkey apparently replied that she couldn’t do that… she has a young child. Anyone remember Shorten has kids too? Back to the 50’s with all of them I say!

    wbddrss…IF one is so idiotic as to be sucked into major party’s agenda of presidential politics instead of voting for a local representative… still your logic doesn’t hold… In the case of a ‘run for president’ we had a choice of Rabbott or Krudd… not a matter of alpha male Vs (?… you don’t present your alternative)… both white MEN.

    Had women been offered the opportunity to vote for a woman, they may have done so.
    Sadly, I do agree that women are frequently their own worst enemy in this regard . Try to remember it’s not just Y-chromosome-carriers who have been inculcated into thinking that men ‘should’ rule the world.

    beachcomber… don’t you worry about Julie B… her needle nose has been sniffing around after that job ever since she was overheard to say that Howard wouldn’t let her NEAR him.
    The legal-trained arrogance, Pass-paily (p)earls, and the Am-army suits will make her a huge hit in the ‘wider’ (male-dominated) world.

    What a step forward (not).

  27. klewso

    It’s hard to believe there aren’t any women with more talent than Cousin Jethro to choose from – except Lady Penelope, with her strings attached (The Plagiarist Princess Parrot)?
    But there we have it – these are Abbott’s Rules now. And Murdoch is refereeing the game.
    Maybe they should get around like Elly May (Clampett – Jethro’s cousin)?
    [Fiona Scott – all cute and cuddly sex appeal and more than a pretty face – tried it; but then she opened her mouth, about “refugees holding up traffic and hospital waiting cues(?)” – if she’d been a man like Jethro she could have gotten away with it …… but she is a woman.]

  28. Malcolm Street

    The problem is further down in the organisation – getting women pre-selected so that there’s more to choose from. Given the way the Coalition has gone back to DLP land good luck on that one!

  29. Rubio Diego

    Why is anybody really surprised at what Tony Abbott is capable of?
    This is no accident, because being a first class psychopath, this is the way he operates. His number one priority is to humiliate and the reaction he gets from the outraged feeds his pleasure!

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