Kelly O'Dwyer
Resigning government minister Kelly O'Dwyer (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

For all that everyone hates politicians, there are two unwavering truths about the profession: the only people who ever get elected are the ones who have a go, and if you’re a lower house MP, it’s a bastard of a job, with long hours and constant calls on your time by the community you represent.

If you’re a lower house MP who’s a minister, it means you have a second job — with equally long hours if you want to do it competently — on top of the first. If you’re a lower house MP with a ministry and a marginal seat, it can be a nightmare; a constant drain on your emotional energy. And worse still if you’re not in NSW or Victoria, making travel to Canberra longer and less flexible. How Kim Beazley, who had a marginal seat for much of his career, kept it up for so long when he had the added ordeal of constant flights to and from Perth, is a mystery.

No wonder so many politicians’ marriages hit the fence. We saw another over the break, with Anthony Albanese and Carmel Tebbutt — perhaps the most successful political couple in Australian history in terms of achievement in office — splitting. The ones that survive often come with a huge cost to spouses — usually women — and kids. In valedictory speeches, outgoing pollies invariably talk about the cost they’ve imposed on their families.

Despite some media hype, Kelly O’Dwyer’s seat of Higgins won’t be lost at the election. But it will become marginal. O’Dwyer has been a role model for combining new parenthood with a high-level political career, but her and her partner’s desire for a third child proved too much. To the extent that her party’s prospects affected her decision, one imagines that the current likelihood conjured by the polls — of at least one term and possibly two in opposition — was more important than the possibility of losing her seat.

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O’Dwyer — who managed to get openly laughed at by stakeholders during a speech on superannuation — leaves behind no legacy of achievement. But the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison/Who Next? government has been a bonanza of incompetence, and she can proudly say she’s been significantly less incompetent than any number of more senior, mostly male, figures — some of whom remain in parliament.

Anyway, she had a go; which is more than the rest of us, who catcall and abuse from the sidelines, can say. 

Inevitably, her departure shines a light on the Liberal Party’s seemingly intractable and worsening problem with its capacity to elect and retain female MPs. It’s an issue on which the government has adopted the tactic of sticking its fingers in its ears and yelling “not listening not listening” on until it goes away. Inconveniently, it never does.

How on earth a party that massively outstripped Labor in terms of female representation 20 years ago has been reduced to the blokiest party in the joint — even the Nats have a female deputy — should be a matter of forensic investigation within its major branches, as it should be within the LNP up north.

To that end it’s amusing to see O’Dwyer’s insistence that a woman replace her in Higgins undercut by a genuinely bizarre push for her predecessor Peter Costello to launch the least-wanted comeback since Pauline Hanson.

Costello’s own Financial Review had a puff piece on the idea today, in which the company’s chair was described as “surprisingly witty” — we can’t wait for Shorten and Costello going zinger for zinger across the election battlefield. It wasn’t just in Nine’s papers, however — Peter van Onselen ran a similar line in The Oz, although PVO (normally an ardent supporter of quotas for Liberal women) might have been engaged in some prize shit-stirring given the obvious consequence of a Costello return would be the dumping of Scott Morrison.

Cossie of course already had two chances to be PM; had he pushed John Howard (who was openly considering giving up during APEC) out in 2007, or had he stayed on as opposition leader afterward (rather than assuming Kevin Rudd would be around for a couple of terms at least). The idea of six years of hard yakka in opposition evidently had little appeal for a lazy ex-treasurer who made the Howard government the biggest-taxing government in history.

It’s a peculiar idea: that Australian politics and the Liberal Party needs yet another old white male, and one with a record like his.

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