Abbott’s front bench a “blue tie” affair

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has unveiled his new cabinet and it’s one for the record books. While Kevin Rudd, after ousting Julia Gillard, chose to elevate a record number of women to ministry, Mr Abbott has named his cabinet with only one woman listed: Julie Bishop took on the Foreign Minister position held by Labor’s Bob Carr under the Gillard/Rudd government.

Tony Abbott with wife Margie and their daughtersFor Margie Abbott it’s nothing but egg on her face. The woman married to Tony Abbott and the mother to his three daughters, spoke out on breakfast TV in October last year against allegations that Mr Abbott didn’t understand women and didn’t like dealing with powerful women.

It’s something that doesn’t sit well now that Mr Abbott has won government and has ensured he doesn’t have to deal with powerful women on a daily basis through surrounding himself with predominately older, white men. It proves he still unequivocally believes in what he said on Four Corners in 2010:

‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’

Mr Abbott’s cabinet consists of 19 men and one woman, while his outer ministry boasts four woman and seven men. One female parliamentary secretary rounds it out. As the Labor Party have pointed out, Australia now has less women in its ministry than Afghanistan which has three women on it’s front bench.

Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop and Sophie MirabellaMr Abbott did only have two women on his shadow cabinet: Julie Bishop as deputy leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Shadow Minister for Trade and Sophie Mirabella as Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science.

Ms Mirabella stepped down from the cabinet as she continues to fight what appears to be a losing battle for the Victorian electorate of Indi. Ms Mirabella was replaced on Mr Abbott’s frontbench by Ian Macfarlane.

The Coalition’s Cabinet:

Tony Abbott – Prime Minister

Warren Truss – Deputy PM; Infrastructure and Regional Development; Leader of the Nationals

Julie Bishop – Foreign Affairs; Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party

Eric Abetz – Employment; assisting the PM on the Public Service; Leader of the Government in the Senate

George Brandis – Attorney-General; Arts; Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate

Joe Hockey – Treasurer

Barnaby Joyce – Agriculture

Christopher Pyne – Education; Leader of the House

Nigel Scullion – Indigenous Affairs

Ian Macfarlane – Industry

Kevin Andrews – Social Services

Malcolm Turnbull – Communications

Peter Dutton – Health; Sport

Bruce Billson – Small Business

Andrew Robb – Trade and Investment

David Johnston – Defence

Greg Hunt – Environment

Scott Morrison – Immigration and Border Protection

Mathias Cormann – Finance

The PM-elect cut another woman from the ranks, Qld MP Teresa Gambaro lost her role as  Shadow  Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement.

The coalition’s ageing and mental health spokeswoman Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was shifted, given a parliamentary secretary role reporting to the Minister for Social Services. Aged care and mental health is no longer an individually named portfolio but rather included in other portfolios.

Sussan Ley, included in the outer ministry, will be the Assistant Minister for Education previously being the Shadow Minister for Employment Participating and Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning.

Marise Payne, former Shadow Minister for Indigenous Development and Employment and Shadow Minister for Housing and Shadow Minister for COAG, will look after Human Services.

Fiona Nash was promoted to Assistant Minister for Health and is also the Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate. Previously she was a Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education.

Michaelia Cash was also promoted to Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women. In the shadow ministry Ms Cash was a Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Status of Women and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration.

Mr Abbott follows Labor’s footsteps with a female speaker – Labor’s Anna Burke was just the second female to take on the role of Speaker – nominating vetern Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop to become speaker of the new Parliament. Ms Bishop was the Shadow Special Minister of State during the Coalition’s time in Opposition.

For Julia Gillard, the naming of the Coalition government’s front bench has transformed her infamous “blue ties” speech from something that was awkward, bordering on stupid, into something more prophetic.

Speaking at the launch of Labor’s Women for Gillard campaign in Sydney earlier this year, Ms Gillard attacked “men in blue ties”, warning women of their future under a male-dominated, presumably Coalition future.

“I invite you to imagine it. A prime minister – a man in a blue tie – who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie.

“A treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister – another man in a blue tie. Women once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life.”

To go from a country with a female Prime Minister to one which struggles to land an equal representation of women and men on the government’s cabinet is frustratingly sad. It’s an embarrassment that a first world nation now has less women in it’s government’s cabinet than a country only just shrugging off the rule of the Taliban.

The damage done by Labor’s internal struggles to the role of women in politics is greater than first imagined. The continual spillage of internal Labor problems on the front page of the news resulted in voter disillusionment and was a key component of Tony Abbott’s successful election campaign. We have gone from a government which attempted to celebrate women through promoting them to positions of esteem, such as the Attorney-General, to one who’s led by a man who has a problem connecting with female voters. Mr Abbott may continue to play the “I know women” card with the support of his wife and daughters, but it’s a harder pill to swallow when he’s flanked by a group of middle-aged white men (and Julie Bishop).

Mr Abbott attempted to present himself as a new man: a softer, more sensitive man during the period of a minority government and the election campaign; now is the time he could have proved it was true rather than just election spin. Mr Abbott had the chance of dispelling the rumour of him as “anti-woman” through appointing more females to his frontbench. Our PM-elect has missed his chance to cement the image he strived hard to convince the public of and now our government is a “blue tie” affair in which women have been banished back to the corner as a minority, a sad reflection on 21st century Australia.

It is time for the Coalition to formally encourage women to enter politics through a policy similar to Labor’s which aims to preselect women for 40% of “safe” seats. The boys club that is now Australia’s frontbench is a disgrace and a joke and Australia can do better.

And yes, Mr Abbott announced his new ministry wearing a blue tie.


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