Second woman in cabinet: Sussan Ley. Photo: Andrew Meares Kelly O’Dwyer: “There are lots of very good female colleagues of mine who are ripe for promotion.” Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Morrison lands new super-sized portfolioCabinet winners and losers
It must have been awkward, all this time, commencing cabinet meetings with the greeting: “Good morning, Lady and gentlemen”.
Now the Prime Minister has doubled his number of female ministers, from one to two, he can amend his opening line to reflect the tremendous lady-abundance we now have on the front bench.
In a 100 per cent increase in female cabinet representation, Sussan Ley was promoted from Assistant Education Minister to Health Minister. She will also be responsible for Sport. She joins the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop.
Formerly, Ley was one of the chicks Tony Abbott characterised as “knocking on the door” of cabinet – a sort of cross between a hungry urchin and a desperate political groupie.
Other females have been allowed within knuckle’s reach of the door – the young Victorian MP Kelly O’Dwyer was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, and Queensland MP Karen Andrews, a former engineer, was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science.
Women are, of course, notoriously hard to please, but forgive us if we don’t pop the champagne just yet.
In the press conference announcing the changes on Sunday, Tony Abbott said he was “pleased” about the female promotions.
“In the end all of our appointments are on merit. As time goes by and the number of women in the parliament increases, I am confident there will be more women in the ministry.”
This shoulder-shrug response implied that the lack of women in cabinet is a proportional thing. All our intentions are good, but how can we select chicks for the team when there is such a regrettably small pool?
But the numbers don’t bear that out.
Thirty per cent of Commonwealth parliamentarians are women (they account for about 27 per cent of MPs and 38 per cent of senators). If you’re arguing that the representation of female cabinet members is proportional to the overall selection pool, that means there should be roughly six women in the current cabinet.
Even if you re-adjusted that figure down to 20 per cent – because the Coalition has a lower quotient of women in its ranks than Labor – you would still be needing about four female ministers in cabinet for the argument to hold.
Is Abbott saying that the Coalition’s women lack merit – they either don’t have the talent, or the drive, to become cabinet ministers in proportionate numbers to their male colleagues? Or is he simply saying they don’t rise high enough to be considered for ministries? If so, why would that be?
The Prime Minister seems reluctant to admit any institutional bias which might prevent ladies from reaching the top table en masse.
He seems to imply they just need to keep knocking. No matter how red-raw their knuckles may get.