Julie Bishop: On Tony Abbott, feminism & death stares.

Julie Bishop

We hear a lot about Australian women on the left side of politics. Julia Gillard. Penny Wong. Nicola Roxon. They’re regular faces on our TVs and in our newspapers.

But we rarely hear much about women leading the way on the other side of politics.

Julie Bishop is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.  And she’s also a Mamamia reader and today we’re talking to her about politics, her famous ‘death stare’ and what it’s like to work with Tony Abbott.

MM: There’s a clear community perception about Tony Abbott. How do you find working with him – how does it compare to other liberal leaders you’ve worked with in the past?

JB: I don’t accept there is a clear community perception of Tony Abbott as people I meet express a wide range of views.

I have worked closely with Tony Abbott for almost 15 years and I have a constructive and professional working relationship with him. We work well together and respect each other’s views. He is full of ideas with a sharp mind and bubbling with energy.

I have worked with a number of Liberal leaders in government and in opposition and while each has their own particular leadership style, Tony has been a particularly effective team leader.

MM: Julia Gillard’s recent Question Time speech has received worldwide coverage and opened up a dialogue on issues of sexism and misogyny in Australia. Regardless of whether you agreed with the speech in its context, do you believe there is an attitude of sexism present in politics, the media or any other public spheres here in Australia? Have you experienced it personally?

JB: I found her claim that Tony Abbott is a ‘misogynist’ – that he hates women – deeply offensive. Knowing Tony and his wife Margie, his daughters, his sisters, his mother, and some of his close female friends and colleagues, I thought it was an appalling claim to make and I wish Julia Gillard would withdraw it.

Of course sexism exists in sections of Australian society. Throughout my career I have tried to rise above it and set an example to others by not giving it any credibility and not complaining about it.

MM: Regardless of whether the perception is true, it still exists. How do you think the coalition will handle this?

JB: I don’t accept there is a single perception about Tony Abbott but I acknowledge that the Labor Party has focused their attention on attacking the man rather than his policies.

The Coalition will continue to focus on policies that we will release prior to the next election providing our vision for a better future for our nation.

Julie Bishop

MM: How did you become interested in politics in the first place? Was there a particular issue you were passionate about as a young politician?


JB: My family has been active in local politics for generations – my mother, grandfather and great grandfather were mayors of our local district in the Adelaide Hills. It was not until I had been practising law for about 15 years and undertook a sabbatical at Harvard Business School in 1996 that I decided to enter federal politics.

With two older sisters and 19 female first cousins, my earliest political campaign was to convince my family of the right of children to refuse to wear hand-me-down clothes!

MM: You’ve become known on social media for your withering stare. Any advice for MM readers who’d like to try it out?

JB: There’s an old saying ‘If looks could kill….’ so I suggest Mamamia readers don’t try it at home.

See here – a couple of years ago, Julie appeared on The Chaser for a stare-off

MM: Do you have a political role model or somebody whose career you particularly admire? 

JB: I was privileged to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon in 1995 and the hour I spent with her had a profound impact on me. I have long admired her courage and commitment to freedom and democracy. It is a joy to see her take on the role of Leader of the Opposition in Myanmar after almost 20 years under house arrest.

MM: How do you define your kind of feminism?

JB: Feminism seeks to achieve equality of opportunity for women and girls. My parents gave me the opportunity to have a good education and I grew up believing that I could achieve whatever I wished to do, regardless of gender.

MM: When you first started in politics, did you ever feel as though your gender could prevent you from rising through the ranks?

JB: During my first election campaign I had an argument with the Prime Minister which I suspected was more likely to impact on my political career than any issue of gender!

Throughout my legal career I sought to be promoted on the basis of ability, and I expected nothing less from the Liberal Party which believes in the promotion of women based on merit.

Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott

MM: We see less women on the conservative side of politics. Why do you think that is? And do you see it as a problem?

JB: The Liberal Party does not operate quota systems to artificially increase the number of women selected for Parliament. Every woman on our side of politics has been selected on merit.

Many ‘firsts’ have been achieved by women on the conservative side of politics including the first women elected to State and federal Parliament, first female Cabinet minister, first female President of the Senate, first female Government Whip and 8 of the 10 longest serving women in the Federal Parliament are from the Liberal Party.


There are many outstanding female parliamentarians from the Liberal Party at a state and federal level, and I am particularly impressed by the strong and capable women standing as candidates for the next federal election.

MM: Australia has a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General and three females High Court justices – do we need feminism any more?

JB: There are pockets of society where gender bias remains entrenched and if people respected others for their ability and promoted on merit then there would be no need for feminist agendas.

It is my hope that generational change will eventually sweep away many aspects of gender discrimination.

MM: Exactly how difficult is it to balance your ‘you time’ with your busy work schedule?

JB: I am the last person to provide advice about achieving a work/life balance as I am yet to do so.

Living in Perth means I undertake a lot of travel and ‘me time’ is rare these days but I do try to find time for a morning run. Keeping in touch with my girlfriends, reading a good book and catching a movie every now and then keeps me grounded.

Julie Bishop and journalist Annabel Crabb

MM: What’s your greatest talent/achievement that you will never be able to put on your resume?

JB: Cooking on national television – twice!

The first time was during the 2010 election campaign when I cooked the family favourite – chicken in cream – on The Circle.

Emboldened by the experience, I took part in ABC’s “Kitchen Cabinet” series and survived – cooking a risotto (successfully), with three cameras trained on my every move, while the irrepressible Annabel Crabb artfully interviewed me on matters personal and political.

MM: What would like that you don’t have right now?

JB: The job of Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

MM: And finally, do you have plans for the top job?  

On our side of politics the top job is not something there for the taking as a goal in itself, but is a rare privilege bestowed by our Party.

My colleagues have elected me to be deputy in our leadership team and I have been honoured to hold that position for nearly 5 years.

My plan is to be Australia’s first female Foreign Minister.

Julie Bishop is Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can follow her on Twitter here.