By JAMILA RIZVI
This is not a post about misogyny. This is not a post about feminism. This is not a post about sexism.
This is a post about merit.
A few hours ago, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott announced his new ministry; an expansive executive of 42 members and senators, including a cabinet of 19.
And of those 19? The incoming Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be the only woman.
To put that in a bit of context: Labor went to the last election with a cabinet that included six women. Journalist Julia Baird points out that there are more old boys from the exclusive Sydney private school Riverview in Tony Abbott’s cabinet than there are women. Afghanistan currently has more women serving in its cabinet than we do in Australia
It seems that Julia Gillard was right when she forewarned of seemingly endless white male faces in blue ties sitting on the Government benches. That’s exactly what has happened.
In today’s press conference announcing the members of his new ministry, Tony Abbott said he was ‘obviously disappointed’ that so few women will serve in the senior ranks of his Government.
Clearly, it’s that special brand of disappointment reserved only for circumstances that are entirely of your own making.
So what does that mean?
The cabinet (where there is only 1 woman) is one of the most powerful decision making bodies in the country.
These are the 19 ministers who are responsible for the big decisions about what happens to the country. After the Prime Minister, the members of the cabinet are the most powerful and influential politicians in Australia.
Beyond the cabinet (on the other side of the door) Abbott has named four women in his outer Ministry (which is kind of like being a Minister but with training wheels) and one woman serving as a parliamentary secretary (which is a step down again…think Ministers on tricycles).
But don’t you worry your pretty little heads too much about it girls, cos’ the Prime Minister-elect is confident that we’ll see more women in power in the future! After all, ‘there are some good and talented women knocking on the door’ Abbott promises. He repeated this phrase several times.
Now, I’m going to put the painfully perfect analogy of Abbott locking women outside the doors of power to one side for a moment and talk strategy.
Abbott is selling his new cabinet to the public as one that rewards experience and stability. This is smart politics to be sure. The Prime Minister-elect’s message is one of contrast. His will be a government that is smooth and steady and free of the disunity and perceived uncertainty of government under Rudd and Gillard.
But the problem with valuing experience over and above ability is this: it’s almost always at the expense of diversity.
And that’s what seems to have happened with the Abbott Cabinet. When experience is the overarching requirement for holding high office, then you tend to keep sharing the same jobs between the same people.
And in politics, the same people are overwhelmingly, men.
Labor had the same problem when they were seeking to increase the number of women serving on government boards. Keen for fresh faces, new ideas and a different approach, they set out to boost the number of women.