Much has been written about the lack of women in Coalition ranks, and with good reason, but it is also the quality of those women and the way they are treated by their party that raises even more concern.
First, some statistics.
In the combined houses of parliament, Labor has 95 sitting members, 45 of whom are female (47.4%). The Coalition has 106 sitting members, 22 of whom are female (20.8%).
Office bearers, including the ministry, the outer ministry, parliamentary secretaries and their shadows, show a similar disparity with Labor filling 18 out of 46 positions with women (39.1%) and the Coalition, 10 out of 42 positions (23.8%).
Apart from the numbers discussion is the question of what role women play in their party’s decision-making.
Julie Bishop has been reduced to wandering around the world going to fashion shows and gala events and the role of Chief Protocol Officer fronting the media when Australians overseas are in trouble or calling for unity in the party room and a focus on the “Kill Bill” strategy.
As John Menadue points out, our ‘foreign policy’ has been taken over by the defence, security and military clique led by the Department of Defence, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which is financed by DoD and defence contractors, ASIO, Border Protection and the Office of National Assessments.
Our military and defence clique in Australia is in turn heavily dependent on the US Departments of Defence, State, CIA and FBI for advice. It is at their insistence that we find our government identifying China as a ‘threat’ and it is at their insistence that Australia is ramping up its strike force capability. Why does Julie Bishop attend NATO meetings?
ASIO and ASIS are very generously funded, but not DFAT. Further Julie Bishop has agreed to an unprecedented slashing of the Overseas Development Aid budget. She has little influence.
Whilst Marise Payne seems a competent Minister, she is dancing to the tune played by the industrial military complex and increasingly seems to just be the lead-up act for Christopher Pyne’s multi-billion-dollar spending spree.
And then there is Michaelia Cash who would rather be described as feminine than as a feminist. Michaelia Cash who is more renowned for screeching nasty attacks on other women than for anything she has achieved as a parliamentarian. Michaelia Cash who was so hellbent on destroying the union movement that she, or her staff, illegally tipped off the media about, and wasted police resources on, raids on union headquarters about a donation they made more than a decade ago. We can only wonder why, after more than 150 days, Ms Cash has still not been interviewed by the AFP.
Tellingly, she is no longer responsible for Industrial Relations which has now been given to Craig Laundy.
Also in the ministry, we have Bridget McKenzie, described by Barnaby Joyce as “a flash bit of kit” in parliament. Only two of the 20 Nationals in parliament are women which may explain Barnaby’s excitement and, dare I say, Bridget’s promotion to deputy leader. She can be relied upon to toe the party line and not rock the boat. Unfortunately, her passion seems to be limited to watering down gun laws.
And to round out the female Coalition Ministry we have the hapless Kelly O’Dwyer who is great at fundraising but not so good at understanding the economic policy she is sent out to spruik. After a few spectacular gaffes, she seems to have largely disappeared from the media other than the occasional backdrop appearance.
In the outer ministry we have Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and four parliamentary secretaries – Karen Andrews, Jane Prentice, Melissa Price and Anne Rushton.
Compare them to the strong intelligent women in Labor’s Shadow Ministry – Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin, Katherine King, Amanda Rishworth, Michelle Rowland, and Julie Collins. In the outer shadow ministry they have Claire Moore, Linda Burney, Carol Brown and Clare O’Neil, and seven parliamentary secretaries – Jacinta Collins, Terri Butler, Helen Polley, Julie Owens, Louise Pratt, Gai Brodtmann, Lisa Chesters and Deborah O’Neill.
And that is before you get to a backbench with very talented women like Kristina Keneally, Ged Kearny, Lisa Singh, Jenny McAllister, Anne Aly, Kate Ellis and Katy Gallagher among others.
All of these Labor women make their voices heard and are instrumental, not just in talking about policy, but in framing it.
There have been women in the Coalition, like Judi Moylan and Sharman Stone, who have dared to speak out against the boys’ decisions but it kills any chance they have for advancement. Stick to the talking points or be quiet is the message. Go do some fundraising or just nod and ask Dorothy Dixxers when asked to.
Women will never be able to achieve their potential under a Coalition government who insists on making decisions about them and for them, but rarely with them.
It would be interesting to know how many of the Coalition men went to an all boys school.