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Women will never achieve their potential under a Coalition government

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.


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  1. Meg

    What would I give for the strong, forthright leadership of Julia Gillard to see over us again. She was quite right to classify the merest criticism as misogyny. How dare any man look at his watch whilst she was speaking.

  2. flohri1754

    Great column … chrystal clear contrast between the two parties in this regard. Why women support the LNP is beyond me. Almost as confusing as with blacks in the U.S. who support the Republicans. Why, why, why? And Meg, yes, agree with you on Julia Gillard. The best PM that Australia has had since 1996 in my view.

  3. diannaart

    It is a conundrum why people support that which is against their own best interests in the long term – although the short term is bleeding obvious – there’s always the instant gratification where money and power is involved.

    Further it remains a conundrum why women, LGBTIQ, non-white people would vote for and actively get inveigled with political ideologies so entrenched I can only posit a certain degree of masochism is at work along with the hope change can be wrought from within.

    Such regressive inflexible regimes weed out the altruistic and ethical – as Kaye Lee noted, Sharman Stone, Judy Moylan and leave only those with the “aptitude” to survive in such an anachronistic system.

    This means the quality of female candidates results in such poor exhibits as Michaela Cash, both the Bishops et al.

    Therefore, even if the LNP did use quotas to ensure more women in the coalition we wouldn’t see much of an improvement in aptitude, ability and ethics.

    Which also serves to support the conservative view that women aren’t really equal to men.


  4. helvityni

    Meg, I don’t see Gillard being like you describe her; she did not see the merest criticism as misogyny, for too long she bravely put up with all that horrible, endless abuse from the Coalition…

    I was pleased when she FINALLY gave her Misogyny Speech, which was admired all over the world, but not so much locally…

  5. Peter F

    Agreed, helvityni, i believe you have recognised what ‘meg’ was dog whistling.
    Give me Julia any day to replace this sorry bunch, even as a dictator. ( THAT should get some hackles rising!)

  6. Kevin Arnold

    I could be wrong but I read Meg’s comment as a backhander to Julia Gillard, who I regard as the best Prime Minister since Whitlam. Her downfall, or more importantly the manner in which it was achieved, has been a sore point for me. I emailed Tanya Plibersek and expressed my opinion that the women left would keep the men in check in the future. I also emailed Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen. I got the standard replies from Shorten and Bowen (probably an automated reply) but the reply from Plibersek was more like her own words. Kay’s list is impressive but I would add Ann Ali. For this reason I have some hope for the future for the Labor Party and Australia.

  7. Kaye Lee

    You just have to look at the things Gillard put in place in her short time as PM – carbon pricing, a mining super profits tax, NDIS, NBN, the RC into child sexual abuse, increasing pensions and significantly raising the tax free threshold…and many others. She made mistakes, not least in education funding reform, but governing is not a perfect science and, by any measure, she got the country headed in the direction we needed to go.

    But the attack dogs would never let a woman dictate the direction. Rip the witch/bitch down, rip up everything she tried to do, and let the men tell us what’s best which is, of course, burning more coal, giving wealthy people more money, and buying and making things that kill people.

    Kevin, I agree Anne Aly should have been mentioned as, no doubt, should some others. Thanks for the reminder. I will edit the article to include her.

  8. helvityni

    Agree about Anne Ali, I noticed she has written a book, it’s advertised on ABC Books next there to the Sagaland, which a good friend sent to me from Sydney…have not started reading it; still busy with Jill Ker Conway’s second book, she was a quite a woman too…

    Those few Coalition women in the picture are dressed rather appropriately, mainly in black and white, just like their views on the world and the human kind…

  9. susan

    “Tellingly, she is no longer responsible for Industrial Relations which has now been given to Craig Laundy.” This statement could be elaborated on in context. Craig Laundy is not the sharpest tool in the shed and certainly not more competent than Cash but Turnbull has latched on to him because they share the massively privileged background etc etc and Turnbull knows that a man is a much more trustworthy ally than a woman.

  10. Christopher

    Perhaps women can see better than us men that the LNP is not right for Australia, particularly the working people and those that would if they could. And, this is why the ones that have been elected really aren’t that good, well some of them are just terrible big time, and that’s putting it mildly.

    The capable women are in Labor’s ranks from what I can see and deserve to be in the leadership team.

    Thanks Kaye, for another great post.

  11. Kaye Lee

    One interesting aside that struck me as I was researching this article, Labor has more members than the Liberal Party in both houses – the HoR is 69 to 60 and the Senate is 26 to 25…..which may explain Malcolm’s former obeisance to Barnaby? The Nats hold 16 lower house seats and 5 Senate positions (if you include the CLP).

    If I was Malcolm, I would cut the far right adrift. The Nats can run on their own, people like Dutton, Abetz, Abbott and Hastie can join up with Cory or Pauline or Katter. He could then take real action on climate change and emissions reduction, readopt a solar roof program, increase welfare benefits, and stop deliberately scaring people. People want to know that everything is under control, not this endless dogwhistling and division and fearmongering.

    Then again, if he had the balls to do that, he would join Labor.

    What he could do is threaten to run good Liberal candidates against the Nats and separate the Senate ticket……

  12. townsvilleblog

    Kay Lee I agree completely with your last post, but Malcolm does not have the ticker to pull his party into line because the L’NP only have a majority of one in the HoRs, so this is why Ruddoch was given a plum job, in case he passed away and the numbers were even. I miss Julia Gillard as PM she was bold with policy, and she needed to be, but as you have explained the conservative forces in Australia would never allow a woman or a Labor PM especially a woman to dictate the direction that our country should follow. Whitlam had the same problem, and I place Gillard as the only true Labor Party PM I have seen in my lifetime. She was great!

  13. paul walter

    This, too, is a sad thread and not one that I should worsen from the fence when previous comments have done so well.

    To the sisters here, may your day improve.

  14. Kaye Lee


    It isn’t meant to be sad. Don’t worry. the Coalition is not representative of the wider community. If you have an opinion you would like to share, feel free. Responders don’t usually bite even if we may disagree.

    The more we hear other’s honest views, the more chance we have to consider other aspects and refine our thinking.

  15. metadatalata

    Kaye, it sounds like you still live with the vain hope that Malcolm Turnbull’s early allegiances can be re-kindled. Sadly, Fizza never had any beliefs of his own; only a plan to say what suited his needs to get into parliament and get to the top of the pile of sh!t that is the LNP. He has certainly sucked a lot of people in along the way. We all want to believe in the speakings of the younger Mal and this is why there are people other than CEO’s and executives that vote for them.

  16. Kaye Lee


    It isn’t hoping so much….that was killed long ago. I think it is inevitable that the Coalition will lose the next election unless he does something drastic. I don’t expect it to happen but, if he doesn’t do something, he will prove Paul Keating’s assesssment correct – “You light him up, there’s a bit of a fizz, but then nothing… nothing.”

    The silly fixed grin as he tells us what a fabulous time he’s having, the constant vaguely regal references to “Lucy and I”, the second speaker in the debate stance and gestures, they aren’t enough. Show us why you have the highest leadership role in the country….show us how you can make decisions to lead us in the right direction.

    I won’t hold my breath but he may as well start working on his memoirs if he doesn’t shake things up.

  17. paul walter

    Yes. I forgot. the Coalition does not represent the wider community. Just messes it round,lies to it, thieves from it and patronises it. Fifty times on the black board, “I must not confuse Tories for human beings.”

    Thanks again Kaye Lee.

    I noted susan’s comment at how important work is handed over to thugs and oafs. Therefore, the issue of Michaelia Cash was also dealt with.

  18. Michael Taylor

    It was truly heartbreaking.

    Working for Julia Gillard and proud of what she was trying to achieve for most Australians, only to see – daily – the crap and lies being written about her in the Murdoch media.

    And the public bought it.

    It was truly heartbreaking.

  19. helvityni

    Michael, I wish she was still here…there in Canberra, I mean..

    The misery started when the dumb dumb was voted in the leadership, still no better today, maybe even worse..,.

  20. Kaye Lee


    I started writing not long before Julia went (as you know) and I was popping all over the internet saying it will not happen. Don’t be ridiculous. Look at how well Labor have done in government.

    I felt truly sick the day they dumped her. I cannot imagine how angry I would have been if it was my work being thrown away.

    But I know how angry I was with Labor for wasting time on their ridiculous infighting and jeopardising all they had achieved.

  21. diannaart

    Infighting – something the LNP always deny and never let Labor forget.

    Imagine, if team Labor had stood with Julia Gillard… … probably did in some alternate universe…

  22. Cubism

    The incredible depth of talent in the Labor Party today is in large part the result of Labor introducing a quota of 35% women nominated for winnable seats way back in 1994. Labor have since adopted a resolution to have women make up 50% of Labor parliamentarians by 2025. In the last six months Labor have used bye-elections to bring another two talented and high-profile female parliamentarians into their ranks.

    By contrast, the L/NP refuse to adopt quotas for women on the basis that candidates should be chosen on merit. One only needs to look at the dearth of talent on the L/NP front bench to understand that ‘merit’ isn’t a selection criterion. And what about the Nationals-Liberal coalition agreement? The Nationals get a quota of Ministers – they sure as hell aren’t selected on merit. But when it comes to women, quotas are unacceptable.

    I sometimes think that the lack of quotas in the L/NP, and resulting lack of talented women in the L/NP, might be a good thing. With the MSM backing them all the way they manage to win government regularly despite their boof-head male parliamentarians. Just imagine how much more effective (at winning elections and doing damage) they could be if they had a front bench of talented women. The less electable and more incompetent the L/NP are, the better.

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    Malcolm belongs to the far right. It is a dangerous fallacy to believe otherwise.

  24. Glenn Barry

    Florence nee Fedup, I agree wholeheartedly

  25. Matters Not

    Yep Gillard acted sometimes on her own and sometimes at the behest of others. Take education as an example. Most individuals who become Ministers in new government(s) spend time as the Shadows (in the relevant portfolio) and therefore learn about the policy options. Not so with Gillard. Thus she was unaware of the history and the debate re education policy. But Rudd was.

    Rudd lumbered (burdened) Gillard with the education portfolio because he was unshakeably firm in what he wanted education (broadly defined) to be all about. She was (at the time) his puppet. A babe in the woods as it were. So to some extent the policies ascribed to her can be excused by some. But not from me.

  26. Kyran

    Whilst women won’t achieve their potential with the government, they may well achieve it in spite of the government. Let’s be frank here. If you are going to wait for this government to ‘show the way’ on anything, well, don’t hold your breath. It will prove fatal.
    It seems truly and deeply ironic that, on the day of sports cheats being outed by their own stupidity, the serial cheat (in so so so so many ways) Bananas has updated his records to declare his ‘girlfriend’s’ (yay, it’s official) interests.

    “His register of interests now shows the update made in January — that he had separated from his wife Natalie — as well as the from last week showing Ms Campion owns a property in the Canberra suburb of Braddon, and some shares.
    He has deleted the declaration showing the gift of six months’ rent-free use of a townhouse in Armidale in his electorate of New England.”

    The great impediment to gender equality, the self confessed (sort of) cheat has amended his records when all has gone quiet. And all this at the same time as ‘NOW’ launches.

    “Spicer says more than 1,500 people shared their #MeToo stories of workplace harassment and assault following her public call-out on Twitter in October 2017. These stories identified more than 100 men who had not been held accountable for sexual harassment, bullying, and physical assault and rape in Australian workplaces.
    Spicer has spent the interim period connecting media organisations with some of the victims, to investigate some of the stories – a process that has been slowed down by understaffed newsrooms and Australia’s tough defamation laws.”

    Ms Spicer has previously made comments to the effect that some of the ‘stories’ pertained to politicians, but there was no appetite amongst the media to investigate them. Quelle Surprise!

    “Led by a steering committee of women from diverse backgrounds and professions, NOW hopes to fund a two-tiered approach, comprising support and solutions for victims of workplace harassment and assault.
    The organisation’s first aim is to launch a frontline support service that will connect people who contact them with the help they need: public or private counsellors who work with sexual harassment victims; public or private lawyers, some of which are offering their service pro-bono or low-bono; and media support – not necessarily to investigate each story, but to offer victims advice.”

    “The second tier of the organisation is focused on long-term solutions, comprising research into workplace harassment, education resources for schools and workplaces, and lobbying of government and statutory authorities.
    Spicer sees it as a “one-stop-shop” or triage service, which will work with existing services in the community and legal sectors. “We’re not duplicating anything – we are aiming to identify the gaps in the system and fill them. We don’t want to take funding from other organisations.”

    They have started their own crowdfunding page.

    Who woulda thought sisters could do it for themselves. Maybe some brothers can support them in a meaningful way.
    Bananas? I wouldn’t count on that.
    Thank you Ms Lee and commenters. Take care

  27. Ill fares the land

    Let me just say that, in my (male) mind, I have achieved a state of total gender-neutrality and equality. That is to say, I find the Coalitions bevy of women to be at least as incompetent and generally disgraceful as any of their male colleagues.

    From Cash’s shrieking, bellicose and belligerent rants (in her piercing and grating “Strine”), to the repetitive “Labor’s debt and deficit disaster” universal question response from O’Dwyer (for two years, I swear for two years I never heard her answer one question put to her without including that phrase/slogan in her answer), the Coalition has plumbed the depths to assemble its collage of highly flawed individuals.

    Their flaws would be less of a concern if they were competent, but they are not – O’Dwyer, as far as I am aware, left the banking sector in disgrace and Cash’s background as a kind of legalistic “Buffy the Union Slayer” suggest she is abrasive and aggressive to her core. In between, Payne and McKenzie are both idiots. I don’t mean lacking intellect – they are but examples of the “intelligent idiot” whose numbers, male and female, in the Parliament, across all parties and political leanings have swelled to the point where we simply must dumb-down our expectations. We are getting all they can give – they are are all self-serving and frankly, most are corrupt. Not in the sense that they take bribes, but that they put their interests and those of their tribe/faction ahead of the electorate.

    We should have more women in parliament – but what we should have, regardless of gender, are people who show genuine leadership, not those enthralled by or in the grip of the twisted philosophies and interests of their backers and their factions.

    In fairness, while she was Finance Minister, I also loathed Penny Wong, whose oratorical gifts led to long-winded, elaborate and ultimately hollow responses to each & every question. She is however, much more concise in Opposition, so my present views of her are more balanced – but I am sure there is still a blowhard within and her passion for the non-sequitur is undiminished – but she is in good company in Canberra.

  28. Kaye Lee

    Ill fares the land,

    I hate the waffle from all of them too. They can’t just answer a question without delivering a spiel of talking points first. Chris Bowen on 7:30 report took too long to answer how many people would be affected by the changes to excess franking credit refunds. He should have anticipated the question and been ready with an answer that would include some small compensation (like keeping the energy rebate) for affected people on genuinely low incomes, not those on low taxable incomes.

    They should rip up talking points. Hearing several different people repeat the same phrase on any given day is mind-numbing. It also means they don’t have to think or be up on the topic. Listen to the question and answer what was asked…there’s a novel idea.

  29. diannaart

    The LNP is remarkable for the massive infestation of incompetent men, why would we expect them to identity and encourage competent women?

    For a start, competent women are scary (even to some men from the progressive side of politics) and would magnify the ineptitude of its men – hence Michaela Cash makes Turnbull appear (faintly) reasonable. You know it makes sense. 😛

  30. paul walter

    diannart, I actually think your comment is a good corollary to Kyran’s and Ill fares also follows that up well.

    Kaye Lee, rofll

  31. Wam

    There is a myth that women are fierce critics of other women. Take the grins leader sniping at gillard. oops not a good example. What about the eunuch, no let me think?? Leigh Sales was, in the main, a listener to the rabbott and a questioner to the PM?? Plenty of me like windsor and oakeschott support gillard and the phillip adams boys didn’t but support from non-labor women?? There was an insiders showing women supported gillard but I cannot find any details? Patricia Karvelas (june 2013) is a good read.
    Dianaart spot on but, arguably, the LNP women reached the potential for which they were chosen??
    Religions believe god made women flawed!

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