Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Cabinet, Julie Bishop, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott, Women

Week Two – The Cabinet’s Open but the Women are in the Basement

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Source: Tracey Nearmy: AAP, from The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-05/tony-abbott/4865344)

            Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Elect Tony Abbott announced his cabinet and ministry. It was a triumphant conference; in fact his speech was so engaging I only needed 10 cups of coffee to stay alert for the full 15 minutes. Take that for inspirational speeches President Obama. For a man who was just reading a list, he should be nominated a Golden Globe for the number of pause utterances used in a single media conference.

My criticism of his media performance aside, the line up for the next LNP Government was well and truly less than inspiring. The first notable difference of Abbott’s Government was that titles for ministerial positions were much shorter. None of this “Minister of Education, Workplace Relations, Health Care, Shiny Shoes, Tea and Middle Australians for more Kevin Rudd” nonsense the ALP were apparently all about. No sire. In fact, I received an email this morning from the Excessively Long Business Card Association expressing dismay at the state of the new Government.

I am concerned in terms of what the contracted portfolios means for forging clear lines of accountability to ministers. For example, let’s consider the Government’s ill-advised decision to cut Science from the ministry.  The Minister for Industry, the Hon Ian MacFarlane, will subsume this position however this is not particularly clear. We live in a system which is reliant on an absurd notion called Government Accountability. The Executive is accountable to the Government and the Government is accountable to the electorate. Or at least, I think that’s how it works, I fell asleep during Public Law.

The Abbott Government’s ministry strongly sets the tone for the next three years. It is here to Govern with its shiny mandate, from the safe, conservative centre, with limited prospect for substantial reform. Abbott’s ministry doesn’t exactly scream a vision for the future, with science and research /development type portfolios making the cut. These structural changes are concerning for several reasons. First, my  concern relates to the economic viability of Australia in the future. It is anticipated that the Australian Economy will slow down further to reflect the global economic conditions and this will be compounded with the halting of the mining boom and uncertain consumer demand. Some guy called Keynes discussed the concept of counter-cyclical economic management – effectively  now is the opportunity to invest in capital which will put us in good stead to be leaders in the global economy. We need to start creating the jobs of the future and developing the infrastructure to ensure we grow for another 21 years. A government which is uncommitted to the structural reforms needed to ensure that growth will only create future stagnation.

My second concern is that this ministry will shape the type of Australia they hope we will become in the next three years and it looks remarkably like the vision Howard wanted in 1996 – 2007. I didn’t share that vision then and I don’t share it now. The Ministry suggests a strong return to nationalistic sentiment, a compelling example is promotion of Border Security to the cabinet and the elevation of sports in the ministry.

The Abbott Government has also rightly been criticized for the lack of women in Cabinet and ministerial positions. In the Cabinet, we have Julie Bishop and … well that’s about it really. I have tremendous amount of respect of Bishop, she is sharp, fierce and incredibly intelligent. But even this feels tokenistic. There is a stronger showing of women in the outer ministry, with Sen. Fiona Nash (great first name by the way), the Hon. Sussan Ley, Marise Payne and Michaelia Cash. LNP, give yourselves a pat on the back, 5 out of 30 is pretty much 50%. Good show old boys.

Much of the arguments used to counter claims of the poor female presence in cabinet are based on merit. I agree with this argument – to a point. It is hard to foster female talent when there isn’t a quota in place, as there is under the ALP or the Greens. It’s hard to foster that talent when the LNP operates like a glorified gentleman’s club. And it’s hard to foster talent when none of the LNP leaders has expressed any particular interest in bringing women to the fore and nurturing female talent. Of course, quotas and affirmative action policies aren’t the only way to help women make a positive contribution, it can also be attributed to the party’s culture and ability to be inclusive to new, key talent. The LNP has failed to demonstrate any of these attributes and continues to stay loyal to that particular tradition.

But it’s ok feminists – calm your farm. Tony Abbott expressed sincere disappointment about the lack of women in Cabinet. This is despite the fact that he more or less decided the list. It will just take time for the women to keep knocking on the door of cabinet until such a time they break the doors down.

If this were indeed the case, and it clearly isn’t, it would have been fantastic to see women in the role of Parliamentary Secretaries where they could gain the exposure and experience they needed to become fully fledged, Ministerial fighting machines. So far we have Sen. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Oh, and a few crickets in the mix. Yeah.

This is incredibly disappointing. It is clear that aside from the electoral buys of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and Abbott’s daughters clinging off his arms at any available opportunity, we don’t have a government that supports women or the future of the economy. We do however, have a Government that is intending to slip underneath the radar, to bring sports to the front page and return to the idyllic age of the 1950s.  I hope the women that voted for the LNP and the people that wanted better services, better jobs for the future and a stronger Australia pause and reflect that the Government stands for. Remember, we had a woman Prime Minster, a government with the higher proportion of female representatives in our history, disability care, part of an NBN and potentially marriage equality.

What I’m getting at here is – don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

And on that note, I’m going to go flick through my binders full of women and knock on a few cabinet doors just to see what will happen. I might even plan a trip to Afghanistan, just to work out how they run Government.

For a full list of Abbott’s first ministry, check this out – http://www.scribd.com/doc/168478869/Tony-Abbott-s-first-Ministry

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