Australian prime minister-elect Tony Abbott has rekindled the sexism accusations that have dogged his political career by naming only one woman – foreign minister Julie Bishop – in his 19-member cabinet that will be sworn into government tomorrow.
Six women are among the 42 executive members of government named by Mr Abbott yesterday – Ms Bishop, the deputy leader of the ruling Liberal Party, and five women who will serve in lower ministries or as parliamentary secretaries.
Mr Abbott, a 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian, battled perceptions of sexism to lead his Conservative coalition to an election victory on 7 September. His government is likely to hold 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.
Sue Boyce, a Liberal senator who will retire from parliament next year, said the lack of women in Mr Abbott’s cabinet spoiled the win.
“It’s a shame that this shocking and embarrassing statistic will permanently tarnish a wonderful victory,” Ms Boyce said. She urged her party to reform its candidate selection processes to ensure that more women take on senior roles.
Mr Abbott said he had hoped that party stalwart Sophie Mirabella would become a cabinet minister, but she appears likely to become the only Liberal MP to lose her seat at the election. Vote counting continued yesterday.
“So plainly, I am disappointed that there are not at least two women in the cabinet,” Mr Abbott told reporters.
“Nevertheless, there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministries,” he said.
“So I think you can expect to see, as time goes by, more women in both the cabinet and the ministry,” he added.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard, the first woman to lead the country, had five women in her Labour Party-led government’s 22-member cabinet early last year. The 42 executive members of the government then included 12 women.
Mr Abbott was notoriously branded “a misogynist” and “sexist” by Ms Gillard in a speech to parliament that year which was lauded by feminists around the world.
Labour replaced Ms Gillard as prime minister in June with Kevin Rudd, who promoted six women to his cabinet.
The proportion of women in Australia’s parliament has been steadily increasing since the early 1970s. Women made up 39 per cent of the House of Representatives and 24 per cent of the Senate before the latest election, according to the parliamentary library’s latest figures.
Chris Bowen, a senior member of the Labour government that was defeated by Mr Abbott after six years in power, said Afghanistan, which has three female cabinet ministers, now will have more than Australia.