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the lack of women in parliament is the fault of…a woman!

Image via The Age

Image via The Age

The transition to a new government always brings with it some challenges and this seems to be particularly true of the Abbott Government, especially in relation to the choices for Cabinet.

For the last few years it has been reported that Tony Abbott has an image problem with the female voting demographic.  This sentiment has arisen again with the appointment of only one woman to the new cabinet. While an argument can, and perhaps should, be made that cabinet appointments are based on merit and that gender is not an issue, this is countered by the fact that this Cabinet is made up of eighteen men and one woman.  Surely, if appointments were based purely on merit then there should be a greater mix of genders in parliament. It is extremely worrying that no other women were considered worthy of Cabinet positions particularly for the portfolio of ‘Women’s Issues’. This in itself is very disappointing but what is even more disappointing is that an independent female MP has been held responsible for the lack of female representation in parliament.

Cathy McGowan is an independent MP running against Sophie Mirabella in the seat of Indi. It seems almost certain that Cathy McGowan has won that seat and ‘coalition sources’ have drawn a direct correlation between this and the lack of women, and a Science Minister, in parliament.

It was reported that several sources allegedly told the Guardian Australia that ‘McGowan’s ousting of rightwinger Sophie Mirabella is bad news for the status of women within the government, for science, and for Indi.’

These sources went on to state that ‘We warned of the bad consequences of putting an independent into Indi and we’ll now see that play out.’  Furthermore, ‘all this talk of a lack of women in cabinet or a lack of a science minister – that’s a direct consequence of Cathy McGowan winning. But that’s what everyone around Cathy McGowan campaigned for …’

To me, this seems to be drawing a very long bow. If Sophie Mirabella was slated to be Science Minister and was not elected surely there is someone else suitable to take on this portfolio, particularly if Cabinet appointments are genuinely based on merit. If Sophie Mirabella was to be the only other woman in cabinet then the gender balance was still very skewed. I honestly fail to see the link between an independent MP being elected and the impact of this on the selection of Cabinet positions. The two things are not necessarily inter-related.

These quotes read like a ‘be careful what you wish for’ edict; along the lines of you people wanted Cathy McGowan instead of Sophie Mirabella so we are now going to punish you for this – you were warned of the consequences.

Whatever the reasons for the Cabinet appointments, the Government should own those decisions. If Tony Abbott and his government believe that these are the best people for the job then so be it, we will have to wait and see if this is the case. In the meantime though, reports like this from Senior Coalition sources are detrimental to the choices that have been made and disrespectful to other MPs.

Cathy McGowan dismissed this article and stated that ‘this theory has no credibility. That’s like saying that Labor has no influence because it’s not in government. That’s clearly not the case. It’s about working with the government of the day and that’s something I’m looking forward to doing.’

Every MP that is duly elected by the Australian people has their place in parliament, irrespective of their status as an independent or a member of a political party.  Whether the coalition was disappointed that Sophie Mirabella was not re-elected is irrelevant. Many Australians were equally disappointed with the choice of successful candidates but in the end these people were elected by due process and their role should be acknowledged. It is now time to get past these disappointments, put prejudices aside and get on with the job of effectively governing this country. How that will be done remains to be seen but laying the blame for Cabinet appointments at the feet of an independent MP is not an appropriate way to start.


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