Abbott’s almost female-free Ministry was not selected solely on merit.
As Mark Kenny has pointed out, the LNP dissects and allocates those juicy and prestigious positions on a variety of criteria including representation from each State, fair division between Senate and MHRs, the Coalition’s need to include a certain number of National Party MPs, factional weighting and party seniority. And merit.
A moment’s reflection shows that these diverse considerations are pulled together by the overarching necessity of balancing party power relationships through careful apportionment of the spoils of victory. Let me encapsulate that in two words: power relationships.
Harmonising Power Relationships
Abbott and the party executive have carefully thought through each of the power dynamics salient to their party’s needs and satisfied them as well as they possibly can. If the harmonics of the competing power claims are misjudged the party will inevitably collapse into squabbling and disunity. That might take some time, three terms in office even. But ambitious persons and factions will not forever be denied what they see as rightfully theirs: Power.
So, the lesson of the almost-female free Abbott government is that gender balance is not relevant to the internal power relationships within the LNP. It can be and was ignored, or at least set aside, for now.
And by gender balance I mean of course female representation. Imagine if Abbott had selected an entirely female Ministry. Would any men be complaining, Virginia ? Would power relationships be upset ? Would there be squabbling, disunity and collapse ? I will guess YES. But women can be excluded from an LNP Ministry, no complaints, no trouble (yet).
It is not necessary for women to have power.
It is very necessary for men to have power.
And that is how we can see that the Abbott Ministry is sexist.
Women may knock at the doors of power, but in the LNP they may only enter at the whims of men, as noted by 2013 Australian Of The Year Ita Buttrose, herself a trailblazer who as recently as 1989 became the first woman editor of an Australian metropolitan newspaper and who therefore understands personally the sexist hurdles that inhibit female representation at the top levels of power in this country.
Abbott campaigned strongly on the stability of his Shadow Cabinet ministry as compared to the drastic personnel changes in the ALP front bench that resulted from the narcissistic destabilisation campaign authored by Kevin Rudd against Julia Gillard over the term of her Prime Ministership.
This gives Abbott a plausible reason, an electoral promise, to minimise change in his Ministry and might therefore be seen as a merely temporary brake on the proper merit-based promotion of LNP women.
In my view this reasoning is not sufficient. Quite simply, why could not at least one of Bronwyn Bishop (moved to Speaker) or Sophie Mirabella (not re-elected) be replaced by a woman ? And why are there are only four female Parliamentary Secretaries or Assistant Ministers in Abbott’s outer Ministry, this being the pool and proving ground from which Cabinet Ministers are typically drawn ? Indeed one those women in the outer Ministry, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, is universally regarded to be on a career downpath as a result of her endorsement of the inferior candidate James Diaz in Greenway, who failed to win that highly marginal seat in the context of a strong national swing to the LNP.
In short, in Abbott’s ruling circle there are almost no female Cabinet Ministers and few identified as likely Cabinet Ministers.
Could it be that Abbott still believes as he did when aged 41 and a Cabinet Minister in the Howard government, when he told Good Weekend magazine on 29 Aug 1998
…men are by philosophy or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command ?
This is the real Tony. As Abbott said of Mark Latham
…he is already 42 and leopards do not change their spots
For the ALP, of course, female representation is an important element in their power dynamics. If women are poorly represented in ALP power roles then the party is axiomatically destabilised. Should Albo or Shorten select a female-free Cabinet the executive would be under seige instantly and eviscerated (sorry I’ve been reading Politically Homeless again) before sundown.
No, No. It’s Merit.
We could of course take the LNP at their word in their claims that their Cabinet posts, pre-selections and Senate ticket positions are all exclusively and austerely determined by merit.
Which suggests, judging from current outcomes, that the current lot of LNP women are just not up to high office even though as backbenchers their sex appeal is without question.
The objective lack of merit in LNP female MPs as assessed by LNP leadership should be a cause of puzzlement to LNP supporters since the LNP has often claimed that it is the ALP with token and weak female representation due to their talent-destroying female quota system.
Ironically, the only female LNP Cabinet personage, Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop, is not there by merit. Her appointment to Deputy Leader was and is a tokenistic concession by which the LNP tries to appeal to women voters. Doubly ironic is that Bishop’s elevation to Deputy Leader was a strategic move by the LNP to add female representation in order to counter the profile and popularity of Julia Gillard.
Her position as Shadow and now Cabinet Foreign Minister is Bishop’s chosen consolation prize for stepping aside as Shadow Treasurer. Her performance in both Shadow roles left many unimpressed.
Of wonderment to myself is Bishop neglect of her Shadow Trade portfolio in which she did not ask a question of Craig Emerson, the relevant minister, for three years. By contrast, the now departed Sophie Mirabella, while abrasive and self-destructive, was visibly engaged with her Shadow Manufacturing portfolio and able to marshall relevant detail into her statements and questions.
Michelle Grattan, writing in 2010, put it straight-forwardly
She [Bishop] has survived by virtue of her gender and the party’s need for stability.
Also in significant part, Bishop has the Deputy Leadership of the LNP because she represents zero threat to the power relationships of the LNP. In Abbott’s words, unsettling even Andrew Bolt, Bishop is a loyal girl.
Abbott’s first mistake: to give deputy Julie Bishop a cuddle during the press conference and call her a “loyal girl”.
Merit and power: They’re interrelated. But when it comes time to apportion power, merit is only an influence and only sometimes a determinator of outcomes.