Women have been the surprising winners in politics of late. Five women are in the new Australian Cabinet announced by Malcolm Turnbull, and another four in the outer ministries. Even though that’s only 25 per cent of seats, it’s better than Tony Abbott’s record – just two women held seats during his tenure.
For the first time, Australia has a female defence minister with Marise Payne taking a role that is usually seen as a man’s job. Kelly O’Dwyer steps up to become small business minister, as well as being elevated to a Cabinet position in her dual role as assistant treasurer. Meanwhile, Michaelia Cash takes on the important employment portfolio. NSW Nationals Senator and Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash stays on as rural health minister, while Sussan Ley retains the health and sport minister job. It’s a portrait that hopefully wipes out the memory of Abbott’s appointment of a man as minister for women.
It’s not just gender change that has swept through the Turnbull administration, but a generational one, too. As the Courier Mail pointed out, the average age of the new Cabinet is 50.95, compared with Tony Abbott’s Cabinet where the average age was 54.31. At 38, Kelly O’Dwyer is the youngest member and has a four month old daughter.
AHRI President Peter Wilson says: “The new ministry is a better reflection of where society is moving and reflective of community standards of having more women in senior roles. It’s a more exciting looking team with a lot of younger, high potential performers who have broken through.”
Turnbull’s cabinet doesn’t represent a high-point in gender equity, however. That accolade goes to Kevin Rudd, whose second cabinet featured six women. The fact remains that in politics, as in the business sector, Australia lags well behind other countries when it comes to promoting women to positions of power and influence. Julia Gillard’s experience as Australia’s first female prime minister was a bruising affair and hardly an encouragement for any young woman aspiring to political office.
Meanwhile in the UK, there’s been an even more radical boost to women’s participation in parliament. Women now comprise the majority of the shadow cabinet following the dramatic election of Jeremy Corbyn, an initial rank outsider, as leader of the Labour party. Adhering to a pre-election pledge to promote women, Corbyn appointed 16 women and 15 men to the inner circle.
Across the Atlantic, many Democrats are still hoping that Hillary Clinton will become the US’s first woman president. That’s still a long way off with the small matter of the primaries to hurdle, but currently Clinton is riding high at 43.4 per cent in the polls, well ahead of her nearest rival, Bernie Sanders, according to the HuffPost. After the election of a black man to president, the American public might be one step closer to accepting a woman into the White House.