Comment: Abbott's ministry of merit built on rickety ideas

Julie Bishop, as Foreign Affairs Minister, is the only woman in the Cabinet but Mr Abbott has promoted a number of women to the outer ministry

Tony Abbott hasn't been sworn in as Prime Minister yet, but already he's under fire for including only one woman in his inner cabinet. It's time to shake up a system that clearly isn't working, writes Rebecca Shaw.

Here’s a good joke: “What has nineteen men, one woman and doesn’t want emphasis put on science, mental health, disability or climate change?’ The punch line is Tony Abbott’s new ministry. The joke is on all of us.

If you managed to wade through the countless Harry Potter-related ministry jokes on Twitter without throwing your computer away, you would be aware that there are issues with the new Abbott ministry. For one, there is no longer an individual portfolio for Science, Disability Reform, Ageing, Higher Education, Mental Health or Industrial Relations (great sign, workers of Australia!).  

There is, however, a Minister for Sport (the ever-popular Peter Dutton). At the same time, he will be Minister for Health. That seems like a lot for one minister to handle, but don’t worry, it makes total sense. It’s just like the old saying from Grease  – "We [Sport and Health] go together like rama lama lama ka ding look over there everything is fine a de dinga dong". Additionally, the Minister for Immigration has been rebranded as "Minister for Immigration and Border Protection". That minister is still Scott Morrison, so it may as well be changed to "Minister for Repelling Non-White People".

On top of this, I find myself worrying my pretty little head about the fact in a cabinet of twenty, Mr Abbott only found a place for one - yes, that's 1, un, uno, yi, eins - woman, Julie Bishop.

Mr Abbott said he was “disappointed that there are not at least two women in cabinet”, as if he had no control over the decision, and as if two women would make everything even.

In total, only six women are among the 42 executive members of government named. As a mere woman, I cannot figure out the exact percentage on that, but I recognise it isn’t good. Senator Eric Abetz defended it, saying that the Coalition believes in merit over quotas and “if I might say with respect, have a look at the Labor Party and you can see what quotas do.”

So I did look at the Labor Party, and as far as I can tell, quotas mean more women get opportunities and sometimes become Prime Minister, but as I said earlier, I am just a woman and this complicated. Is quota like quinoa? That stuff is delicious.

What isn’t delicious is this ‘merit’ argument people love to fall back on.

Of course, in an ideal world the best minds get the same opportunities to excel and are then selected on merit. In an idea world, Beyoncé also calls me before bed to say goodnight. These things do not happen.

Are these people arguing that there are zero other qualified women in the Coalition? If so, find a different argument, because that one makes your party sound even worse.

The problem is systemic. Not enough women are getting pre-selected for winnable seats. They aren’t getting placed in positions that give them top-level experience (for example, the highly visible Kelly O’Dwyer wasn’t given a parliamentary secretary position), so they're not given the opportunity to be chosen on merit. Worst of all, they are in the unenviable position of existing in a "rewards for merit"-based system that, coincidentally, only seems to reward the qualities specifically held by connected white men.

Tony Abbott’s ministry is not the result of a meritocracy. It is the result of a system that doesn’t give women the same opportunities as men. 

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.

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