Women in Australia's Parliament

Is there an easy explanation for Tony Abbott’s male-dominated cabinet? Not that I can see.

Australia’s Prime Minister-elect, Tony Abbott, has received a lot of criticism for selecting only a single woman amongst his 19 cabinet ministers. ‘The cabinet of Afghanistan now has more women (three) in it’ noted acting Labor leader Chris Bowen. Or as the Guardian put it, somewhat more sedately, ‘Tony Abbott unveils experienced, male-dominated cabinet.’

This plays nicely into the Labor opposition’s continuing narrative that Abbot has a problem with women. But I’m unwilling to ascribe to malice what can be otherwise explained, so I wondered: perhaps the Guardian had inadvertently uncovered the cause. Perhaps, I thought, the Coalition simply has very few experienced female parliamentarians who would be suitable for cabinet positions.

It’s not a completely ridiculous idea: the proportion of female MPs has been steadily rising, so the median years of parliamentary experience of a female MP is certain to be less than that of a male MP. Could this explain Abbott’s cabinet?

Well, no. As you can see from the chart below, Abbot had quite a number of female parliamentarians to choose from, going right back to Bronwyn Bishop, who entered federal parliament in 1994 (experience which Abbott has recognised with a nomination to the speakership). It is true that the Coalition does not have as many experienced female MPs as does Labor (19 to Labor’s 30, despite the Labor losses), but it has more than enough to expect more female ministerial talent.

Note these numbers are not final—they’re based on AEC ‘leading party’ numbers, and may well change slightly as very close seats are finally called. They represent the senate as it is now, not as it will be next July when newly elected senators take office. The years of entry are based mostly on Wikipedia articles, so let me know if you find an error.

Updates: I’ve updated the chart to (a) correct one error (I had Nigel Scullion of the CLP on the wrong side of the aisle) and (b) to highlight which members are in Tony Abbott’s first Cabinet (thanks to Fred W-S for this suggestion).

Women in Australia's Parliament

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