A lot has been written and said about our Federal Cabinet.
From the day Tony Abbott unveiled his senior team, featuring 18 men and a single female, its composition has been the source of debate, discussion and disagreement. At the time Abbott quite famously said “it’s disappointing” and noted “there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door”.
Well, Tony, it’s time to let them in.
If the government was thriving any calls for a Cabinet reshuffle might be easy to dismiss. Over the past week, however, it’s become increasingly clear this is not a thriving government; even staunch supporters are saying that.
As a result this week Tony Abbott has been on a mission to arrest this perception and reset his government’s message. If he is serious about resetting, what better place to start than to overhaul his Cabinet? Talk of a reshuffle has been on the cards anyway and, as Abbott himself said, there are some talented women waiting in the wings.
Here are 5 senior Liberal women for whom the Cabinet door could be opened.
“As the youngest woman in the coalition, I am proud to join the ranks of women in Canberra and hope to welcome many more female colleagues here in the next few years,” Marise Payne said in her first speech as senator.
Payne is the Senator for Western Sydney and minister for Human Services for the Abbot government since September 2013.
Payne was born and raised in Sydney and the NSW Southern Highlands, attending MLC school, Burwood and completing her Bachelor of Arts and Laws at the University of NSW.
She has been a member of the Liberal party since 1982, joining because she felt she had a responsibility to become involved. She was the first female President of the National Young Liberal movement.
After a resignation from Senator Bob Woods, Marise was elected for the casual vacancy in 1997 as Australian Senate. She was then elected in 2001, 2007 and 2013.
She is a former member of 25 parliamentary committees, and has served as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Development and Employment, Shadow Minister for COAG, and Shadow Minister for Housing.
She has been a Member of Parliamentary Delegates to 10 countries, including as a leader at the Official Delegation to observe Presidential Elections in East Timor in 2002.
“I also salute the women of the Liberal Party. It has not always been an easy road but the great successes of the Liberal Women’s Forum, particularly in the 1996 election, have set in concrete the importance of our efforts,” she said. “The faith, the tenacity and the mutual support of the women won through. As the youngest woman in the coalition, I am proud to join the ranks of women in Canberra and hope to welcome many more female colleagues here in the next few years.”
Working in Western Sydney, Marise is highly involved in the local community, where she works on community issues as diverse as human rights, emerging technologies and the implications of our ageing population. She also actively supports local organizations and businesses to help the Greater Western Sydney region develop its great potential. Away from politics, Marise is a big football fan, committed to both the St George/Illawarra Dragons (NRL) and the Geelong Cats.
Sussan Ley MP
Sussan Ley was born in Nigeria and her resume includes stints as a commercial pilot, an air traffic controller and a wool and beef farmer; hardly a typical career path for a politician.
She is now the Assistant Minister for Education and early childhood learning. Ley spent her childhood in the United Arab Emirates, migrating to Australia from Nigeria at age 13. She was schooled in the UK, QLD and ACT.When her first child turned one, she entered the first year of what would be 10 years of part-time tertiary study. She acquired 3 degrees including a Bachelor of Economics, Master of Taxation Law and a Master of Accounting and by the end of that she also had three children.
Ley entered a livestock and dairy partnership where she experienced the highs and lows of life for farming families. While still helping at the farm, she took a position with the ATO and graduated to role of Director before seeking Liberal Party pre-selection in 2001.
In 2004, she was re-elected and given the responsibility of Parliamentary Secretary for Children and Youth Affairs, then Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2006.
She was a member of the shadow ministry from 2007 to 2013, including as Shadow Minister for Housing, Shadow Minister for the Status of Women, Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Shadow Minister for Employment Participation and Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood.
After Abbott’s election, Sussan became Assistant Minister for Education, allowing her to continue her extensive work on improving Australia’s childcare.
“Access to affordable childcare is considered the biggest barrier to workforce participation for women, which in turn impacts on everything from the household budget to the national economy” she said in a statement on the Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood learning.
Due to her time spent in rural areas of Australia, Sussan is also a passionate advocate for regional issues, particularly bridging the ‘city v country divide’, as well as supporting farmers, home grown food security, balancing water for agriculture and the environment and the improvement of rural health services.
Politics runs in Michaelia Cash’s blood. Her father, the Hon George Cash AM was a Minister in the Western Australia Government and a former member of the Legislative Council.
Cash is a long-standing member of the Liberal Party and has been a Liberal member of the senate since July 2008, where she represents Western Australia. Senator Cash has been elected to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. In September 2010 she was made the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Status of Women and the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration.
She was an executive member of the Curtin University Young Liberals from 1988 to 1990 and then the Western Australian Young Liberal Movement, where she held numerous positions including state vice-president.
She holds an Honors Degree in Law from the University of London, as well as an Arts degree from Curtin University in Perth, graduating with a triple major in public relations, politics and journalism. Prior to her political career, Michaelia was a lawyer with Freehills.
As the Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women Cash has been a highly visible member of the Abbott government.
Fiona Nash is a busy woman. She runs a farm, represents the people of NSW and has a family, and it is those roles that drive her.
“As a wife, mother and farmer from a rural area and as a senator for The Nationals, I am concerned about the divide between city and country,” Nash said in her first speech as Senator.
In 2004, Nash was elected as Senator for NSW and Deputy Leader of the National Party in the Senate and the Assistant Minister for Health. She was re-elected in 2010.
She has been involved in more than a dozen Senate committees while in parliament and is the former Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education.
Taking advantage of the opportunities that arise when living outside major metropolitan areas, Nash moved to Bathurst to study at Mitchell college, and in 1991 moved to Crowther with her husband, David, to join the local branch of the National Party.
Within the National Party, Senator Nash has been a branch Chair, State Executive, Federal Council Delegate, Whip in the Senate and Deputy Leader in the Senate.
Nash’s chances of a promotion to Cabinet might be compromised however. At the beginning of this year, the Senate voted to censure her due to a conflict of interest regarding her chief of staff and her failure to hand over a document.
In 2008, she was dumped from the Senate by Malcolm Turnbull after ‘crossing the floor’ to vote against a motion on tax breaks. She said she did this because she believed voting for the bill supported her rural constituency and she believed the tax breaks would allow big business to easily take over good farming land.
Despite the controversy, Nash remains a strong voice for regional communities: “While I represent the people of New South Wales, my focus will be on those who live outside our major cities—those people in our rural and regional communities, whose set of circumstances and lifestyle are often markedly different from those who live in our urban areas,” Nash says.
“Pops, could you ever have imagined when you arrived that one day you would be sitting here watching your daughter in the Australian Senate?” Concetta Fierravanti-Wells asked her migrant father during her first speech as a Senator.
The daughter of Italian migrants, Fierravani-Wells was highly involved with the Australian-Italian community before her time in government. She represented the community on an international level through the General Council of Italians Abroad, and on the General Committee of Italians abroad.
At age 35, Concetta was made a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, when she was recognised by the Italian Government for her work in the community. She was also appointed Ministerial Advisor to the Global Diversity Conference in 1995 and served as a member of Australia’s coordinating body for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Multicultural Advisory Committee for SOCOG.
Prior to her induction into Parliament, Concetta completed a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and European Languages as well as a Bachelor or Laws at the Australian National University in Canberra. She was a lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor for 20 years prior to her entering the Senate in 2005.
Concetta has also been involved with a number of charitable organisations, including serving on as founding board director of a nursing home in Wollongong, involved with organisations such as Zonta international, Red Cross, and was also on the Board of Father Chris Riley’s Youth off the Streets, serving 2 years as Chairman.
Her former roles include Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader in the Senate. In 2010, she was re-elected for a six-year term, appointed Shadow Minister for Mental Health, as well as Shadow minister for Ageing.
Kelly O’Dwyer is the member for Higgins, a position she has held since a by-election in 2009 where she was elected to succeed former Treasurer, and her former boss and mentor, Peter Costello. She was 32 at the time. In her maiden speech she spoke of her political determination.
“Higgins has in me someone who will not make decisions ruled by fear, or the short term media cycle. To do so sacrifices the future of this country on the altar of political expediency today. For the decisions that we make today, here, in this Parliament, will shape our future. We face big challenges. And I will not duck the task of tackling them,” O’Dwyer said.
O’Dwyer grew up in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. Like some of her parliamentary colleagues she worked as a solicitor with Freehills before embarking on a political career.
In 2004 Kelly began working with the then-Treasurer Peter Costello as an economic policy adviser and she counts him as a friend and mentor. After the 2007 Election, Kelly joined the National Australia Bank as an executive but in 2009 made her way into politics.
Kelly is currently the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics which has oversight of the Reserve Bank of Australia. She is also the Chairman of the Coalition’s Defence and Veterans’ Affairs Policy Committee. She is Chairman of the Australia- United States Parliamentary Friendship Group and Convenor of the Australia –Americas Network, encompassing North, Central and South America.
Kelly is the founder and Chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering. In addition, Kelly serves as an Ovarian Cancer Ambassador, a Dementia Champion, Patron of the Stonnington City Brass and Patron of the East Malvern Junior Girls Football Team.
So Tony Abbott was right: there are some talented and deserving Liberal-National women in the wings. But aside from the individual competence of these women, more diverse teams perform better and make better decisions so if Tony Abbott wants to improve his government’s performance starting with diversity in Cabinet is a win-win.
If you think it’s time for Tony to open the Cabinet door, you can support Fair Agenda’s campaign here.