News that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s front bench is set to contain a record number of women is welcome news. The representation of women in the ministry is set to expand from nine to 11 when Rudd announces today the cabinet he will take to the election.
It has been reported that Victorian Senator Jacinta Collins will become the Minister for Mental Health and Victorian MP Catherine King and Tasmanian MP Julie Collins will enter Cabinet. King takes on the Regional Australia portfolio and Collins gets the portfolio for Housing, Homeless and Status of Women. As well, West Australian MP Melissa Parke will join the outer ministry with the international development and aid portfolio.
As minister after minister resigned last week following the ousting of Julia Gillard from the Labor leadership, I quietly hoped that the women in her ministry would resist the urge to follow their heart instead of their head.
I respectfully disagree with feminist author Anne Summer’s assertion that the women in Gillard’s team should have resigned in solidarity. If that had happened there would be very few senior women left in politics. What would that have achieved other than to put female representation in the political arena on the back foot? And those clever, capable women would have ended the careers they have worked tirelessly to build.
No one expected Rudd’s male supporters to resign in brotherhood solidarity three years ago. The fact that it was raised demonstrates we are still a long way from gender equality in politics. No woman or man should have to support or vote along gender lines. To do so denigrates the value of a person’s contribution beyond gender.
Gillard didn’t deserve the support of her team merely because she was a woman. She earned it as a strong leader who delivered good policies. That’s why she had solid support from the men in her ministry too. And that is the holy grail for female leaders.
The only chance of a second female Prime Minister in the near future is if there is a pipeline of strong, smart, experienced women in the ministry. When Rudd reveals his new line-up today I for one will be thankful that future leaders Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Kate Ellis, Kate Lundy, Jenny Macklin, Sharon Bird and Yvette D’Ath will remain in the team that is leading our nation.