Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been branded “pathetic” for appearing to care more about the ratio of Queenslanders in his ministry than the number of women.
Mr Turnbull unveiled his new-look frontbench on Tuesday, including the appointment of five new faces to a cabinet that was expanded to 22 parliamentarians.
Of the five new cabinet ministers, only one was a woman – Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie. But she replaced Fiona Nash as Nationals deputy leader, meaning the gender balance of the cabinet was unchanged.
Senator McKenzie joined four other female cabinet ministers: Julie Bishop, Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash and Kelly O’Dwyer, who has also taken on the role of Minister for Women.
The only other woman promoted to the outer ministry was new Assistant Environment Minister Melissa Price. Overall, about a third of the Turnbull government ministry are women.
Awkwardly, the lack of promotions for female politicians came amid a concerted push for more Queenslanders to enter cabinet.
As a result, first-term Liberal MP John McVeigh and Nationals first-term politician David Littleproud were catapulted from the backbench to cabinet, the latter at the behest of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.
Of the 30 new MPs/Senators elected for the Coalition since 2013 11 of them have been elevated to ministerial/assistant minister/snr party roles.
None of them have been women. #reshuffle
— Conrad Liveris (@ConradLiveris) December 19, 2017
Not one woman promoted in Turnbull's reshuffle, other than Bridget McKenzie who goes into Cabinet by virtue of her elected position
— Paula Matthewson #TeamBinChicken (@Drag0nista) December 19, 2017
I've just been forced to endure the dumbest text exchange for hours with a National parliamentarian who opposes quotas for women because it's not "merit" based, but says Nationals need a quota for the ministry because otherwise they won't get their fair share promoted 🤔 HELP!!!
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) December 15, 2017
Announcing his new team on Tuesday, Mr Turnbull said the ministry “
He was forced to deny the promotions for Mr Littleproud and Mr McVeigh were a result of a Queensland “quota”. To admit this would be embarrassing as the Liberal Party opposes quotas for women.
Women’s Electoral Lobby convenor Jozefa Sobski said the fact there was a push to boost representation for Queenslanders in cabinet but not the number of women would not go unnoticed among female Liberal MPs.
She was “saddened” that Mr Turnbull had not taken “some affirmative action” given his “small ‘l’ liberal credentials”.
“He could have made different choices. The current number is pathetic,” she told The New Daily.
“The fact is that more women in leadership positions will make a difference to the way women are viewed in our society.
“I think it’s a very sad comment on the Liberals given that there are so many strong women in the party.”
Former Office of the Status of Women boss Helen L’Orange said the gender imbalance of the ministry was disappointing but reflected the lack of women in the Coalition party room.
“The Liberals themselves have said they need to be better at recruiting and preselecting women to winnable seats,” she told The New Daily.
“They’ve got a lot of work to do.”
In the Liberal Party, 22 per cent of the party room are women, while in Labor, the figure is 45 per cent. There are only two women among 21 members of the Nationals party room.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the reshuffle showed the Coalition had a “women’s problem”.
“They really now need to start speaking up for half the population and giving half the population proper representation in the Parliament,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Turnbull, who reportedly first referred to himself as a feminist in 1988, began the year with six women in cabinet before former health minister Sussan Ley was forced to resign over an expenses scandal.
Former Labor PM Kevin Rudd boasted in 2013 that his new ministry had a record number of women. His cabinet, which was smaller than Mr Turnbull’s, also had six women.
In 2015, newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a cabinet with a 50-50 gender split.