Julie Bishop has slammed the lack of women in Australian politics — and taken a subtle swipe at her own party at the same time.
Speaking at an International Women’s Day event in Sydney on Thursday, Ms Bishop, who will quit politics at the looming federal election after an 21-year career, reflected on some of the barriers facing her female colleagues.
And she didn’t shy away from the abysmal track record of her own party.
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“In the House of Representatives where the laws are implemented, where the national debates occur — my side of politics, the governing parties, have 11 of the 150 members who are female. Four of us are retiring at the next election,” she said at the event organised by The Body Shop.
“We need to preselect and elect more women because the pool of talent is there, the women of merit who deserve to be elected are out there.
“We might have to dig a little deeper, but they are there and we must ensure that more women enter public life and are encouraged to be part of the decision-making that affects everybody in Australia.”
She also highlighted how in 1997 Australia was ranked 15th in the world in terms of female representation in our parliament.
But today, in 2019, our ranking has slipped to 50th place.
And according to a report released by the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency last week, while there are more women in the workforce and in managerial positions today, when it comes to the upper echelons of leadership, based on current projections it will take us another 80 years before we see “equality between men and women” at senior levels.
Ms Bishop, who was the Liberal Party’s deputy leader for 11 years and served as Australia’s foreign minister under prime ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, cited the World Economic Forum’s findings that the global gender pay gap was around 30 per cent, compared to Australia’s 15 per cent.
She said attitudes needed to change before the “dearth of women” in leadership roles could be fixed, with just 20 nations in the world having a female leader.
“We can debate about quotas and we can talk about targets and we can legislate, but we also have to change attitudes — the way people feel about equality and diversity,” she said.
“No nation will reach its potential unless and until it fully engages with the skills and talents and energy and ideas of the 50 per cent of its population that is female.”
Ms Bishop also reflected on her own long career, revealing she kept her dream of becoming foreign minster a closely-guarded secret for 15 long years, because “in politics women are frowned upon if they wear their ambition on their sleeve”.
Ms Bishop would not be drawn into whether she had personally experienced sexism during her long political career when asked by news.com.au.
But she said there were many barriers holding women back from entering parliament in the first place, as it was a historically male-dominated and adversarial environment which was not family friendly, with a creche only opening at Parliament House recently and with federal parliament physically sitting in Canberra for about 25 weeks per year.
She said it had taken 42 years between women gaining the right to stand for parliament in 1902 and the first female member of the House of Representatives being elected in 1943 — and 108 years to get our first female prime minister.
She also dropped hints at what she might do post politics, referring to her two ambassadorial roles with Ocean Respect Racing and the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.
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