Bishop on being the only woman in the Abbott cabinet


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“My thought was ‘hello, it’s the 21st century and the Australian cabinet has one woman’,” she told the Queensland University of Technology Business Leaders’ Forum.

“It was extraordinary.”

Ms Bishop, who was the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and foreign affairs minister in the first Abbott cabinet, said she tried to make her point around the cabinet table clear and relevant.

“I would say something and there would be silence, then they’d move on,” she said.

“And then somebody else would say precisely what I’d said, precisely what I’d said, and the guys would go ‘good one, yep, we’ll have one of those, terrific idea’ and I’d think, ‘did they not hear me?’.

“I labelled it gender deafness.”

It was a candour that was lacking in 2014, when she spoke in defence of Mr Abbott after he winked at a radio host, Ms Bishop argued the government was not sexist.

“Believe me, I’ve worked in some sexist environments and this [government] is not one of them,” she said at the time.

Ms Bishop, who announced she would quit politics in February, said the culture in the Australian Parliament was still very male-oriented, which was understandable because it was created by men.

“The adversarial question time suits men brilliantly; jousting across the dispatch box,” she said.

“But until there’s a critical mass of women, until there’s a critical number of women, and I say, how about 50 per cent in the Parliament, the overriding attitude will invariably be that created by the men.

“There’s a lot of testosterone in Canberra.”

After the May federal election, women made up 47 per cent of Labor’s ranks and 23 per cent for the Liberals.

Ms Bishop also said she did not believe it was necessary to create the Department of Home Affairs, under Peter Dutton.

“I am on the record as saying that I did not think the arrangements prior to the creation of the Home Affairs department needed changing,” she said.

“I believe that the structure, while not perfect, would accommodate the changing environment, most certainly the global threats and opportunities that we face are ever evolving, but I believe that the current structure would be able to evolve with it.

“I was not a supporter of the whole concept of a Home Affairs department.”

Ms Bishop said she believed the area should be under constant review, as a result of rapid changes in threats and technology.

“Whether the Parliament has sufficient oversight is something for the current Parliament to consider,” she said.

However, asked if it was necessary for another Hope Commission, Ms Bishop said she did not know if a royal commission was the answer.

Ms Bishop refused to be drawn on comments from Mr Dutton, due to be aired on Sky News, that former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation was vindictive and selfish.

“It might not surprise you but I rejected all the kind invitations to appear on that program so I won’t be putting my perspective,” she said.

Mr Dutton also claimed Mr Turnbull offered him the deputy leadership – a position Ms Bishop held at the time – during last year’s spill.

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