Women deflation in the Abbott frontbench

Tony Abbott has announced a relatively surprise free ministry. AAP/Alan Porritt

Tony Abbott has only five women in a 30-member ministry that preserves stability in the higher reaches of his team but promotes some new talent in the junior levels.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop is the only woman in the new cabinet, a reduction of one compared with the shadow cabinet, and there are four women in the outer ministry, the same number as in opposition.

A big winner in the new line up is Senator Mathias Cormann, who becomes minister for finance and is promoted into cabinet. This position had been expected to go to John Howard’s former chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos, who had been shadow parliamentary secretary to Abbott and is highly regarded. But the Prime Minister-elect said he believed in a “stable, measured, calm approach” to doing things and part of such an approach was “orderly promotion, orderly succession”.

Abbott quashed suggestions that Sinodinos was not getting finance because he could be called before a corruption inquiry in relation to a company directorship he held previously. Sinodinos will become assistant treasurer in the outer ministry.

Abbott has maintained most people in his cabinet in the jobs they shadowed, although there have been some changes. Andrew Robb, who was finance spokesman, becomes minister for trade and investment; Deputy Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce takes agriculture; Ian Macfarlane assumes the industry job which is vacated by Sophie Mirabella who is likely to lose her seat of Indi, while retaining resources.

Two women have been promoted from parliamentary secretary level to the outer ministry - the Nationals deputy Senate leader Fiona Nash, who becomes assistant minister for health, and Michaelia Cash, who is assistant minister for immigration and border protection.

But Bronwyn Bishop, who was a junior shadow minister, has agreed to become Speaker. Another woman, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who had been a shadow minister, has been dumped to be parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Social Services. She is the only woman among a dozen parliamentary secretaries, compared with three in the old parliamentary secretary ranks.

Despite this, Abbott said there were “strong and capable women knocking on the door of the cabinet and there are strong and capable women knocking on the door of the outer ministry. And two of the four new faces in the outer ministry are women.”

Labor’s interim leader Chris Bowen said the “cabinet of Afghanistan now has more women than the cabinet of Australia.”

The Nationals have only three ministers at cabinet level (compared to four in the shadow cabinet) but two outer ministers (compared with one). One National, John Cobb, has been dispatched from shadow cabinet to the backbench.

Jamie Briggs, a former Howard staffer, is promoted from parliamentary secretary ranks to assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development.

New parliamentary secretaries include Steven Ciobo, who has served in the executive before, and several up-and-comers from the backbench – Paul Fletcher, Josh Frydenberg, Alan Tudge and Nationals’ Michael McCormack. But Victorian Liberal Kelly O'Dwyer, also seen as a rising talent, missed out.

Parliamentary secretaries dropped include Ian McDonald (who issued a public protest), Andrew Southcott, Teresa Gambaro and Don Randall.

Abbott told his first news conference since the election that there was “enormous stability in this team”, while there had also been some “significant promotions”.

Abbott stressed he had paired down the titles of ministers, replacing the “title inflation” with a “title deflation”.

Former whip Warren Entsch will chair a new parliamentary committee for northern development.

Philip Ruddock, the father of the house and Abbott’s travelling guru during the campaign, will become whip. Abbott said there was no one better to act as “tutor in chief to our new members… no better person to give to the class of 2013 the kind of insights necessary if they are to have long and successful parliamentary careers”.

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