Reflection on Julie Bishop being overlooked as a potential Prime Minister

Will the Liberal Party ever be led by a Woman?

Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey

It is hard to not believe that gender was a dominant factor in Julie Bishop losing the leadership ballot after Malcolm Turnbull called a spill on Friday 24 August 2018.

This is due to the Coalition Parliamentarians ignoring glaringly obvious advantages that many in the electorate highlighted about Julie Bishop as a prime candidate for being Australia’s next Prime Minister. These included being:

  • the person with the greatest chance of electoral success as polls showed
  • the first woman to be Deputy of the Liberal Party, a position she held since 2007 and Australia’s first female Foreign Minister since 2013
  • a competent leader with a track record of achievements at home and abroad
  • a dedicated Minister with a strong work ethic

In the face of Julie Bishop’s popularity, competence, experience, personality, international status and the ability to connect with constituents, we are yet to understand why so many in the Turnbull Government did not see her as a serious contender for the role of Prime Minister.

This is ironic given that the electorate showed a preference for her as Prime Minister. Furthermore, this preference flies against a large body of research that shows that female candidates face many more obstacles from the public when running for Office than men. Julie Bishop was popular in the public arena, but unpopular in the party whom she had consistently been loyal to.

How can the Liberal Party move forward so that women can lead it and one might become Prime Minister of Australia?

The Party can

  • ensure that gender does not matter as a discriminatory factor in considering potential and experience for higher positions of power and influence in government
  • call out outdated norms of masculinity that dominate perceptions of leadership
  • create equal opportunities for women and men to access and build capacity in leadership pipelines
  • create equal opportunities for women and men to access more influential positions in government
  • maintain a level playing field for women to rise to the top of the Liberal Party

In the book, Considerations for Australia’s Next Woman Prime Minister (2013) which researched the views of many leading Australian women, I concluded that “Gillard’s leadership highlighted that women are not equally valued as men performing masculinity, nor valued when they excel, and that (there was) a perceived incongruity of a woman as a leader in the highest public Office…”

I hope that the current Scott Morrison Government ensures that the Liberal Party will tackle its inegalitarian glass ceiling for high performing women aiming to rise to the top of the Liberal Party.

Boosting the Liberal Party’s low female representation through gender and diversity quotas in preselection competitions will create a pipeline of aspiring diverse women leaders.

Together, political leaders can and must pave the way forward for gender to become irrelevant in political leadership as a discriminatory factor against women.

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