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Cabinet mums:

Kevin Rudd's revival as Prime Minister has resulted in more women - and more mums - in positions of power in the Federal Government.
By Bonita Mersiades
Date: July 02 2013
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Kevin Rudd may have effectively defused gender and parenthood as an issue in the forthcoming election – even though he turned the tables on Australia’s first woman Prime Minister last week. Mr Rudd was re-elected as Leader of the Labor Party three years and three days after Ms Gillard was part of a putsch to remove him from office in 2010.

Mr Rudd is married to a successful business woman, Therese Rein. They have a daughter, Jessica Rudd, who is a lawyer and writes political novels; and a young granddaughter, Josephine Tse. Mr Rudd and Ms Rein also have two sons.

Tony Abbott has made regular media or campaign appearances with his wife, Margie Abbott and their three daughters. Mrs Abbott runs a child care centre. Mr Abbott’s family status was a contrast to Ms Gillard – but it is one that no longer exists between the two leaders.  

Mr Rudd has also shown his commitment to advancing capable women.

Yesterday he appointed a record six women to the Cabinet in his reshuffle. Two of those women, Penny Wong and Jacinta Collins, are the leader and deputy leader of Labor in the Senate and are amongst the top four senior politicians in the Government.

In addition to the six in Cabinet, there are a further five women in the ‘outer’ Ministry and two women appointed as Parliamentary secretaries, giving a total of 13 women in key positions within the Rudd Government.

But before we all dance in the streets, the 13 women represent less than one-third (31%) of all positions available. The Opposition has nine women in similar roles, which is 19% of the available positions.

Two are in the Shadow Cabinet, including the Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop, and Sophie Mirabella. Four are in the outer Shadow Ministry and three are Shadow Parliamentary secretaries.

Senator Wong has retained the critical Finance portfolio. It’s a little understood department outside Canberra, but is a powerful ‘vetter’ of expenditure and can be the difference between something happening or not. It is Finance’s role to question government spending and the effectiveness of funding programs, based on the broad budgetary and economic parameters set by the Government on the advice of the Treasury.

Senator Jacinta Collins has taken over Mark Butler’s portfolio of Mental Health and Ageing. Mr Butler has been a quiet, but effective, achiever as a Minister.

In the midst of the leadership turmoil last week, landmark aged care reform passed through the Parliament and will set the stage for giving greater choice for consumers and to improving sustainability of the sector.

Other Ministers in Cabinet include Jenny Macklin and Tanya Plibersek who hold the same roles as previously.

Ms Macklin has just overseen the establishment yesterday of the first trial sites under the new Disability Care Australia (formerly NDIS). She is recognised inside and outside government as a significant reformer and policy thinker.

Two newcomers in the Rudd Cabinet include Julie Collins from Tasmania (pictured) who has the portfolios of housing, the status of women and Indigenous employment; and Catherine King from Ballarat in Victoria who is responsible for regional Australia.

The Prime Minister said that all the women were appointed on their merits and dismissed a suggestion from one journalist that it was a "peace offering to female voters".

"I pay a lot of tribute to those trailblazers in the past who opened the door, made it more possible and then made it entirely normal."

He said that, regardless of who wins the election to be held this year, he hopes Australia gets to the point "where these questions of gender are no longer asked".

Of the 13 women in Mr Rudd’s Ministry, more than half are also mothers with children ranging in age from toddlers through to young adults. 

A similar proportion of the nine women in Mr Abbott’s Ministry are also mothers. Sophie Mirabella has the youngest child (5 years); others have teenagers or adult children.

In another first, the first Muslim member of the Australian Parliament was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Broadband. Sydney-born Ed Husic is the Member for Chifley in western Sydney.

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