SYDNEY–Australia’s new Labor chief Bill Shorten Monday appointed 11 women to his frontbench, including his deputy, describing Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s inclusion of just one as “ridiculous.” Shorten, who won a vote to become opposition leader on Sunday, also cautioned Abbott against playing “political games” by threatening fresh elections next year over a deadlock on climate change policy. The former union chief unveiled a new 30-person cabinet including ex-Health Minister Tanya Plibersek as his deputy, ex-Finance Minister Penny Wong as Senate leader and nine other women — a balance he described as “particularly pleasing.” Labor delivered Australia its first female premier, Julia Gillard, in a leadership coup in 2010. She was prime minister until being ousted in June by her predecessor Kevin Rudd who went on to lose last month’s elections to Abbott.
Gillard congratulated Plibersek, the daughter of Slovenian migrants, on her promotion, paying tribute to her “achievement and vision, wit and warmth” on Twitter.
“I don’t think that there are many countries in the world where someone whose parents came here with nothing but a suitcase each could ever aspire to being a member of parliament, let alone taking on this responsibility that my colleagues have entrusted me with,” Plibersek said. A public debate over sexism raged during Gillard’s time in office and it was revived after the election when Abbott appointed just one woman to his cabinet — Foreign Minister Julie Bishop — and made himself the minister for women.
“We are on track in Labor to have more women lined up in positions of influence in the shadow executive of Australia than has been seen either in a government or indeed in an opposition ever,” said Shorten. “There were six women in the last Labor cabinet, there’s one now in the (Abbott government’s) coalition cabinet. That is ridiculous.”
Shorten said Abbott’s ministry “presumes a very old-fashioned view of the world.” He also took aim at the conservative leader’s repeated warnings that Labor respect his “mandate” to repeal their hard-fought corporate pollution tax, which was among his key campaign promises.
“If Mr. Shorten is fair dinkum about democratic politics and if he is fair dinkum about heeding the voice of the people, he will accept that the last election was a referendum on the carbon tax,” Abbott told reporters. “The carbon tax was decisively rejected. The only people who don’t understand that seems to be the members of the parliamentary Labor Party.” Abbott has threatened to dissolve both houses of parliament and return to the polls if Labor frustrates his ambitions to overturn the levy. “The idea that you might call a double dissolution to play some game — this nation doesn’t have time to waste, the rest of the world is not waiting for Australia to work things out,” said Shorten. “Look at the pandemonium in the United States when they have budget shutdowns. Nations can’t afford political games.” Shorten pledged to “draw a line under the division of the past” that saw two Labor party coups in as many terms in office, saying “we will have zero tolerance for disunity.”