CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has rekindled the sexism accusations that have dogged his political career by naming only one woman — Foreign Minister Julie Bishop — to the 19-member Cabinet that will be sworn into government Wednesday.
Six women are among the 42 executive members of government named by Abbott on Monday: Bishop, the deputy leader of the ruling Liberal Party, and five women who will serve in lower ministries or as parliamentary secretary.
Abbott, a 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian, battled perceptions of sexism to lead his conservative coalition to an election victory Sept. 7. His government is likely to hold 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.
Sue Boyce, a Liberal senator who will retire from Parliament next year, said the lack of women in Abbott's Cabinet spoiled the win. "It's a shame that this shocking and embarrassing statistic will permanently tarnish a wonderful victory," Boyce said in a statement. She urged her party to reform its candidate selection processes to ensure that more women take on senior roles.
Abbott said he had hoped that party stalwart Sophie Mirabella would become a Cabinet minister, but she appears likely to become the only Liberal lawmaker to lose her seat at the election. Vote counting continued Monday.
"So plainly, I am disappointed that there are not at least two women in the Cabinet," Abbott told reporters. "Nevertheless, there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the Cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministries," he said.
"So I think you can expect to see, as time goes by, more women in both the Cabinet and the ministry," he added. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the first woman to lead the country, had five women in her Labor Party-led government's 22-member Cabinet in early 2012. The 42 executive members of the government then included 12 women.
Abbott was notoriously branded "a misogynist" and "sexist" by Gillard in a speech to Parliament that year that was lauded by feminists around the world. Labor replaced Gillard as prime minister in June with Kevin Rudd, who promoted six women to his Cabinet.
The proportion of women in Australia's Parliament has been steadily increasing since the early 1970s. Women made up 39 percent of the House of Representatives and 24 percent of the Senate before the latest election, according to the Parliamentary Library's latest figures.
Abbott on Monday described his leadership team as one of the most experienced incoming ministries in Australian history. Chris Bowen, a senior member of the Labor government that was defeated by Abbott after six years in power, said Afghanistan, which has three female Cabinet ministers, now will have more than Australia.
"It's a great shame that we only have one female member of the Cabinet of Australia," Bowen said. "Can the prime minister-elect look the Australian people in the eye and say not one other female in his entire party room was qualified enough, was meritorious enough, to serve in the Cabinet of Australia in 2013? I find that very disappointing," he added.
Eva Cox, founder of the Australian feminist group Women's Electoral Lobby, said the conservatives need to follow Labor's example by adopting policies to actively promote increased female representation in politics. The conservatives have refused any quota system to increase the number of female candidates, arguing that the best candidate should be chosen on merit rather than gender.
"If they claim that the reason they don't promote women is that they promote on merit, it suggests that the version of merit that the Liberal Party has is a very limited one," Cox said. Abbott also announced on Monday that Australia's contentious new policy on asylum-seekers, which includes turning back their boats to Indonesia, will begin Wednesday when his government is sworn in.
Abbott said Monday he hopes to travel to Indonesia for high-level meetings ahead of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in the resort island of Bali in early October. His approach includes directing the Australian navy to turn boats back to Indonesia and buying boats from Indonesian fishing villages to prevent them from falling into the hands of people-smugglers.
Indonesian officials have criticized both strategies and warned against unilateral action by Australia.