A bigger cabinet and more women in it

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A bigger cabinet and more women in it

Posted 14/12/2011 by Janet Wilson


The new ministry to be sworn in today, with 22 cabinet members, is the largest cabinet since the second and third Whitlam Ministries (1972–75). When the Second Whitlam Ministry was sworn in, all 27 members of the ministry sat as members of the cabinet. During this period, and also between 1901 and 1956, there was no ‘inner cabinet’. The inner cabinet system was formally adopted by the Menzies Government on 11 January 1956 and has characterised all Governments since, with the exception of the Whitlam Government.

The other notable feature of the new ministry is its record number of five female cabinet ministers.

The first woman to serve as a cabinet member was Enid Lyons (who was also the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, and created Dame in 1980). She did not have a portfolio, but rather served as Vice-President of the Executive Council in Menzies’ first ministry from December 1949 for a little over two years.

The first woman to hold a portfolio was Dame Annabelle Rankin, the Minister for Housing, who served in the Holt, McEwen and some of the Gorton ministries, from January 1966 to March 1971, but she was not a cabinet member.

Margaret Guilfoyle (later Dame) entered the Fraser outer ministry, as Minister for Education, and then Minister for Social Security from November 1975; she was promoted into cabinet in July 1976, thus becoming Australia’s first female cabinet minister with a portfolio. She remained the only female minister for the rest of the Fraser administrations.

When the Labor Party was elected in March 1983 Susan Ryan was in cabinet as Minister for Education, and was the only woman in the ministry until 1987. She remained in cabinet until she resigned from Parliament early in 1988.

The formation of Hawke’s third ministry in 1987 marked the start of the gradual increase in the number of women represented in ministries, when as well as Susan Ryan in cabinet, two women were appointed to the outer ministry (Margaret Reynolds and Ros Kelly), making a total of three female ministers.

Since then there have always been at least two women in ministries, rising to four (two in cabinet) in the first Howard ministry in 1996, then to a total of six, with three in cabinet in the 2004–2007 period.

In the first Rudd ministry the number of women in cabinet rose to four, and there were three women in the outer ministry. After the election in 2010 the number of female cabinet ministers remained at four, but there were only two women in the outer ministry.

The new ministry taking its place today has a record of five women in cabinet, and two women in the outer ministry, so there is still a total of seven.

For ministry lists from 1901 to the present see the Parliamentary Handbook, and details about the women serving in 43rd Parliament can be found on the Parliamentary website.


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