Australia has just elevated the first woman to the Defence portfolio, and she asked the nation to judge her on performance rather than gender.
Newly sworn in Marise Payne has made history in the English-speaking world as the first woman to be appointed to the role. The Netherlands, Germany and Norway also currently have female defence ministers.
Along with Kelly O’Dwyer as Assistant Treasurer and Small Business Minister, and Michaelia Cash as Employment Minister and Minister for Women, the addition of Payne brings the total number of women in Cabinet to five (versus 16 men).
Turnbull praised his new Defence Minister, describing her as “one of our most experienced and capable Senators”.
Payne was sworn in as a Senator in 1997, and has spent the last two years as Human Services Minister. She was also a chair of Parliament’s foreign affairs, defence and trade committee, as well as its human rights subcommittee.
Since her appointment was commenced on Sunday, the NSW Senator has come forward in her first major media appearance and congratulated Prime Minister Turnbull for sending out a “real message about gender in this country, about gender balance, about balance in leadership and decision making at the apex of government” by doubling the number of women in the Cabinet.
On the public commentary that surrounded her appointment, Payne said simply that, “All I ask is that I’m judged on my performance, not on my gender.”
She recognised the weight that her appointment held for women in Australia, and said she hoped her rise would encourage other women to enter careers in defence and politics.
“If as Defence Minister and as Australia’s first female Defence Minister I can encourage, or that this appointment encourages, one extra young woman in this nation to consider a career in Defence, or to consider a career in politics…then I think that is an absolutely fabulous thing,” she said.
It is hoped that Senator Payne will bring stability to a previously unstable portfolio. She will oversee some of the nation’s most important defence contracts and supervise open-ended military engagements in two countries. Payne will be required to deliver the Government’s new 20-year defence plan within weeks.
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Joining the current Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop and the Health and Sport Minister, Susan Ley in the Cabinet, Marise Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer and Michaelia Cash bring the total number of women to five. This is a great first step, but the fact remains that an overwhelming majority (16) of Cabinet Ministers are still men.
All the same, I commend the newly-elected Prime Minister for taking these pivotal first steps to creating a more inclusive government than his predecessor’s – the man, who in my opinion, should be henceforth referred to as He Who Must Not Be Named. You only need to look at a country’s government to see whether that nation values equal representation of the genders. In Australia, this is a relatively new value – but one that is growing in strength and force.
The addition of Marise Payne to the coveted Defence portfolio sends a strong message: the person who gets the job will be the best person for the job. Senator Payne has asked to be judged on her performance and not her gender. Though I believe there are still those who would like women to remain absent from government, I think that this country is more ready than ever to recognise what it means to live in the 21st Century. And, if for some reason, the country isn’t ready to recognise it, there are women and men out there who are prepared to push until it does – starting with our new Defence Minister.
What do you think? Has the PM chosen the right person to pick up the Defence portfolio? Does Senator Payne’s promotion to the role represent a positive step forward for Australian women?