Asia Pacific / Politics

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, rare female voice in government, resigns from Cabinet

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, a rare female voice in the country’s government, said Sunday she was quitting the Cabinet after a failed run at the nation’s top job during a messy party-room coup.

The deputy chief of the Liberal Party, Bishop had put her hand up to be one of three candidates to replace former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Friday’s leadership challenge, but received minimal support from colleagues even as opinion polls pointed to her popularity among voters.

Her departure has raised questions about whether she fell victim to party politics and a perceived glass ceiling for women in Canberra.

“I will be resigning from my Cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs,” Bishop said in a statement, signaling her intention to remain on the back bench.

A moderate, she reportedly garnered only 11 votes out of 85 in the leadership ballot — significantly lower than the two other right-wing challengers, coup instigator Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Treasurer Scott Morrison.

A leaked WhatsApp chat between some Liberal members, revealed by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday, showed them pushing against voting for Bishop as a tactic to back Morrison, who finally emerged as the winner.

Bishop had been foreign minister since 2013 and was replaced by former Defense Minister Marise Payne in the new Cabinet lineup announced by Morrison after her resignation. Morrison’s new Cabinet includes former Turnbull loyalist Christopher Pyne as the new defense chief.

Dutton, whose first challenge on Tuesday sparked the crisis that ultimately toppled Turnbull, returns as home affairs minister in an apparent attempt by Morrison to rebuild unity in his badly bruised party.

However, his portfolio will no longer include immigration, a politically sensitive issue in Australia because of the hard-line approach taken by successive governments against asylum seekers who attempt to arrive illegally.

That policy includes the detention of asylum-seekers on remote Pacific islands such as Nauru, a policy that has had bipartisan support but which has been harshly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups.

Morrison had already announced his Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg, the former energy minister, would take over as treasurer. He said Angus Taylor, a Dutton supporter, would be the new energy minister.

Sen. Mathias Cormann, one of several senior ministers who had pledged their loyalty to Turnbull before turning on him, will return as finance minister in Morrison’s new Cabinet.

Australia has endured a turbulent period in politics that has seen six changes in the top job in 11 years.

The chaos has highlighted not just the infighting within the two major parties — Liberals and Labor — but also how politicians and the electorate view women in power.

One of the casualties was Labor’s Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, who constantly battled misogyny and made international headlines for her fiery rebuttal of then Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott in parliament in 2012.

Bishop has been candid about her experiences as the only woman among 18 men in Cabinet after Abbott won national elections in 2013.

“It was pretty lonely,” the former lawyer said last year, adding that she would suggest ideas that were ignored until copied by her male colleagues.

The male colleagues would suggest “exactly my idea, exactly my initiative … and the others would say, ‘brilliant, what a genius idea!’ ” she said, putting down the behavior to an “unconscious bias.”

“It’s almost a deafness that we still see in Australian society,” she said.

A trailblazer who was Australia’s first female foreign minister and the Liberals’ first female deputy leader, the 62-year-old was hailed by her peers Sunday.

Turnbull tweeted that she was “an inspiring role model for women here and around the world.”

Her Labor counterpart, Penny Wong, praised her “tireless work ethic,” adding that her “commitment to standing up for Australia both here and abroad has never been in question.”

Renowned for her steely gaze dubbed the “death stare,” Bishop’s highlights as foreign minister include her strong condemnation of Russia’s role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014.