FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop, a rare female voice in the Australian government, said on Sunday that she was quitting the frontbench after a failed tilt 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, signalling her intention to remain on the backbench.
A moderate, she reportedly garnered only 11 votes out of 85 in the leadership ballot – significantly lower than the two other rightwing 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 Corporation on Sunday, showed them pushing against voting for Bishop as a tactic to back Morrison, who finally emerged as the winner.
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 which were ignored until copied by her male colleagues.
‘Tireless work ethic’
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 behaviour 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 MH17 in 2014.
Meanwhile, Australia’s new prime minister began his first full day Saturday with a phone call to Donald Trump as he set about restoring faith in his “battered and bruised” government after a tumultuous week.
Trump congratulates new PM
Morrison was sworn in as the country’s 30th leader late on Friday after a bitter Liberal Party revolt against moderate Turnbull driven by a hardline conservative faction.
The former treasurer, a Turnbull ally who upset right-wing challenger Peter Dutton in the internal party ballot, said he had had a warm chat with the US president.
“Had a great discussion with @realDonaldTrump this morning,” he tweeted.
“We affirmed the strength of the relationship between the US and Australia.”
Morrison said he shared with Trump the story of Australian soldier Leslie “Bull” Allen “who is a symbol of our 100 years of mateship”.
Allen famously carried to safety 12 wounded Americans during an attack on Japanese positions at Mount Tambu in New Guinea during World War II in 1943.
“President Donald J. Trump spoke last night with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and congratulated him on his recent election,” the White House confirmed.
“The two leaders underscored the importance of the bilateral partnership between the United States and Australia. They also pledged to continue to closely cooperate on priorities the two countries share,” it added.
Trump also took to Twitter to congratulate Morrison on Friday.