This morning I spoke with 2CC presenter Mark Parton about the new Labor frontbench featuring 11 women appointed yesterday by leader Bill Shorten. Labor's ministry team again highlights the disappointing lack of diversity in Tony Abbott's cabinet. Listen to the full interview or read the transcript:
TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2013
MARK PARTON: Well, we will get the full unveiling of the Labor front bench, the opposition front bench on Friday, but we know that Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for Fraser is back where he belongs. He's a part of the main team. He's on the line now. Hello Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH: G'day Mark. Thank you for that, that's very kind of you.
PARTON: Well, I mean and you know because I've said it publicly for a long time. I just am of the belief that you're one of the most talented and smartest people on the team and you should be in the cockpit driving the plane for God's sake. Now I'm sure, I'm sure that you know more about what portfolio you're going to end up with.
LEIGH: I don't actually. I haven't had the opportunity.
PARTON: Oh come on Andrew.
LEIGH: I'm looking forward to sitting down with Bill Shorten at some stage during the week, but haven't had the chance to even have that face-to-face discussion with him and, as he put it, if you have some sense as to what you're doing then go away and tell your spouse and then walk into an empty room and tell that empty room as well. So I'll be following that sage advice if I do find out what I'm getting.
PARTON: How does it work though? Like in the lead up to now and Friday, you can't tell me that you're not going to have discussions. Are you going to, I mean, do people lobby and say ‘hey, I'd really like this or I'd really like that’.
LEIGH: That's right. People will talk about where they think they'd be best placed to make a contribution. There'll be people who served for a while in particular roles and want to continue doing it. There'll be people who want to move on and Bill Shorten has to take all of that information, crunch it down and produce the best allocation of portfolios.
PARTON: Are you in a position to tell us what you'd like or would you rather not?
LEIGH: Well look, let's stick with your plane analogy Mark. I'm just excited to have gotten a ticket on the plane. I'm making no grabs for the cockpit controls just yet.
PARTON: I've gotta say, I'm a little taken aback by the way that the media focuses on these ructions and you know, the fact that some people are unhappy. Got to understand that everyone that runs for political office has an ego, because if you didn't have an ego, you couldn't do this job. And so when people, more than the required amount of people are going for a certain amount of positions, some of them are going to miss out, and it's not really all that remarkable that people that miss out aren't going to be happy.
LEIGH: That's right, and the other thing that you have is just, you have far more talent in the Labor Party room than there are spots available. So, you could easily fill a second front bench and you'd take people like Ed Husic, Stephen Jones, Kate Lundy. I could pretty comfortably put them up against Abbott ministers of the likes of Peter Dutton and Warren Truss and you'd still have a stronger second team than the Liberal Party's first team.
PARTON: Well, according to you Andrew of course, and of course you've got to say that, wearing that particular coloured jumper. A lot of ...
LEIGH: No, well there's a lot of talented people in that room and I particularly feel for Kate Lundy having missed out, but there's a lot of other people who came in in 2010 or earlier who haven't had the opportunity to serve in the ministry, who if given that chance would do so with distinction.
PARTON: Anna Burke is a feisty Labor soldier. Are you disappointed with the way that she's dealt with this or dealt with this set back of hers?
LEIGH: Anna's entitled to say in the media what she wants to, but I think she served us very well as speaker in very trying circumstances in that parliament there. It was a cauldron into which she was thrust, but that last period of the government where Tony Abbott was doing his best to try and make the parliament break, and Anna just looked back with eyes of steel and maintained order in the house.
PARTON: Can I tell you I never want to have a face-to-face argument with her.
LEIGH: She does seem to be one of the most terrifying people in the parliament, but she's also a very gentle person who's given me a lot of advice in my first term in parliament.
PARTON: But what fascinates me is she's carrying on about the fact that the factions are still ruling here in the one sentence, but in the next sentence then says ‘Oh, well yeah there's 12 women, but there's not enough from this faction’ and it's like, well hang on a second, you can't have it both ways.
LEIGH: Anna Burke has earned the right to make public comments without a whippersnapper like me cutting across it the next day. I'll do her that deference.
PARTON: Alright, there will be a lot made of the fact that there are 11 women in the front bench team. I personally think that there'll be too much made of it because, can I tell you, when I look at the former Labor leader in Julia Gillard, I don't necessarily see her as the first female prime minister, I just see her as the 42nd Prime Minister. To me, it's just about irrelevant the gender of people that are thrust into power. I'm sure you'll disagree with me.
LEIGH: Well I just think it's important to have a front bench that looks like Australia, Mark, and the Abbott front bench is really something out of Mad Men.
PARTON: Out of Mad Men?
LEIGH: Yeah absolutely. You've got one woman in the room, but if the foreign minister's plane is late coming back from an international engagement, as could well happen, then the cabinet is all blokes sitting down to make decisions about the nation's future. And the fact is that where you come from does influence your ability to make decisions. You know, I try and be as sensitive as I can to a range of views, but in the end, I'm a white middle-class bloke and a parliament full of white middle-class blokes, a cabinet full of white middle-class blokes is not a cabinet that's going to govern in the interests of all Australians. I think diversity's a great strength, and I think Mr Abbott's cabinet could have been stronger had he chosen to have more gender diversity as we have with our front bench.
PARTON: I just, I don't know. I just don't subscribe to this whole concept where we are, in some circles, expected to apologise for being a white middle-class bloke. I mean, I just don't get it.
LEIGH: It would matter to you in other dimensions wouldn't it Mark? I mean surely, you wouldn't think it was appropriate to have a cabinet that was all made up of people from Victoria? You'd say, ‘Well, that's pretty unrepresentative, and you'd say...’
PARTON: I don't know, I still reckon Andrew if all of the best people happen to be from Victoria, so be it.
LEIGH: Well, that's certainly not the view that Mr Abbott took. I mean, he was quite careful to achieve representation on a state basis because he thought, I think rightly, that there are different perspectives that come from representing different states. But he didn't apply that same principle to trying to have a cabinet that was representative by gender as we've done…
PARTON: …If only Sophie had got up...
LEIGH: …you never get these things perfectly right. I’m sorry?
PARTON: If only Sophie had got up.
LEIGH: Indeed. But even still, you would have had two women in the cabinet and there you would have been at the stage of maybe the cabinet of Afghanistan rather than being lower still. It's a bit odd to have as many women in cabinet as we had in 1975. I think the country has come a long way in that period. Most corporate boardrooms look more gender diverse than the federal cabinet does today. Diversity isn't everything but I think it matters.
PARTON: Andrew, obviously we're looking forward to finding out what particular gig you've got on Friday. Thanks for joining us this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you Mark.
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