While much of the focus after the federal election was on the appointment of just one woman to cabinet, elsewhere in the government female representation actually increased.
The Nationals welcomed a third woman into their party room in September, when Michelle Landry was elected as the new LNP member for Capricornia in central Queensland.
She joins her Senate colleagues Fiona Nash from NSW, now the Assistant Minister for Health, and Victorian Bridget McKenzie.
It’s the second time the National party room has simultaneously had three women in its federal parliamentary ranks.
Together with former Riverina MP Kay Hull and Dawson MP De-Anne Kelly, Senator Nash was also part of the previous trio.
Between Mrs Hull’s retirement in 2010 and Senator McKenzie taking up her seat in 2011, Senator Nash was the only woman parliamentarian for the federal National Party.
While she says it’s “fantastic” to have her female colleagues in the room now too, Senator Nash says the tone in the party room itself, and her experience as a woman in the party, hasn’t changed all that much as a result.
In fact, Senator Nash says being a ‘Woman In Politics’ isn’t something she thinks that much about.
“Occasionally you bump into a bit of a wall and go behind your door and stamp your foot, but you just get on and do it.
“I think it’s a great waste of time to worry about things you can’t change,” she said.
“But it is interesting, I remember being introduced to an old stalwart National Party person as the new senator in NSW and he just looked at me and said, ‘but you’re not a bloke and you’re not wearing a hat!’
“The Nationals guys are the Nationals guys, they are how they are and we all roll along. They’re a good bunch of guys.
“They get a bit blokey on occasion, but I think we girls get a bit blokey occasionally too.”
For Victorian Senator McKenzie, gender is less likely to be a subject for division than other concerns.
“I don’t think the guys really see us as girls, per se, just as regional Australians would probably have more arguments about what state you’re from or which is your commodity group of choice, rather than gendered arguments, and I think that probably goes to our pragmatic heart.
“I think [having women in the Nationals] does challenge stereotypes though, and that’s an important thing to do too,” Senator McKenzie said.
“I think if you look at the National party room today, it’s very different to the National party room of 60 years ago.
“When it comes to challenging the stereotypes, what I find fascinating is that the media is very happy to talk Nationals as long as we’re talking ag. The other issues that are high on the list of our regional communities wants and needs, the media is much less likely to engage with us than the two major parties.
“I think that’s where we all need to recognise that regional Australia is much more diverse than it used to be, and so is its party, the Nationals.”
Senator Nash says the Nationals’ grassroots pre-selection process still means that a man is sometimes selected to stand for office before a woman, and that “sometimes I’ve seen that happen where, in my personal view, I’ve thought the woman was far more capable. It doesn’t happen that often anymore. I think the greatest barrier is women themselves [not feeling confident to put themselves forward].”
For the newest woman in the Nationals’ party room, Michelle Landry, having two women already in the parliamentary party was helpful.
“You need a bit of a role model with [seeing] other women in politics I think, because the guys approach things differently than we do.
“I was very lucky that Fiona [Nash] came up my way a few times and that was excellent to see people like her, and know that you could do it,” Ms Landry said.
“I think it’s very true that [many women] don’t have enough confidence in yourself to do it, and I have found that.
“I also think another stumbling block is children, you like to stay with your young family and that’s very difficult; in my previous jobs I was always at home with my daughters, they’re adults now, but I think that’s something that stops a lot of women getting into [politics].”
So after more than a year of often vicious debate about sexism in federal politics and the treatment of female parliamentarians, has anything actually changed for the women parliamentarians themselves?
According to Senator Nash, not really.
“I know when we had the whole misogynist debate, when then Prime Minister Gillard made those comments, I was furious because I remember thinking at the time that people were being critical of her because they think she’s doing a bad job. It had absolutely nothing to do with her being a woman from my perspective,” she said.
“It does get a bit annoying at times when you hit a bit of a bloke ceiling, but you just get on and do your job.
“I had a discussion with one of my other senator colleagues the other day, who is also female, and she said ‘you know we have to do everything half as much again as the blokes to be at the same level’. But as she said, you just do it.
“It’d be great to have it a bit more level on occasion, and I think we’re getting there. The National Party is very different to 60 years ago, but even to 10 years ago, it’s very different in our party room.
“I don’t think our colleagues really look at us as women, they look at us as colleagues.
“We have some pretty good stoushes, and I don’t think they even notice we’re women sometimes.”