Foreign Affairs is vital for the function of nations in a time of surging globalisation. Arising global issues make the portfolio a tough gig, requiring strong policy and a strong leader to light the path.
Julie shares her biggest challenges and successes in her time as Foreign Affairs Minister, and addresses obstacles as a female Cabinet member and provides insight into how to boost female representation.
Australian National University’s first female chancellor is none other than Julie Bishop, which should come as little surprise given her credentials as Former Foreign Minister and her outstanding initiative supporting undergraduate students with the New Columbo Plan.
The Hon Julie Bishop served as Australia’s first female Foreign Minister from 2013 until her resignation in 2018, serving the Liberal Party in the strong seat of Curtin for 21 years, making her the longest serving Member for Curtin.
Ms Bishop is recipient of the inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt US Mission Award for Leadership Excellence, the current Chair of the Telethon Kids Institute, and was awarded the Commander of the Order of Merit of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for her management of the downing of MH17.
Prior to becoming an MP, you were a successful commercial lawyer. How did your experiences in law inform your work in Parliament and Government?
The primary role of the Parliament is to pass legislation that becomes new or update laws and lawyers must have detailed knowledge of relevant legislation and the implications. I thus had highly developed skills for evaluating legislative proposals, although learning the process of forming and passing those laws was a new challenge.
Have you encountered obstacles as a result of your gender and how have you overcome them?
For the majority of my time as a parliamentarian, I was in a senior role in Cabinet and or as Deputy Leader. One of the most challenging [obstacles] was to have my voice heard when I was the only woman appointed to Cabinet in 2013. My response was to work very hard in raising issues of concern so that matters that came before Cabinet were improved.
You are perhaps best known for your work with the Foreign Affairs portfolio. What are some of the key policies/initiatives you undertook that you’re particularly proud of? And do you have any regrets?
My time as Foreign Minister was immensely challenging and satisfying, and I have no regrets. The most important in reacting to a crisis was the response to the shooting down of Malaysian airlines MH17 over a war zone in Ukraine. In terms of a long-term investment in our national interest, the New Colombo Plan will ensure a generation of future Australian leaders have a greater understanding of and relationship with the nations of our region.
Relatively few Liberal MPs are women – you’ve spoken out about this issue in the past. What steps would you recommend parties take in order to improve the representation of women at the level of Members and Ministers?
Steps that would help boost female representation include mentoring of potential candidates, setting and working to ensure a target of 50% women MPs is met, identifying the barriers to women and providing appropriate support.
What do you envision will be Australia’s biggest foreign policy challenge moving forward?
Two of the most significant foreign policy challenges for Australia are:
balancing our relationships with the US and China during a time of increasing great power competition;
working constructively with our neighbours in the South Pacific to ensure their citizens have opportunities to improve their standards of living.
What advice would you give to young girls hoping to enter into politics?
Any young girl with dreams of becoming a parliamentarian should first seek out a career in some other field. There is no substitute for life experience as a foundation for working in politics.
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