JULIA GILLARD has hailed the promotion of three women in her ministry reshuffle as a sign that her government is in tune with the challenges facing working women
Nicola Roxon, a mother of one, has become the nation's first female Attorney-General. She has been replaced as Health Minster by Tanya Plibersek, a mother of three. The newest minister, Julie Collins, has three children. All the women are in their 40s.
''Nicola, Tanya and Julie understand from personal experience many of the challenges Australian women face as they seek to build a career whilst having a family,'' said Ms Gillard, the nation's first female prime minister.
''It's important that Australian women can look at the decision-making of their nation and say that their life's experience is represented there. Nicola, Julie, Tanya, will strengthen our capacity to do that.''
Last year, three days after the Gillard minority government was sworn in, Ms Plibersek gave birth to her third child, Louis.
Ms Plibersek was a junior minister in the first term of government. After last year's election she and Ms Gillard discussed her moving into cabinet but both decided it was best she waited.
''I'm really grateful to the Prime Minister that she gave me the time with the baby,'' Ms Plibersek told the Herald. ''I could not have been a cabinet minister and breastfed a new baby. There's no way I could have sat through all those long meetings.''
Ms Plibersek stayed in the outer ministry with the Human Services portfolio.
She believes it stood her in good stead for the challenge ahead, which she regards mostly as administering and bedding down the numerous health reforms ushered in by Ms Roxon.
Ms Plibersek cites as an example the smooth operation of Centrelink during the natural disasters regarding the distribution of emergency relief to more than 700,000 flood and fire victims. ''There were very few problems with emergency management relief.''
Ms Plibersek also cites her administration of the social housing initiative, a relatively uncontroversial element of the Rudd government's economic stimulus which was implemented before time and under budget.
''We have a good set of health policies. I want to make sure they are delivered properly and on time,'' she said.
Ms Roxon said she hoped her appointment would encourage younger women. ''I think it's always wonderful and in a way I look forward to the time my daughter, who's six, will live in a country where there won't be many things that will be the first that a woman will be,'' Ms Roxon told reporters in Melbourne.
Ms Collins said she was honoured by the new role. ''I look forward to continuing the important work done by Minister [Kate] Ellis to improve the status of women in Australia,'' she said.
Ms Roxon's foremost challenge is to continue the fight against the tobacco industry she began as health minister. She retains responsibility for the government's defence against the looming multi-million-dollar claims by tobacco companies against the plain packaging measures, legislated to take effect in a year.
So far two companies, Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco Australia, have initiated legal action against the Commonwealth and another two companies, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris, are also planning court moves.
Matthew Myers, the president of the American lobby group, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who met Ms Roxon in Canberra yesterday, said he expected the Australian government to defeat the tobacco industry. ''I think if Australia succeeds we will see countries on every continent follow Australia's lead,'' he said.