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Tony Abbott's woman problem migrates to his ministry

Tony Abbott is having women trouble. It's nothing he said, mind.

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Abbott addresses party room

Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott has received rapturous applause in the coalition party room, telling MPs they have won the trust of the Australian people.

The prime minister-elect has been assiduously tight-lipped since being criticised for describing his daughters as "not bad looking" on national television and praising the "sex appeal" of western Sydney candidate – now MP – Fiona Scott.

Now, it's a glaring lack of women in the Coalition cabinet that's vexing Mr Abbott.

Bronwyn Bishop is likely moving to the position of speaker. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is out of favour (partly due to her backing the failed Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz). Sophie Mirabella, the putative industry minister and one of just two cabinet-level female frontbenchers in Mr Abbott's pre-election team, has withdrawn herself from cabinet contention.

At present, the only woman certain to join Mr Abbott's cabinet is Julie Bishop as foreign minister.


Mr Abbott is understood to be considering several women for cabinet appointments, which he is expected to announce early next week.

They include West Australian Senator Michaelia Cash, who is right-leaning, Victorian MP Kelly O'Dwyer and NSW senator Marise Payne.

Senator Cash, a parliamentary provocateur who was shadow parliamentary secretary for the status of women, has a reputation for rankling her Labor opponents with her often extravagant orations.

Senator Cash made headlines recently with a speech in which she denounced the Labor "sisterhood" after the leadership spill against Julia Gillard.

"I wonder how loud former prime minister Gillard screamed when her own sisterhood knifed her in the back," Senator Cash yelled in the Senate chamber.

"Minister Wong, who's now sitting, reaping the spoils of the victory, drinking from the chalice of blood.''

Mr Abbott is understood to hold Senator Cash in high regard, and over the past term of Parliament she has been promoted as a party spokeswoman, often appearing in press conferences by the leader's side.

Ms O'Dwyer, though a relatively new member of Parliament (she was elected to Peter Costello's seat of Higgins in a 2009 byelection), is understood to be highly regarded and viewed as having leadership potential.

A former lawyer, Ms O'Dwyer is a strong media performer, though her lack of frontbench experience could cruel her chances of being elevated to cabinet.

Mr Abbott is also understood to be considering Senator Payne. A moderate, Senator Payne has served on numerous parliamentary committees and has particularly strong experience in defence, trade and foreign affairs.

Another cabinet contender is the National Party senator Fiona Nash, who has been named deputy leader of her party in the Senate and has served as shadow minister for COAG, indigenous development and employment, and housing.