Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, a rare female voice in the Australian government, said on Sunday she was quitting the frontbench after a failed tilt at the nation’s top job during a messy party-room coup.
The deputy chief of the Liberal Party, Bishop had put her hand up to be one of three candidates to replace the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Friday’s leadership challenge, but received minimal support from colleagues even as opinion polls pointed to her popularity among voters.
Her departure has raised questions about whether she fell victim to the party politics and a perceived glass ceiling for women in Canberra.
“I will be resigning from my cabinet position as the Minister for Foreign Affairs”, Bishop said in a statement, signalling her intention to remain on the backbench.
A moderate, she reportedly garnered only 11 votes out of 85 in the leadership ballot — significantly lower than the two other rightwing challengers, coup instigator Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Treasurer Scott Morrison.
Australia has endured a turbulent period in politics that has seen six changes in the top job in 11 years.
The chaos has highlighted not just the infighting within the two major parties — Liberals and Labor — but also how politicians and the electorate view women in power.
One of the casualties was Labor’s Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, who constantly battled misogyny and made international headlines for her fiery rebuttal of then Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott in parliament in 2012.
Bishop has been candid about her experiences as the only woman among 18 men in the cabinet after Abbott won national elections in 2013.
“It was pretty lonely,” the former lawyer said last year, adding that she would suggest ideas which were ignored until copied by her male colleagues.
The male colleagues would suggest “exactly my idea, exactly my initiative… and the others would say, brilliant, what a genius idea!”, she said, putting down the behaviour to an “unconscious bias”.
“It’s almost a deafness that we still see in the Australian society,” she said.
Her Labor counterpart Penny Wong praised her “tireless work ethic”, adding that her “commitment to standing up for Australia both here and abroad has never been in question”.
Renowned for her steely gaze dubbed the “death stare”, Bishop’s highlights as foreign minister include her strong condemnation of Russia’s role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in 2014.