Former Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja has been appointed by the Abbott government as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, a role she describes as her ‘‘dream job’’.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced Ms Stott Despoja’s appointment on Monday in glowing terms, saying the former South Australian senator was readily identifiable by just her first name: ‘‘Natasha’’.
Ms Bishop described the ambassador role as ‘‘very special’’.
‘‘We see it as being pivotal to our foreign policy priorities and initiatives,’’ she said.
The Ambassador for Women and Girls is responsible for ‘‘high-level’’ advocacy to promote Australian government policies regarding gender equality, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.
The appointment of the former Democrat senator comes after the Coalition was criticised for sacking former Labor premier Steve Bracks from the New York consul-general job in one of its first decisions as a new government.
Describing the role as her ‘‘dream job’’ that ‘‘dovetails with everything I have ever done and cared about’’, Ms Stott Despoja said she wanted to see more women in the region elected to parliament and taking on leadership roles – whether that be in government, business or the community.
Ms Stott Despoja's husband, Ian Smith, and two young children, Conrad and Cordelia, attended the press conference, and were thanked by the ambassador for their support.
"My children and their friends continue to inspire me with their caring about the world, even at such a young age, and it gives me great hope for future generations in solving many of the problems that affect us, including those for women and for girls," she said.
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Michaelia Cash also welcomed the news during a joint press conference in Sydney.
‘‘I cannot personally think of a better candidate,’’ Senator Cash said.
Later today, Ms Bishop will lead a cross-parliamentary delegation to the Solomon Islands, Nauru and Vanuatu, that includes Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek, Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite and Ms Stott Despoja.
‘‘This will be her first opportunity as the ambassador to develop relationships with leaders in the Pacific,’’ Ms Bishop said.
On Monday afternoon, Ms Plibersek warmly welcomed Ms Stott Despoja's appointment.
''As a senator, and since, Natasha has made a significant contribution to Australian public life,'' Ms Plibersek said.
''I look forward to working closely with Natasha to advance the cause of women and girls in our region and around the world.''
Ms Stott Despoja was a senator for 13 years between 1996 and 2008. She is the founding chair of the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children, an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia and deputy chair of Beyond Blue.
In 2011, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to the Australian Parliament, education and as a role model for women.
Ms Stott Despoja will replace the inaugural women’s ambassador Penny Williams, who is a career diplomat.
with Effie Mann