Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose has lashed out at the fact Tony Abbott's new cabinet only contains one woman, saying it is unacceptable in 2013 and proves a glass ceiling still exists in Australia.

The prime minister-elect unveiled his ministerial line up on Monday, with the only woman in his 19-strong cabinet being Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

The lack of women in the top echelon of his government has been condemned by the opposition, and even by some within Mr Abbott's own party.

Ms Buttrose joined that chorus of criticism today, describing Ms Bishop as the "token woman" in cabinet.


"A glass ceiling still does exist in Australia. We're told it doesn't, but that's a nonsense. It does exist," Ms Buttrose told ABC Radio.

"I'm sure Julie Bishop is accustomed to being the token woman throughout her career, and here she is being the token woman again."

Ms Buttrose said when she was running Women's Weekly "years ago", she had then been concerned about the lack of women in decision making positions in the federal parliament.

"I felt that our voice wasn't heard well enough, and our views weren't canvassed well enough," she said.

"You can't have that kind of parliament in 2013. It's unacceptable."

But Ms Bishop said she had never considered herself as a token woman: "I believe in people being promoted on merit".

"I don't see a glass ceiling," she told ABC Radio.

"The number of women in the ministry will build over time. Currently there are a number of capable, talented women who will be considered for cabinet in due course."

Liberal senator Sue Boyce said the lack of women in cabinet was a systemic problem for the party, and the embarrassing omission would tarnish the coalition victory.

Former Liberal senator Judith Troeth said the coalition boasted women capable and suitable for promotion to the federal cabinet, but men had "an innate fear of capable women at that level".

Labor's acting leader Chris Bowen mocked the lack of women, saying Afghanistan now had better female representation.