The Age ~~ Melbourne ~~ Saturday December 1, 2007
Exciting, defining times for women
IT'S HARD to identify the exact moment I knew Australia was experiencing a seismic shift in identity and direction over this past week. There have, after all, been so many monumental occurrences to choose from, it seems impossible to rank or compare them.
John Howard's comeuppance. Julia Gillard's sustained grace in the tally room. Maxine McKew's unbridled euphoria as she resisted the temptation to gloat. And Peter Costello's smug exit. All of it gold.
But if I had to nominate a flashpoint when I felt my body jolt upright with exultant anticipation and gushing love of country, it actually came courtesy of the first lady-elect, Therese Rein.
When Kevin Rudd walked on stage to claim his place as Australia's 26th prime minister, the woman he calls his life partner stood with her hand in his beside him, and shimmied. She leant forward and, with a cheeky glint in her eye, shook her shoulders from side to side and shimmied. And it was glorious.
If ever there was an image to differentiate the old from the new on election night, it was Therese Rein's shimmy. As surprising as the revelation that I've placed a shimmy above Australia electing its first female deputy prime minister and Maxine McKew's "in heaven no one's blind" moment might be, the shimmy said it all.
It was sassy and confident and delicious. And 100% woman. Suddenly we had a first couple who were smart, successful AND sexy. It was magnificent.
And it set the tone for how the rest of the week unravelled. The new Opposition crumbled and the Government-elect unveiled its new line-up, complete with a posse of impressive, talented women who would help run the country.
After too many years of twin-sets and pearls in the federal government, Australia finally has a group of governing female MPs who reflect the status of women and the diversity of our lives in contemporary Australia.
Finally, we have a group of women in the highest office in the land who don't make me feel like a freak.
Women who are the daughters of migrants, women who are single and/or childless, openly gay, unmarried with children, married with children but who haven't taken the surname of their husbands and others who have.
Our first couple will be known as the Prime Minister and Ms Rein. Oh, for the moment our PM is name-tagged Kevin Rein on an overseas trip.
It is significant and noteworthy that half the women Kevin Rudd has given high-profile cabinet and portfolio responsibilities to are childless and/or unmarried the Deputy Prime Minister to name just one. It is a great moment for generational change and validates the often difficult choices so many of us have made to pursue our careers. And it is so very welcome.
Finally, Julia Gillard gets the long last laugh over those appalling misogynist attacks on her character, her life choices, her hairdo, her voice and her wardrobe that undermined so many other women in the process as Deputy Prime Minister.
The daughter of working-class Welsh migrants, 46-year-old Gillard came to Australia in 1966 when she was five.
She'll juggle the massive portfolios of education, employment and workplace relations. And become acting Prime Minister later this month when Rudd is in Bali for climate change talks. So much for the empty fruit bowl barbs; her plate looks pretty full to me.
Left to Right: Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Jenny Macklin & Nicola Roxon
There are many other great stories in Labor's new team of leading women: 37-year-old Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for Housing and the Status of Women, 40-year-old Nicola Roxon, the Minister for Health and Ageing, and 39-year-old Senator Penny Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water the first Asian-born female MP and openly gay are just a few.
Look out for 30-year-old Kate Ellis, the new Minister for Youth and Sport. She's young. And it's exciting.
As is the parliamentary debut of Maxine McKew, who after tipping out PM Howard in Bennelong becomes the parliamentary secretary to PM Rudd. Then there is Labor veteran and former deputy leader Jenny Macklin, the new Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
These are exciting and defining times in Australian political life and in our nation's history. And they are exciting and defining times for Australian women. We are finally at the table of power in this country and it's been a long time coming.
Let's all get down and shimmy!
Tracee Hutchison is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.