Australia: Julia Gillard, the best woman or man for PM, & a giant victory for women past & present Print E-mail


The women who helped Gillard get there


In the 1920s my grandmother was ostracised as a divorced woman. In the 1950s my mother, an international flight attendant, was not only weighed before and after each flight but forced to resign when she got married. In the 1960s anxious women struggling to define themselves in a new world of ''housewife'' versus ''feminist'' were told to have ''a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down''. By the '70s man had walked on the moon and women still didn't have equal pay. In the early '80s Lindy Chamberlain was imprisoned for five years, largely, it seemed, because she didn't mourn the death of her baby ''the way a woman should''. In the late '80s I was told I couldn't appear on television while pregnant because it would ''put people off their dinner''. In the '90s I was deemed ''a mortgage risk'' because I was a single mother. In 2005 it was proclaimed that Princess Mary's greatest achievement, having given birth, was regaining her pre-pregnancy weight so quickly.

In 2010 it's gobsmacking that our nation has its first female prime minister. Will the Gen Ys and Gen Zs ever know the significance of this historic time? Will they ever understand why their mothers and grandmothers openly cried last Thursday? Will future Australians know what it was like for the generations before them, growing up in a world where history was written by men and about men, and our only female role models were the Queen and Cinderella?

For every woman who's fought for the right to vote, equal pay, subsidised childcare, maternity leave or carer recognition - this historic moment is for you. For every woman who's fought sexual harassment in the workplace, the glass ceiling and snide remarks like ''she only got where she is today because she slept with so and so'' - this moment is for you. For every female who's been told ''to stop acting like a girl'', that she'd be pretty ''if she just lost a bit of weight'' or she'd be happy ''if she could just find herself a mate'' - this moment is for you. For every woman who's lost a son or a loved one in a war but never got the glory, who's lost her job because her sick child kept her absent, who's been called ''the ball and chain'' or described as Mrs (insert husband's name here), for every woman who's been the unacknowledged strength behind her husband's success - this moment is for you. For every woman who's made it possible for us to truly live as the capable, emotional, analytical, nurturing, powerful sex that we are, it's time for us to say thank you.

And for every person reading this who thinks I'm banging on about the significance of Julia Gillard's ascension, this column is for you. Because the fact that you don't see a woman's elevation to the leadership of this nation as profound is the very reason that it is. Your perspective is the result of living in a society that has allowed you to believe anything is possible - black presidents, female prime ministers, birth control, gay marriage - but you need to know that this world of possibilities has not always existed and has been hard-fought.

And this fight continues throughout the world. While in the Middle East I was told the financial compensation for a woman's life is less than that of a chicken. In Bangladesh I saw 13-year-old girls scarred with acid for refusing arranged marriage, their faces now featureless, dissolved skin and bone. Not long ago a woman in Pakistan was set on fire because she was raped by a man from the next village.

Throughout the world, men, women and children, the sick, young, old, gay, the ''in any way different or vulnerable'' continue to be persecuted. It's easy to feel, when your fight is over, that everyone else's is too. It's easy to feel when the daisies return to the battlefield that no battle was ever fought at all.

I can't promise Julia Gillard will be the perfect prime minister. Is Gillard the best woman for the job? Undoubtedly. Is she the best person for the job? Unquestionably. Is she the best man for the job? Yes, she absolutely is.

It's offensive to suggest Gillard is merely a puppet of the unions and the right-wing factions, because this hinges on sexist suggestions that she's dizzily malleable, not achieving her position on merit.

To those who question the method by which the leadership baton was passed I reply this is an issue of national leadership, not manners. What was the party supposed to do - invite Kevin Rudd to fight a duel in the springtime? The outrage over whether a perceived incompetent and uncompetitive prime minister should be ousted is to me incomprehensible. Was this Labor ship supposed to sink because ousting the captain wasn't kind of, you know, like, um, like, nice? Should the Labor crew have waited until after the election when the ship had sunk? And for those who say Gillard's promotion is simply the result of the ''factional warlords'' I'd reply that the catalyst for their crusading was polls of your opinions. The fact is you made all this happen! So this moment is also for you.

Ironically, Rudd also enabled this moment because his prime ministership supported women. It was he who appointed our nation's first female governor-general, and the nation's first female deputy prime minister, one Julia Gillard. Rudd, too, should be applauded for saying ''sorry'' to the stolen generations and for steering us safely through the global financial crisis, even if purely by pig-headedly assuring us of a direction. But I also believe he showed cracks long before the resource super-profits tax and the emissions trading scheme - in fact as early as the stupid 2020 Summit and its apparent inability to achieve anything more profound than turning the lights off when delegates left the room.

But that's now history and today we can be excited about the coming election because politics has a new frisson. It's the Coalition's turn to make a move now. Perhaps they'll pull a rabbit out of the hat - or will it just be another goose?

 (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ~ Thursday June 24 2010

Gillard's ascension a giant leap for womankind

By Tim Leslie

Inspirational figure: 'There will be many women across Australia and also internationally who will be watching this and also wishing Julia well' (AAP: Julian Smith, file photo)
Julia Gillard's ascension to the top office has been hailed as a momentous achievement for Australian women.

Labor Senator Claire Moore, the nation co-ordinator for the ALP women's advocacy group Emily's List, says it is an important step in the quest for gender equality in politics.

"I think in many ways it's actually one of those symbolic moments that people are going to look back and say that is something that has been achieved, and as you know Emily's List has been all about ensuring that women are part of the political process," she said.

"There will be many women across Australia and also internationally who will be watching this and also wishing Julia well."

One of those people is Ms Gillard's father John, who said he was thrilled by the news.

"[I'm] elated, excited, mindful of the enormous job ahead - binding the party together now, healing, dealing with contemporary issues, facing an adversary that's formidable," he said.

Mr Gillard said he was hopeful his daughter's appointment would avoid a dirty election.

"I hope it will be a clean election. I hope that it will be fought on issues that confront the country, that it will not be a race to the bottom of the barrel," he said.

Mr Gillard said he never imagined his daughter would become Australia's first female Prime Minister when the family migrated to Australia from Wales in the 1960s.

And Mr Gillard, who with his wife Moira watched the leadership challenge on television from their Pasadena home this morning, said his daughter would be a formidable force in the upcoming election.

"Julia's unique, hardworking, driven by noble ideals, and wants to do good things for the country and [hopefully] we'll go to a very close, hard fought election as a united Labor Party led by the first ever female Prime Minister."

Gillard steps up
Senator Moore said the turmoil surrounding today's events did not undermine its significance.

"It certainly is not the way that we would want it in terms of process, but we all understand the way the political system operates and you have to be able to survive and operate effectively within the system," she said.

"And Julia was placed in that position and she took a step and that was what needed to be done."

She also dismissed parallels to former Labor state premiers like Joan Kirner who were brought in at the last minute in a desperate attempt to stave off election defeat.

"Julia has been an intimate part of the leadership team of the Government all the way through. She has not come from outside, it has not been some external appointment.

"She is actually moving within the political team to take the leadership, so I don't a see a parallel with the examples that are on record in the past of women coming on in a last-gasp situation.

"I don't sense that's the same here. It certainly isn't the sense of the caucus."

Tribute for Rudd
And she was quick to pay tribute the deposed prime minister Kevin Rudd, saying he had championed the issues central to Emily's List.

"I do want to actually pay enormous respect and gratitude to Kevin Rudd, because on the issues that Emily's List supports, which is women's rights, women's equity, the Rudd government actually was a leader in all of those and we could not have wished for a better prime minister in terms of supporting our issues than we had in Kevin Rudd," she said.

Senator Moore said while the appointment of a female prime minister would serve as an inspiration to Australian women, it was unlikely it would significantly change the Federal Government's stance on women's issues.

"Julia has always been an extremely influential and inspirational figure for women and women's issues in our party and has always been very open to engage with women in the community," she said.

"So I think in terms of entrenching women's policy it will be very strong for us to have her as the leader. But I think the Labor Party policy has been well developed and is entrenched now that we have a strong commitment to an equitable Australian society which supports Australian women and men."

She laughed off the suggestion that Gillard's appointment would end the struggle for women's rights in the political arena.

"Just getting certain women into certain positions is not the end to our work," she said.

"We still do not have 50 per cent representation in any part of parliament or local government in this country.

"So the fact that we have some women leaders, around the states and particularly in local government [we have] the leaders, doesn't make up for the fact that if you look at any of our governing bodies it doesn't effectively represent the community that they're serving."

Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne echoed this sentiment.

"It would be wonderful if we didn't need to draw attention to the fact that Julia Gillard is a woman but she is, and it would be remiss not to pause and acknowledge this remarkable development as a sign of just how far women have come in political life," she said.

"The fact that we have to talk about her being the first female PM reminds us how far we have left to come."

Dr Rosewarne says she expects the media focus on Ms Gillard's hair, fashion and marital status to continue.

"This morning on the news already we've heard that she is the first prime minister who is spouseless and she'll move a boyfriend into the lodge. It's disturbing that we'd even have these kinds of issues on the table," she said.

"But it does help to highlight the fact that for a woman to succeed as well as she has sacrifices do have to be made, and that's a social policy issue we need to have a discussion about."

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD Saturday June 26 2010

Gillard saves Labor

I accept the anger: Gillard
Julia Gillard tells Paul Bongiorno that she fully accepts the anger of the Australian people at the removal of Kevin Rudd.


JULIA GILLARD'S rise to power has catapulted Labor back into a crushing election-winning lead over the Coalition.

A Herald/Nielsen poll conducted after the political execution of Kevin Rudd shows the voters who abandoned Labor in recent months have swarmed back and Ms Gillard has a thumping 21-percentage-point lead over Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister.
Video: ANALYSIS: The The Sydney Morning Herald 's Political Editor Peter Hartcher comments on where Kevin Rudd went wrong and how Julia Gillard can avoid the same mistakes.

In findings that would tempt Ms Gillard to call an election sooner rather than later, Labor's primary vote rose 14 points to 47 per cent since the last poll three weeks ago. Support for the Coalition slipped by 1 point to 42 per cent.

This gave Labor a two-party-preferred lead of 55 per cent to 45, an 8-point swing to the government in three weeks. If the swing were repeated uniformly on election day, Labor would pick up another 11 seats.

The two-party finding was determined by how the 1000 people polled on Thursday night and yesterday said they would allocate their preferences.

Support for the Greens, which had benefited from the disenchantment with the government, plunged from 15 per cent to 8. This will dent its chances of seizing the seat of Melbourne, held by the retiring Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner.

Yesterday Ms Gillard conducted her first cabinet meeting as leader and began receiving congratulatory phone calls from world leaders.

She nominated settling the mining tax dispute as her first priority and there were strong hints the government would negotiate further than it was prepared to under Mr Rudd.

Despite the poll rebound, there was considerable public anger about the treatment of Mr Rudd, which Ms Gillard acknowledged.

''I took a decision because I believe it was in the best interests of the Australian people for the government to get back on track, and that is what I am determined to do,'' she said.

The Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott, ramped up his attack on Ms Gillard as Liberals fretted privately that the leadership change would halt his charge.

The poll showed Ms Gillard led Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister by 55 points to 34 points, a fall of 5 points in three weeks for Mr Abbott. Ms Gillard's lead is more than double the 10-point lead Mr Rudd had at the last poll. A 56 per cent majority approved of her becoming prime minister; 30 per cent disapproved. She was preferred by voters over Mr Rudd by 44 per cent to 36.

Mr Abbott's approval rating fell 1 point to 40 per cent and his disapproval fell 5 points to 46 per cent.

Ms Gillard can hold a full-term election from the first Saturday in August onwards and if the polls remain this positive, she would be tempted to go earlier rather than wait.

But the poll finds only 53 per cent think Labor will win, well down on the levels of about 70 per cent that preceded Mr Rudd's downfall.

The poll is likely to sap morale at the Liberal Party's federal council meeting in Canberra today where Mr Abbott will unveil a 12-point ''action contract'' that was prepared when it was thought Mr Rudd would be the foe.

Mr Abbott sought to cash in on the disquiet over Mr Rudd's treatment by attacking the factional and union bosses who delivered Ms Gillard the numbers. ''This was just a ruthless political execution of a prime minister elected by the people, by the faceless factional and union warlords,'' he said.