By Roger Childs
There is one certainty about the September election in NZ – the outcome will give us a woman Prime Minister. If it is Judith Collins she will be number four. In earlier times female politicians in New Zealand had to put up with plenty of misogynistic behaviour from some of their male colleagues, but not any more. At the top level, Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark were treated with respect. However, across the ditch, Australia’s only woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was given a hard time by the chauvinistic political establishment and media.
While in Australia in 2015, I was fortunate enough to see two episodes of a superb ABC documentary series: The Killing Season. It was about the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd leadership interchange. During the excellent coverage of what happened from 2007 to 2013, both former Prime Ministers were interviewed at length. (Incidentally, watching a channel with no commercials was a bonus – New Zealand should have one.)
In assessing the protagonists, one could confidently conclude that Rudd was a conniving ratbag and that Gillard was hard done by. The Labor caucus, in dumping Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, prior to the 2013 election, did the country a great disservice.
Julia Gillard in three years had brought in wide-ranging reforms, initiatives and positive changes to the economy, social services, health, foreign policy and the environment. She is probably one of Australia’s greatest politicians.
Her book My Story is not a self-conscious rant on what happened and an impassioned justification for her polices, but an honest warts and all coverage of her time in government and especially her Prime Ministership.
The rise of an impressive politician
Julia Gillard was born in Wales and emigrated to Australia as a child with her parents. She was brought up in South Australia and always took a close interest in politics. At university she gravitated to the left and the Labor Party. After working as a lawyer for a number of years she entered Parliament in 1998.
When Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister in 2007, Julia Gillard was a highly suitable choice for deputy, as she–
~ had proved to be a very talented debater and conscientious spokesperson in Opposition
~ provided a desirable gender and regional balance for the new government.
She had held various shadow portfolios in opposition including Immigration, Indigenous Affairs and Health, and also took a close interest in Education.
Unfortunately for Labor, Rudd proved to be a liability. Although he was well regarded overseas, on the domestic scene he infuriated his ministers because he often made decisions on the hoof without consultation; asked for endless reports which he usually ignored and frequently couldn’t make his mind up on crucial issues.
A short time to achieve a great deal
In 2010, looking at the polls, the majority of cabinet minister and caucus realised that Labor would be a one term government, unless there was a change in leadership.
Gillard replaced Rudd by a large majority in a caucus vote and the arrogant Rudd never forgave her. During her three years in which more legislation was passed than in any term in Australia, Rudd circled like a hungry shark and constantly leaked information to the media.
I was prime minister for three years and three days. Three years … of resilience … of changing the nation…
Having survived the 2010 election, the 27th Australian Prime Minister got on with the job of running a minority government.
… a nation where hard work is rewarded and where the dignity of work is respected; a nation that prides itself on the excellence of its education system, where the government can be relied on to provide high-quality services for all Australians; an Australia that can achieve ever greater things in the future. —Julia Gillard on her first day as prime minister
Most of her fluently written book covers the huge amount of work she got through and the major achievements in–
~ improving the lot of indigenous people and those with disabilities
~ making school funding more equitable
~ establishing better relations with Asian countries, the US and New Zealand
~ setting up climate change policies
~ saving the steel industry
~ maintaining growth in the wake of the global financial crisis
~ establishing a maritime economic zone.
Attacks on all sides
Then when it was my turn to speak, I let the Opposition have it with both barrels.
As if running a minority government and have Rudd waiting in the wings with a knife, wasn’t enough, Julia Gillard had to put up with the misogynist Aussie media. All the key papers and networks were run by men and some of the reporters wouldn’t even do her the courtesy of calling her prime minister.
Her hair colour, clothes, accent, backside and even breasts, occasionally featured in the news. She had to put with gender insults in the press that reporters and columnists would never have dreamed of using on a male Prime Minister.
Needless to say, the cartoonists lampooned her unmercifully.
Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, constantly made sexist remarks, so in October 2012 Julia used Question Time in Parliament to let him have it.
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.
New Zealand governments have it easy?
My Story gives fascinating insights into the huge amount of juggling federal governments and their leaders have to carry out. Not only do they often have to form coalitions, but they also need to get legislation through both Parliament and the Senate.
Then if there are federal reforms planned for education, health funding, environment policies, benefits whatever, negotiations have to be carried out with the state premiers and the territorial authorities.
I became convinced that welcoming parties at school gates were being deliberately stacked with redheads.
Julia Gillard’s autobiography makes fascinating reading and in among the serious stuff there is also wit and humour, and the admission of mistakes made. It is a very honest book and the author gives great credit to the large number of people on her staff, in government, business, education and various services who contributed to the significant achievements of the Labor governments from 2007 to 2013.
Through it all her underlying concerns for the dignity, living standards and welfare of people, and for building a better Australia, shine through.
In dumping Julia Gillard, the Labor caucus got rid of one of the best leaders Australia has ever had.