Former Liberal staffer issues an open letter of apology to Julia Gillard

An open letter of apology to Julia Gillard from a former Liberal staffer

Chelsey Potter apologises to Julia Gillard

Dear Julia, 

In politics, you’re never meant to apologise. Especially publicly. That’s backflipping. And, as you well know, that can come at a political price.

In our industry, changing your mind – even if it’s completely genuine and informed by lived experience or research – isn’t the done thing. 

But, today, I’d like to say sorry.

Following the tenth anniversary of your rise to the Prime Ministership, along with the release of Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons this week, many important conversations have been reignited. 

Both inside and outside of the political bubble, most women can vividly recall where they were when you assumed our country’s highest office

The conversations they had with their daughters. That misty-eyed moment and the sheer enormity of your achievement heralded an exciting new era. Another crucial flag planted for the sisterhood. 

The day you became Prime Minister, I was twenty-one. By then, I had been involved in Liberal politics for nearly five years. 

Being a young woman in a political party can be lonely. You might know something about that.

In my endless and single-minded pursuit to simply contribute to my community, I chased the elusive respect of men in my own party. Desperately, and ably aided by twentysomething naivety, I worked hard to earn my place in the fold. 

Once I did, I thought, then I could create change.  The politics of scarcity was very real. And many of us had it in spades. 

We jostled for the praise of male powerbrokers. We fought one another for whichever party position, spot on the ticket or seat was designated for us. For women in politics, when there’s only a few seats at the table, anyone may be a threat. 

Occasionally, we might be supported into party positions by our male colleagues, only to constantly look over our shoulders. 

When you came to the top job, I was consumed by this world. The blinkers of partisanship and the demands of party loyalty robbed me of this significant moment in our shared history. 

Herstory, even. 

From the moment you entered office, I mindlessly recited all the party lines about your so-called treachery. 

I vigorously campaigned against you. I let ridiculous media commentary slide, ignored blatant sexism and overlooked some horrific campaign collateral.  

And I told myself that I did it based on policy differences or upholding democracy or whatever else. 

Julia, it cannot continue. Because I’ve been a woman a lot longer than I’ve been a Liberal. 

Let’s face it, if we can’t get on our own team, then no one else will. 

A decade on, Parliaments across the country, along with Canberra, have little to show in terms of women’s representation on the parliamentary benches.

In our home state of South Australia, which recently celebrated 125 years of our vote and right to stand for office, women comprise only 29 per cent of our State Parliament. 

As I’ve learned, men in politics can be reluctant to change or challenge a system that favours and protects them. Ultimately, much like our suffragist foremothers, it will be up to women to drive change. 

And so, regardless of our party colours, let’s support each other to run. No matter our political education or experience, we must demand a bigger table. Our vote must work for us.

Relentlessly, we’re going to keep chipping away at that glass ceiling. It’s not going to be easy – you know that better than anyone. But it’s possible and we’ll make it inevitable. 

The mantle of Australia’s only woman Prime Minister seems lonely. Together, Australian women are going to bring you some company. 

Chelsey Potter is former long-time staffer to a Liberal Minister. Since leaving political work, she has advocated on the issue of sexual harassment in political workplaces

Chelsey tweets all things politics, analysis and more at @chels_e_potter

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