Yesterday afternoon, at an event hosted by the Victorian Women’s Trust called Credit Where Credit Is Due, the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a keynote address to an adoring crowd. The audience, numbered in the thousands, packed into Melbourne’s Town Hall to hear her speak.
Once again, the contrast between her time in office and out was stark. Gillard herself was warm and open in a way she wasn’t as PM. Obviously she is now free to be far more frank than she was but the difference is bigger than that. While in office she was rarely revered in public: more often than not she was barely respected. Now, she is greeted like a rock-star whenever she speaks. Tickets sell out within days, sometimes hours, of being put up for sale.
The appetite for Gillard is obviously, in some part, explained by the fact she played a starring role in a particularly extraordinary period in politics. It seems many Australians really do want to know what really happened. Even still, it’s difficult to imagine Kevin Rudd commanding the same sort of audiences and interest that Gillard is now attracting.
Having served as our first female PM probably has quite a lot to do with this interest. Being a woman certainly doesn’t explain everything about her tenure as PM but it does explain some things. And with the exception of her blistering misogyny speech – which has been turned into a musical act – Gillard didn’t really discuss her gender or gender equality much at all while she was in office. Now she is free to.
On the fight for equality over the past 50 years
“In too many ways, that change has done no more than create a brittle veneer and when the veneer cracks, what lies beneath is deeply held cultural stereotyping, anger and misogyny.”
On the composition of Cabinet
“I despair that we have gone so far backwards in women’s participation. I despair even more when I read the false debate about equality versus merit, which is adding insult to injury. The simple reality is, equality and merit go hand in hand. If you believe as I do that merit is equally distributed between the sexes, then in any institution, a cabinet, a court, a corporate board, [that] does not comprise around 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men, women of merit have been excluded.”
On calls that women were “destroying the joint”
“What is it about a woman assuming the prime minister’s role for the first time that called for so much that was so ugly? ‘That the witch needed to be ditched’. The truth is I do not believe we entirely know yet.”
On her biggest mistake
“My unwillingness at that stage to canvas issues critical of Kevin Rudd allowed a myth about a conspiracy of faceless men to be publicly substituted for the more complex truth.”