Julia Gillard's fighting words for responding to the rise of the 'strongmen'

Julia Gillard’s fighting words for responding to the rise of the ‘strongmen’

Julia Gillard
As the Liberal Party was imploding yesterday, former prime minister Julia Gillard was speaking at an RMIT event in Melbourne.

Parts of the event were shared across social media, with many noting the exceptional timing of the session on ‘Passion, Politics and Power’. Some expected Gillard to be laughing and lapping up the chaos going on in Canberra, but according to reports she was dignified and measured in her response.

She particularly shared some wisdom around the rise of “strongman” politics internationally and in Australia.

As this piece we published recently from Tony Walker explained, ‘strongman politics’ is on the ascent internationally, with Trump in the US, the rise of the authoritarian right in parts of Europe, and elsewhere. He said at the time that what Australia lacked was a Trump-like figure, “but anything is possible in an emerging strongman era,”

Gillard noted yesterday that in Australia — just as there is globally — there is a level of anxiety occurring that’s creating political instability feeding into a “hankering for a sort of strong man, that person who looks like they’ve got all the answers.”

She said much of this anxiety stems from the fact that change is happening at a phenomenal rate, especially with shifts in technology, AI and computing power.

“There’s a lot to make people feel like this is a scary and difficult world, asking how to find my place, will my children have a better life than I do. People want an answer. The hard truth of politics is there is not an easy answer.”

She warned against underestimating this level of anxiety — noting that it isn’t the power of the right in Australia that’s been underestimated, but rather that level of anxiety.

“If we underestimate that, then we empower the people who will try to channel it,” she said. “They say ‘all of this anxiety will go away if we just had less trade, put some more tariffs on things. All of that anxiety will go away if we had less people from Africa in your community.’”

She said it’s a challenge for progressive forces worldwide to appreciate and respond to the anxieties that people might be feeling.

“I think we’re pretty good at responding to economic anxiety, we’re less good at finding the words to respond to anxiety about that loss of sense of self and sense of place,” she said.

“That’s the social-democratic challenge around the world, and we’ve got to be up to it.”

Gillard also shared some advice for Dutton, suggesting he drink plenty of water and  and “make sure you eat some veggies and get some sunlight”.

Gillard was at the event to celebrate the RMIT’s Centre for Innovation Justice’s fifth anniversary, after she helped launch the centre back in 2013.

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