An ode to our only female prime minister

By Gemma Ferguson. Originally published April 6, 2020.

 

I don’t claim to know everything about Australian politics. At 22, I’d like to think I know more now than I ever have before – but that doesn’t change the fact that my political brain was barely even beginning to develop in the early 2010’s, when our nation was graced with its first female prime minister.

2010 was the year I began high school, politics was the last thing on my mind. I have a friend who’s now a vegan, zero-waste warrior, but in her youth voted conservative. We all make mistakes, and mine was jumping on the “bash Julia Gillard for shit we wouldn’t even care about if a man did it” bandwagon.

You might not like her, and that’s exactly how I felt before I bothered to learn more about her. This woman gained the support of the Labor party in some of its darkest hours, took Rudd’s place as prime minister and went on to lead Australia in a moral, fair, and graceful manner. In her first year, the devastating Queensland floods hit. Did Gillard fuck off to Hawaii and wait for her people to perish? No, she didn’t.

Knowing Australia was hit hard in 2007-2008 by the global economic crisis, she sought out help from those who could afford it. Her proposed flood levy, a one-off tax on incomes over $50,000 to go towards helping with the floods, was approved in 2011. What’s that saying activists are always pushing, “tax the rich and feed the poor”, something like that? Yeah well, an Aussie woman made that shit happen.

She managed to introduce a carbon tax plan that everyone could agree on, something Rudd hadn’t been able to achieve (meanwhile our Government, almost a decade on, is still denying the existence of climate change). And she was ridiculed for it, because it didn’t align with a promise she’d made in the past. (Do you remember that “there will be no carbon tax” meme? I do.)

As if her awareness of global warming wasn’t growing, and her opinions changing? As if we aren’t all entitled to make decisions based on the information we have at the time? And as if any male politician would ever receive so much heat for going back on an earlier statement.

Throughout her stint as prime minister, Rudd challenged her multiple times, with Gillard always emerging victorious. That was until one day when the stakes were raised. In mid-2013, Gillard and Rudd called for another party ballot, but in this case the loser would have to retire. The aim was to settle the leadership debate once and for all. So tell me why, after knocking her competition out of the park for three years, Gillard just so happened to lose to Rudd this time? Would it have anything to do with our politicians being threatened by a powerful woman, and seeing their chance to get her out of their hair for good?

Just a couple of years ago, Gillard was recognized with a portrait in Parliament House. I remember seeing a story about it, someone had shared it to Facebook. The article talked about her time in Parliament, all the great things she achieved, that bad-ass misogyny speech, and how this painting represented all of it. I remember commenting, “I’m so pissed off that I was too young to understand politics when she was in power.” The piece went on to say that Gillard was reluctant to have the painting done, as she believed it was part of the “pomp and ceremony” that came with being Prime Minister.

And just to prove her character, at the unveiling she spent the first few minutes speaking with, and shaking the hands of, the Parliament House cleaners, while Tony Abbott waited awkwardly for his own handshake in the background (sit down Tony – take a note out of Gillard’s book – be humble). I’d like to think that little interaction, and her portrait being the only female one hanging there even today, is a nice little “fuck you” to people who don’t believe in the power of women.

Happy International Women’s Day.

 

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