The day the real Julia Gillard stood up

10 years plus 10 days ago, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard made a speech in the national parliament that has become known as the ‘Misogyny Speech’.

Before long, the was something of a global sensation, especially among seasoned feminists of all ages. For example, workers in the West Wing of President Barack Obama’s White House would watch it from time to time on YouTube as a source of inspiration. Obama subsequently took the opportunity to congratulate Gillard on the speech personally.

I remember the speech very well. I was thrilled by Gillard’s controlled and eloquent feminist rage but even more so because her primary target was the man standing opposite her in the House of Representatives, Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition. Like many Labor supporters, my loathing for him knew no bounds.

I was also delighted because, for what seemed like an eternity prior to the speech, Australia’s first female Prime Minister had been subjected to the most egregious types of personal attacks, orchestrated by Abbott and his team, and supplemented by vile slurs from the nation’s most abhorrent conservative journalists and radio shock-jocks.

There are countless thousands of web pages devoted to or inspired by the Misogyny Speech. This Wikipedia entry provides a brief overview of some of the key facts.

The tenth anniversary of the speech has been marked in various ways, from newspaper stories to Twitter threads and, most significantly, by publication of Not Now, Not Ever. This book, edited by Julia Gillard herself, contains a variety of recollections, cultural analysis and opinion, as well as conversations between Gillard and ‘next-generation’ feminists. Learn more about the book and Julia Gillard here.

Now, regarding my choice of title for this post.

From the 2007 federal election until 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard was Deputy Prime Minister, serving under Labor leader Kevin Rudd. Then, after a few months of turmoil within the government, Gillard was persuaded to challenge Rudd, who resigned rather than face the humiliation of a party-room vote. A few weeks later, Gillard decided to bring on the federal election which was due later in 2010.

Prior to calling the election, Gillard had sought to deal with some issues that were reflecting negatively on the government. An example was the arrival of would-be immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers on boats operated by ‘people smugglers’.

Gillard’s performance through this period gave every sign of being stage-managed and she seemed almost wooden at times. This pattern continued into the early weeks of the election campaign, much to the despair of Labor supporters such as me who were expecting a much stronger and, dare I say it, feistier display from a woman we knew to be intelligent, strong-minded and articulate.

Then, possibly in response to feedback from ‘focus groups’ or perhaps because Gillard herself had had enough of being micro-managed to within an inch of her life, whatever the reason, she let it be known at about the midpoint of the campaign that, henceforth, we would see the ‘real Julia’. That might have been a good move if she’d live up to her vow – I don’t recall there being much in the way of dramatic change – but it could also be turned to her disadvantage by mocking doubters and it was.

In the end, the election produced a hung parliament but, with sufficient support from independent MPs, Labor was able to cling to power with Gillard as Prime Minister. However, it would not take long for a reinvigorated opposition to find their destructive mojo, culminating in her being replaced by Kevin Rudd three years plus three days after she had replaced him. Rudd’s premiership soon reached its denouement when the Coalition won a decisive victory at the September 2013 election. Gillard had already left parliament; Rudd soon followed.

I often felt frustrated through those six years, both by Labor’s inconsistent performance and diabolical internal ructions and by the extent to which Abbott and his ilk were able to conduct themselves in an unprecedented no-depth-is-too-low manner without attracting much by way of rebuke from both the media and voter opinion.

Worse than that, I felt quite sad, sad for what had been lost. I believe Julia Gillard could have been an excellent national leader for an extended period – her illustrious post-politics career to date seems to bear that out – so I can’t help but wish that what she brought to the table on 9 October 2012 had been the rule rather than the exception.

Sigh!
Rick Grounds

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About rmgtravelsandfood

Maggie and I are both in our late 60s and live in Melbourne, Australia. This blog is devoted to our shared passions for travel and fine dining at home. Recently, I added Australian politics to the scope of the blog, inspired by the election of a Labor Government at a national level. Rick Grounds
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1 Response to The day the real Julia Gillard stood up

  1. I agree with you. The real Julia only came through to me during that speech. Eloquent, smart, poised and with a way of looking at the world that was based in equity and fairness. It was a loss to Australia that as a nation we were not ready for her as a prime minister – or for equity and fairness in our political discourse. I am really looking forward to reading the book. Thanks Rick

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