Thank you, Anne Summers, for your article “The gender agenda: Gillard and the politics of sexism” in today’s Age. I have written, and then discarded several posts on this blog on this very topic, unsure whether I wanted to insert a current political event into what is, on reflection, a rather rag-tag blog. But Anne Summers, among other things, is a historian (author of Damned Whores and Gods Police) and her article encapsulated many of the things that I have sensed about the treatment of Julia Gillard. And, as I am working through in my own thesis about Judge Willis, “personality” is the most slippery and yet visceral factor in leadership, and when it lies at the heart of a dismissal, it is one of the hardest things to prove. It is nowhere and it is everywhere.
I have not agreed with everything that Julia Gillard has done (her treatment of Wilkie is a case in point) but I am immensely proud of her as Australia’s first female Prime Minister. She is graceful under pressure, she has managed to negotiate with the cross-benchers, and as she has said over and over the last few days, she got things done. The carbon tax, the mining profits tax, the tapering off of subsidies to private health insurance- these are big policies, passed in the teeth of trenchant criticism by vested interests with very, very deep pockets. Kevin Rudd did not deliver these: she did.
I was one of the ALP voters who started rolling her eyes and slumping once Rudd began to speak as Prime Minister. If you look back at my response to his speech at the Bushfire Memorial Service back in 1999 here and again here, I was troubled by his tin ear and nationalistic grandstanding even then. Everything was talked up, but nothing happened once the going got tough.
I was delighted that my yet-t0-be-conceived granddaughters will know that a woman can be a Prime Minister. And yes, I even sent Ms Gillard a birthday card on her 50th birthday, telling her that.
The invective that has been directed towards her by Sydney shock-jocks in particular is appalling, and the criticisms of her “legitimacy” and “authority” (even though Rudd had so little support in the 2010 “coup” that he did not even demand a vote) have an undercurrent that she wasn’t a “proper” Prime Minister. I liked the quotation from Mary Crooks:
‘Every time someone makes an attack on her authority to lead (as distinct from her policies), they are sending a subliminal message to every woman and girl that they are not welcome to sit at the table of real political power.
As David Marr pointed out on Friday, this is the missing piece of the puzzle over the decision to oust Rudd from the leadership in 2010. It was part of the decency, yes decency, of his colleagues that they did not elaborate on the contribution of his personality to the whole situation then.
I laughed at the irony this morning of Rudd praising “Albo’s” decision to plump for him, channelling every cricket and football captain you’ve ever seen interviewed after a match. But clearly Rudd is no team player, no matter how many “o”s he attaches to his colleagues’ names.
We do not have a presidential system: we vote for a local member who is a party member, and it those party members who choose their leader. Rudd seems to have forgotten his constitutional history. I’m surprised and disappointed that John Faulkner seems to have done so as well.
And as for Michelle Grattan in The Age? For the past few weeks, I’ve decided that she falls into the same category as Peter Costello or Chris Berg from the IPA. Her columns are no longer commentary, or analysis: you know what she’s going to write even before she types the first word.
I did not contact my local member Jenny Macklin. Even if she were a Rudd supporter (which she is not), I would not do so. Our democracy does not work that way and I think that it is all the better that it does not. I shall exercise my constitution-given judgment at the ballot box.