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Gillard's guts and glory


'Labor' by Chris JohnstonThis woman leader of ours is as tough as a stevedore. Necessarily, if a woman wants to win a shit-fight, which is what she did on Monday after a 20 month long challenge to her claim to be legitimately PM.

Gillard's right to political life has been challenged from within the ALP, because she got her first leg over the stile thanks to the ALP's affirmative action policies and the vigorous growth of the non-Party but pro-progressive political women's support organisation, EMILY's List [Early Money Is Like Yeast].

The depth of factional resentment is still profound. Even Gough vigorously and volubly (naturally) resented these vile, undemocratic initiatives, which I know, because he told me so when I was trying to get him to contribute to the Joan Kirner biography (a project I've had to shelve for now).

I was a bit shaken to hear my hero trot out the old canard that removing obstacles to would-be women parliamentary candidates results in unmeritorious appointments. Of course all those men of substance and authority like Kim Carr and George Seitz and union chappies are self-evidently brilliant men of the people.

I digress, but not far.

For these 20 months we have been bombarded by a concerted, personal and sexist campaign — yes, Bob Brown was right — based on the delegitimation of a perfectly normal politician who — unlike most of the incumbents — always sits down when she visits the loo.

She's made mistakes. She's no orator. She hasn't been any different, really, from a bloke in her position; except that she is the one that women wanted to be a woman in power, and that girls love to look up to because she can show that any girl can aspire to being as powerful as a bloke, and can achieve it, using exactly the same tactics as blokes in the ALP do.

Sure, she benefited with a hand over the stile onto the 'level playing field' of merit selection, but she fought as dirty as you have to, to stay on it, get in, and be where she is today.

Thanks to Kevin Rudd's challenge, sadly misbased on his personal assessment of his own radiance as a media performer, the story behind the deputy toppling the winner of the Kevin 07 election has shown just how flawed and preoccupied and vainglorious any keeper of top office can be.

This rough, tough former workplace lawyer came, as we knew she does, into her own when she was on her feet, fighting for her political life, and for the first time since she put on the prime ministerial stilettos in 2010 I can sense the steel core within those blue suede size 36 heels.

She didn't need to scuttle out of The Lodge in a bodyguard's clinch with a smirking Tony Abbott jogging behind her. She could have strolled out with a hide thicker than body armour in a riot. Now, we can see, when it matters she's got guts.

I am left with just two questions. The first is, can or will she keep fighting until the next election? Enough has been written about her misjudgements and mistakes and failure to come over as 'sincere'. Abe Lincoln had the same problem, actually, and was ugly as a sackful of warthogs and with a tremor as well. All Gillard has to do is build on her remarkable wins in a hung parliament with bolshy independents and a no-no-no opposition.

The second is, is she going to be the role model we really need, for the young women of today and tomorrow. Is she, in other words, not Wonder Woman or Supergirl, but the Iron Lady?

Maggie Thatcher saw herself as a trail blazer for women, but eschewed 'feminism' and denied the reality of institutional blocks to women's equality. She didn't appoint women to her cabinet (well, one, who really doesn't count) and in many ways exemplifies what is worryingly wrong with modern women who mistake making it in a man's world, women's individual empowerment, and personal choices, with 'feminism'.

Gillard didn't come from the world of the elites who delight in the goodies handed out by capitalism, burgeoning free markets, and hugely successful investment fantasies. She knows that economic, social and political history and institutions and practices do, really, stifle women who want to breath the air of freedom and equality.

All those women who married well and got a boost into a nice job in journalism through Daddy or the well-placed husband (Thatcher was one of those, actually) or a radio job, or a board appointment may have 'made it' in a world designed for men, but only because they were tacked onto one.

Such women are popular with a certain kind of man, because they, like Thatcher, see no 'society' but individuals (oh, and families), and no responsibility for the other, but maintaining order and decorum.

I believe in Gillard, because I want to, because I believe she understands those obstacles and institutions, and because if she does not incorporate that knowledge in her newly refreshed leadership role, I'll slap her. Finally, Gillard, finally: guts and glory. And bugger your hairstyle.

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Labor leadership



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Existing comments

Interesting and provocative article. I'm just curious about one thing - why do you consider that Thatcher's one female appointment to cabinet "doesn't count"??

Jane Becker | 27 February 2012  

Moira , you are really making a hugh call on us to accept your outrageous appeal to have Julia elevated to sainthood . In my view she has inflicted an intolerable degradation on her mate Tim by suggesting he be the recipient of the most expensive board & lodging in the nation ,ie weekly upkeep of The Lodge .He has done no more by way of a life long contribution to his partners achievement than some poor homeless streetperson of Sydney or Melbourne .

John Kersh | 27 February 2012  

Looking back over the past five years we should be deeply grateful to Kevin Rudd for successfully steering Australia through the economic storm that continues to batter many countries. But it has now become clear to most of us that as Prime Minister he too-often acted as a 'one-man band'. Parliamentary colleagues realised this and replaced him with Julia Gillard and re-affirmed their decision yesterday. Looking further back over political history, there have been numerous similar cases - and some instances of regrettable lack of courage to replace a leader who had become too self-willed. For example, Victorian Premier Henry Bolte was retained too long and was responsible for a hanging long after the death sentence was rejected by most Australians. And he defied expert advice over the location of Melbourne's second university and caused needless expense and inconvenience to thousands of students. Sometimes Premiers and Prime Ministers must be told to go. Labor Members of the Australian Parliament should be congratulated on making the right decisions over the vital question of leadership despite the difficulties.

Bob Corcoran | 28 February 2012  


GAJ | 28 February 2012  

Moira, you hit all the right notes here, putting the whole sorry saga into context. Maybe now she'll get the chance to be the leader we always wanted, or at least have a damm good try.

john bartlett | 28 February 2012  

On the day Ms Gillard was elected, the female students in my class (ranging in age from teens to 40s) were uniformly negative about her. A small sample (<12) but they were quite definite. All either had children or planned to have children and they all took the view "Gillard would have no idea what it's like raising children and looking after a family. She'd be as just as bad as a man." Myself, I actually mildly dislike Gillard less than Rudd but I resent the principle that the mining companies said "jump" and the Labor caucus said "How high?". I suppose it'll be another 20-30 years before the Whitlamite/ Anne Summers cohort move on and others acquire the same freedom to say "I dislike [left-wing female Australian politician]" as they claim to say "I dislike [Margaret Thatcher/ Sarah Palin/ Flo Bjelke-Petersen/ etc]" without having their motives impugned.

Rod Blaine | 28 February 2012  

Toughness alone means nothing. I mean Idi Amin was tough. It is toughness with an authentic sense of values that is more important for me and Gillard fails on this count. In the end she has lied so many times, not only to opponents but to her allies, that the trust thing is gone. Tony Abbott looks a decent human being by comparison.

Skye | 28 February 2012  

A beaut article, Moira - and I predict this will be one of the lasting pieces of opinion journalism on the events of the week. I support your positive views on Julia entirely. I am holding her out as a role model for my teenage daughters. Whether men or women, Australians can be proud of the way she conducted herself this week. To anticipate a possible letter, I have serious policy differences with the Gillard Labor Government (as with its two predecessors) over treatment of asylum-seekers. This does not take away from my unalloyed pleasure at yesterday's decisive outcome.

tony kevin | 28 February 2012  

Moira, you rock!

Barbara Harland | 28 February 2012  

Toughness does not mean glory. I know of a school principal who, after ringing a local paper about the the (unneeded) school hall that was proposed (they already had one) received a phone call from Julia Gillard. After the call, she (the principal) emerged from her office, ashen-faced and shaking, and has never discussed the matter again. The expensive, ugly and unnecessary hall was built. This type of behaviour is arguably far more damaging than anything Kevin Rudd is supposed to have done (these stories spread through the community) but unfortunately is a prerequisite to success in the Labor Party. The labor party promotes on connections rather than merit. Sorry Moira, and Julia, but that's a sad fact.

Ian | 28 February 2012  

Come on, Moira, our gender right or wrong? The way the ALP has behaved on behalf of Gillard and with her imprimatur has been a disgrace, whatever one may think of Rudd. And will probably leave us with Abbott in charge. The only role model who deserves the name in all this is Anthony Albanese.

Sara Dowse | 28 February 2012  

Marvellous Moira. I'm still laughing. Now if you can just get two things on the boil: journalists to stop their obsession with simplistic polls and instead report on significant issues: inform the populist driven public that we have a Westminster system of Govt not a US Presidential one.

Marg | 28 February 2012  

Sky has found Tony's redeeming features by comparison to Julia's. Clearly the Skys of this world were not born yesterday. But even the most ardent Coalition supporters could see that their 'messiah' is Turnbull. Ms. Rayner is to be congratulated for accurately describing that under the present global circumstances, we have the right person (and party) to lead us all into the 21st century. Abbott would simply return us all to the Howard days. By the way, what's the difference between Howard's GST and Gillard's carbon tax. Is the former simply political crumbs and the latter a lie? Would the personal vitriol continue if Gillard is a male? I think not.

Alex Njoo | 28 February 2012  

Is it really necessary to use expressions such as 'shit-fight'? The whole tone of this article demeans the writer and women generally. There should be no need for the vituperative approach of gutter fighting to put a point of view. I am a very strong supporter of women's equal rights and realise that achieving them is an uphill battle. p.s. The comment about stilettos is gratuitous - when have you seen Julia Gillard in Stilettos? Incidentally having just googled the word it comes up as the name of a brothel in Sydney!!!

Terry Fitzgerald | 28 February 2012  

Moira, this article on Julia Gillard seems like a bit of woman love. I think she has done a reasonably good job as prime minister and will probably continue to do so. She has made a good start in uniting and managing the ALP caucus by acknowledging the achievements of Kevin Rudd. Notwithstanding all the mickey mouse meaningless polls which are taken every five minutes, I think she can give Abbott a run for his money at the next election. However, she will have a tough time because the media will continue to treat her unfairly and criticise her for trivial issues such as her marital status, not having children and her atheism. I would like to see her be a better leader and spokeswoman for women and speak about treating women better especially in respect of domestic violence, child care and working class husbands sharing domestic chores and raising children. I would also like to see her change government policy for a more humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. The media, especially the mainstream ABC stations 774, ABC1 and ABC24, should also have 'good hard look' at themselves because of their anti-feminist soap opera boring coverage of the Rudd challenge.

Mark Doyle | 28 February 2012  

There has been a lot a plain speaking - not only by a refreshingly straight and forceful Julia. More spin free conversation and connection can only bea good thing - it certainly works for me...

Drew | 28 February 2012  

Great article Moira! I suspect that anyone who has had to endure working in a dysfunctional team has been waiting for this moment to arrive. I am now hoping that Julia seizes this opportunity to fully demonstrate her true leadership capabilities.

Judy | 28 February 2012  

Moira you are a girl after my own heart! Great article. Your last para captures where I stand regarding our prime minister. As everyone around bags her I have been holding the flag of hope.

Robin Wileman | 28 February 2012  

I am sure that Julia Gillard has to remain vigilant. There are a people like Crean and Swan still chewing on bones left over from barbecues held by Hawke and Keating.

Beat Odermatt | 28 February 2012  

THANK YOU and three cheers for your perspective on this (as usual ... spot on!) If this had been a male vs male contest it would have been shrugged off as "boys will be boys". JG has been/is subjected to the most vile and personally denigrating rhetoric, not seen or heard on the Australian political stage before, with expectations to be a hybrid Mary Poppins/Pollyanna/Mary Magdalene in return.

Kerry Bergin | 28 February 2012  

Now, we know, thanks to the vigorous growth of the non-Party but pro-progressive political women's support organisation, EMILY's List (Pro-Abortion women's organization) Julia Gillard was able to defeat Kevin Rudd. After reading Moira Rayner's article, all we can do is to pray to end abortion. To pray for mother and child, as well as all involved in the abortion industry. Also to peacefully agitate for an election now, so we can restore a good government, pro-God, pro-Family and pro-Life.

Ron cini | 28 February 2012  


I'm looking forward to that Joan Kirner bio- she is one of my stars- and hope you are collecting n real time for a Julia Gillard bio.

Using your analysis, have you done the count on how the women premiers have got rolled?
Have any been followed by another woman? I think not, but that's a casual memory, not a documented observation.

Carol McDonough | 28 February 2012  

As a lifelong Labor supporter, I am disappointed with this article.For far too long Labor has been manipulated by the Right Wing of the Party.Julia used that Right Wing to oust Rudd. Why didn't she use her much vaunted skills at reconciling dufferences on Rudd rather than listening too readily to Arbib, Shorten,etc.The labor factions have only one thing on their minds _ cannibalism and I for one am sick of them. _

Anne Forbes | 28 February 2012  

Personally, Gillard has disappointed me a little. Moyra has pinpointed my problem when she says 'she can show that any girl can aspire to being as powerful as a bloke, and can achieve it, using exactly the same tactics as blokes in the ALP do'. Women can contribute something different/complimentary and it's sad if they don't. We have several women ministers who operate in this way, and that's not to mention Anna Bligh. I am pleased to see Julia in there but would like to see her doing it a little differently from the way a man does.

Margaret McDonald | 28 February 2012  

thanks Moira, i have long thought of julia as a victim of gross mysogyny, where is some respect shown to the leader of our country. More strength to her arm!

Jenny Martin | 28 February 2012  

Moira, you are right but so am I for crticising her policy inadequacies (crikey today. She is lousy on sole parents the uneployed and others whom she blames for not working harder.Not good policy and feminism isn't about supporting women just because they are women. She needs to be told she fails the fairness test in many policies eg Indigenous, asylum seekers and the unemployed for a start.

evacox | 28 February 2012  

Sometimes I do get tired of the claims that it is gutsy to destroy a colleague for no reason. Rudd was not doing anything - surely even the dumbest person in Australia can see that Arbib's resignation was a giant IT WAS ME sign flashing in red. If you got passed the feminist tripe you would know that Gillard has no policy of her own and that is why she is judged. I don't know a single person who cares about her gender. Maybe 20 years ago, but there has been women world leaders for centuries so what is this ridiculous nonsense still being bandied about for. Rudd was done over because he wanted Palestine to be in UNESCO, opposed the stupid Malaysia deal, chided Israel over the use of our Australian citizens passports and over the torture of hundreds of Palestinian children. Well so did every other country with brains and they didn't kick out the foreign minister.

Marilyn Shepherd | 28 February 2012  

Oh Tony, how disgraceful. Gillard wanted to flog babies to Malaysia and you hold her up as a role model for your daughters.

Marilyn Shepherd | 28 February 2012  

Thank you Moira for saying what you said and doing it so strongly. Bravo. I have just one comment, courtesy of my good wife: she thinks that Kevin Rudd is suffering from the same problem as Mark Latham, but she does not put it like that.

Frank | 28 February 2012  

Kerry Bergin, you seem to have forgotten the vilification from the left-leaning media that accompanied John Howard's every word and movement when he was in power. And speaking of 'guts' - now Ron Cini is a person with guts. Imagine in this political climate, having the guts to promote peace and prayer for all involved in the abortion industry! That's something I really admire because it seems, from the left commentariat, so unfasionable to support the concept of family life. And as Eva Cox noted Julia Gillard has made some good calls but has been so 'lousy' on others. Particularly for those people who believe that the first five years of a child's life is important and who fight for the opportunity to stay at home to raise their children. These young people do their nation a great service, at great cost to themselves. They believe, and I agree, that strong and happy families are the foundation for a strong, happy and progressive nation.

Millie | 28 February 2012  

You've neglected to add one trait of Julia Gillard that has helped her get to where she is. I'm not sure it's all that complimentary. Here's just one illustrative vignette: In 2010, ABC journalist Annabel Crabb gave this account of her deception: In 2004, Gillard was Labor’s health spokeswoman, and “one night ...fired off a despairing text message to a friend, confessing exasperatedly that health was too confusing for her”. To her horror, she accidentally sent the message to Tony Abbott, then the health minister. Fearing he’d embarrass her, she arranged to talk to a regional radio station. “During the interview she laughingly confessed to having sent tongue-in-cheek text messages to her opponent feigning frustration with the minefield of health reform. “Had (her email) been raised in Parliament, she would musically have read aloud from the transcript, demonstrating that the whole thing was a bit of a lark.”

HH | 29 February 2012  

I agree, Moira, that: "All Gillard has to do is build on her remarkable wins in a hung parliament with bolshy independents and a no-no-no opposition", but I would add, all the more remarkable given the destabilising stealth campaign within her own ranks from her hubristic predecessor. I don't expect to agree with everything that any PM does including Julia, but she now has the chance to use her clear ability and values to shine. God knows we need some real leadership!

Peter Johnstone | 29 February 2012  

A somewhat rose-tinted view. As a purportedly tough negotiator, could Gillard not have negotiated with Rudd before the overnight coup? And as some ministers have publicly stated, they knew nothing about it at the time. Tough, certainly (particularly on asylum seekers) but also seemingly quick to change policies or go back on her (party's) word. The much heralded Gonski Review is the latest. Why a review of a review? What a waste of money particularly when the renewable energy solar scheme is being terminated overnight- all to save some. Reforms? In the national interest? Very doubtful.

Lis Gunn | 29 February 2012  

Thank you for this great commentary - spot on!! I remain grateful- that Bob Brown made his comments though many dismiss them as 'well he would say that wouldn't he?'- and shocked by and tired of the level of vitriol levelled at Julia Gillard by the media and voters, especially women who carp continually about her voice, her hair - colour and style,her dress and how she walks. Give her and us all a break - no male PM has had to contend with this so why should she? its lowest common denominator/lazy journalism stuff that only distracts and gives the oppposition more room to breathe and harp.

Linda Shaw | 29 February 2012  

Really, someone is mocking Rudd for taking a sip of water.

As a person on immunosuppresent medication to keep his new heart valve viable his mouth is always dry.

Marilyn Shepherd | 29 February 2012  

Julia Gillard remains the best person to implement Bob Brows plan to ruin Australia.

Beat Odermatt | 29 February 2012  

Good article Moira, thank you

Cara Minns | 29 February 2012  

Barely time to draw breath after the leadership tussle, Gillard is back to her dissembling and flailing ways. Denis Shanahan today: "Once more Gillard had put herself on the spot, proved publicly inept, failed the commonsense test and looked evasive. Her supporters groaned inwardly and the former NSW premier felt queasy." How the Coalition must have been clinking the champers glasses after Monday's vote. Gillard is their most potent secret weapon, their gift that keeps on giving.

HH | 01 March 2012  

I agree with you, Moira. There are very few role models for women in power to use as examples. Julia Gillard bungles things, such as even considering the awful Bob Carr as a replacement for the terrible Mark Arbib in the Senate. But she keeps rising in my estimation of her as our Prime Minister. I wish the journalists would respect her as the Prime Minister.

Carolyn van Langenberg | 02 March 2012  

I can only assume that if you are on the right of politics you only see the right and if you are on the left you only see the left. I am not a fan of this article. Let's look at the appalling debacle that left Australia a laughing stock on the world stage. I am over her antics - and I am a supporter of women having aspirations and I am a swinging voter. She has had to work in a hung parliament but should be truthful - and she just keeps on keeping on the lies - many are just white lies - but a lie is a lie and voters are over her and this parliament. Get some perspective. She is no saint

Jacki | 02 March 2012  

Dear Moira, You are a national treasure. May you always digress, but not far.

Anna Summerfield | 02 March 2012  

Let us also remember that Julia Gillard is a member of Emilys List.

John Tobin | 02 March 2012  

@HH, I would guess you wrote that before the appointment of Bob Carr. What a farce! The story in the Australian was false. Now Carr get the senate seat and the minister for foreign affairs as well after all! The Libs need do nothing but sit back and watch "This rough, tough former workplace lawyer" trip up over her own feet. Her incompetence is monumental.

MJ | 02 March 2012  

John Tobin, it is sad to say but for many of Eureka Street's readers, Gillard being a member of Emily's List would be a badge of honour.

Nguyen Duy | 02 March 2012  

Good piece Moira. Let's have more people supporting Julia Gillard as our PM both within and outside of politics.

The assertions made of her performance and character have seldom been based on fairness or reality.

She is by far the most equipped and capable in the Parliament for this tough job.
Other alternatives a simply scary! Think about it.

David Munzberg | 03 March 2012  

Thank you everybody. Food for thought. Just one last word (of course): I don't argue that Gillard is a saint, but she is a role model for ordinary Australian girls, flaws and all. And not immune from criticism, but it should be fair.

Moira Rayner | 06 March 2012  

PS Jane Becker, the one woman appointee was Baroness Young who was actually notionally appointed by MT but in fact nominated by the Queen to 'manage a duchy' - an honorary quirk of ancient history without real governance duties. Check her out on google on Thatcher cabinet members.

Moira Rayner | 06 March 2012  

Thank you for a wonderful article that beautifully sums up the current situation with Julia Gillard as PM within the current state of "feminism. So glad I stumbled across this article in the wake of the Queensland election.

Sandra Cotton | 25 March 2012  

I fail to see what credit for this so called Royal commission can be given to our non-believer PM nor the grubby Greenies who forced her hand at another anti Catholic venture

Neal Morris | 13 November 2012  

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