Spare a thought for luckless Gillard


Julia Gillard and Tim MathiesonThe history of Australian politics will be kinder to Gillard as a PM than her friends.

Now that a most gracious acknowledgement of personal defeat has been given by the first woman to step up to the hardest political job anyone could be asked to do, we must find the time, whatever the outcome of the looming election, to consider and learn from what we have witnessed about how the country is run.

Political leadership in our age of instant polls and opinionated media attention is now a matter of fright and flight. Today, I am particularly sad to participate in not only the funerals of two friends over the next 24 hours, and to acknowledge my profound sorrow at the way parties deal with perceptions of magic. Anyone who knows how it feels to lose a career in mid life will understand how both Gillard and her political friends and colleagues are feeling today. That same media attention shows every human frailty in outsize detail.

Gillard is a strong, articulate woman who comes into her own when she is assailed on every side. That strength was not only clear to all who saw her congratulate the man who sought her destruction, but whenever she spoke in the Parliament. It grieves me that she could not make herself heard when she spoke about her Government's policies, potential and remarkable achievements.

This hung parliament has undertaken some of the most profound changes in social policy since the 1980s, from the beginning of a national disability insurance scheme to a brave new scheme for improving the education of every Australian child, removing discrimination against aged people in need of care who happened to be lesbian, gay, transgender or transsexual, and the implementation of a farsighted attempt to give a far-flung people access to the 21st century means of information and communication.

Gillard did what political leaders have to do: make decisions, some of them wrong but many of them right. She did so in the most toxic environment that could be imagined, under constant sexist attack, as well as criticism from those whose social values she shares.

She could not connect, and it will take time to fathom why, and what that means for the future government of this country. She did not have that magic by which a passive population judges that they are willing to trust and be loyal to the one who speaks for them internationally and within our own country. Her vision for education, equality, justice and opportunity was clear.

Napoleon's choice of military leaders was, famously, based on whether or not the man was 'lucky'. Gillard's luck was out. In the end, it is luck that determines whether or not 'the people', in sufficiently large and influential numbers, are willing to follow any leader.

But luck is affected by information, and in that regard our mainstream media have let the people down. Any man and his dog has a point of view to be manipulated, and our radio, television and newspaper/online commentators have managed to affect not only 'the people's' opinions, but also the fears and apprehensions of those who have won seats in Parliament.

Two weeks ago I bewailed the nasty, trivial and unkind state of our political discourse, focusing on the sexist and sexual harassment of our PM. I also predicted not only that Rudd would maintain his vendetta, but that the side effects of such conduct would lead to a massive rejection of the referendum proposal to 'add' local government politicians to our Constitutional arrangements, albeit in a minor way. The time is not right, for our cynicism and revulsion against revolting political and public behaviour is overwhelming.

I maintain that — as Gillard said — her sex was not everything in her political experience, but it was something.

Now, Rudd is to seek to achieve his personal goals. Like Gillard, I wish him well, not because of who he is or what he has done, but because I still need to trust that good government is achievable. Can he raise our eyes to a vision for Australia that could just possibly be healthier than the prolonged negativity and viciousness shown from the other side of the House?

I just don't know. A political office is, after all, only sat on by a man.

Moira Rayner headshot

Moira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Pictured: Julia Gillard and Tim Mathieson, January 2013

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Labor



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Existing comments

Thank you Moira. You state the things that need to be said. Like many women, I am feeling sad this morning. I believe bad ruthless ego-driven and untrustworthy behavior has been rewarded and that's not the leadership we deserve but I think has been aided by the media. Greatly so. On the other hand, the media is also rewarding an opposition uttering strings of quotable and unevidenced quotes and spins. Not a good day for Australia by any measure.
Jane | 27 June 2013

Moira, I read your article two weeks ago and again, Today. i resonate with and support all that you have said. Whatever my political inclination, I believe that Julia Gillard has been treated abominably by the press and by many of her so-called friends. I am ashamed at the low level to which our political scene has descended. May the months and years teach us a lesson! I thank Julia Gillard and wish her well.
Barbara Brown-Graham | 27 June 2013

Thank you for this well-deserved tribute to Julia Gillard and to the positive achievements of her Government.
John Bunyan | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moira Rayner for your perceptive article and your call to reflect on the treatment of Julia Gillard in her role as Prime Minister of Australia. Also your challenge for us all to understand what this tells us about the Australian pysche. Distrust of powerful women by men needs to be a major part of this reflection. This is made even more difficult due to the inability for many males to raise to consciousness their unconscious dislike of women and to mask this rejection through ego defence mechanism such as denial.
Rev John W H Smith | 27 June 2013

Agreed almost entirely, Moira. I find it all so confusing and complex that I imagine historians will struggle to make sense of our age. It is passing strange that Gillard as you say is an intelligent, formidable and collaborative. However, we know little of the actualities of the intelligence, cultural acumen or motives of the men who seem to have been her advisers, and why she took notice of them. John McTirrenan's judgment and role seem more than dubious. Why use dud from another culture, and on a 757 visa? Men's fear of women was enhanced by the way in which she gained the top job. Shock jocks exploited ambivalence of both men and women about taking orders from a woman. Ask Carmen Lawrence, Anna Bligh or Joan Kirner. And once Murdoch does not like you, you mighty as well dig your grave. He does not have to tell his editors what to feature, they know his mind and slavishly follow. If we want to grow beyond our adolescent nation status we need to be able to reflect along the lines of your article, Moira. But with a duopoly civilized reflection is almost impossible.
Michael D. Breen | 27 June 2013

We often hear that Gillard and Swan 'were unable' to get heir message heard, and to let the electorate know of their massive achievements. Actually, it is the role of the Press to ensure that these facts are disseminated to the population. A more accurate description would be to say that the media (and of course the powers behind the media) ensured that the news was censored to suit the agenda of power - and dare I say misogyny was its tool. I am incensed at the way that I, as a voter, have been treated by the mainstream media and also the Labor Party. It seems as if the common 'punter' has lost any franchise at all.
Pauline | 27 June 2013

Well said, Reverend Smith., and especially appreciated when this recognition comes from a man. There is a glimmer of hope!
Pauline | 27 June 2013

I agree Moira - I am terribly saddened by the treatment of Gillard although I think many of us saw last night's events coming for some time. But I despair at the language that swims around these events in politics. When the ALP, facing poor polls in the lead up to the election in 2010, threw Rudd over for Gillard, it was apparently the most heinous act of cowardice ever seen. When they do it again, in 2013, and replace Gillard with Rudd, it is a restoration of the proper order, justice achieved. Mmmm. And yet we can't, it seems, talk about gender in this country. Nevertheless, Gillard will be remembered for enormous strength, courage and compassion.
Helena | 27 June 2013

While I understand the urgent need to overcome, or at least to balance, the power of the opposition-awaiting-government, last night's development seems to me a victory for pragmatism and populism. This is what happens without regular engagement in the 'examined life'.
Caroline Ryan RSM | 27 June 2013

The problem with the leadership of Julia Gillard is not linked to Luck. The problem is with her authenticity and transparency. She played the gender card. This certainly was a mistake. And, the real problem with Australian government is the Westminster System is completely out of hand. People do not listen to one another. They do not respect the opinion of another. There seems to be a total lack of respect for the person. As a Christian country we really need to acknowledge the dignity of every person. Honest and integrity seems to be lacking and this includes the former Prime Minister.
Sharyn M Seymour | 27 June 2013

I am greatly saddened--I think we have lost a PM who was a great reformer and communicator. The media,and many within the Labor Party,should be ashamed of the shocking treatment of Julia Gillard leading to last night's outcome. As a politician Julia Gillard was strong, decisive, forthright and it is a shame that in this case, underhanded machinations won out. I wish Julia Gillard all the best. Australia has been the loser here.
Sue Pearson | 27 June 2013

Like many I was upset by the manner of Gillard's appointment but I have come to respect her greatly. Her successful efforts to assist the disabled and their carers should never be forgotten. We do seem to have forgotten the very unpleasant remarks made about Rudd before & after he was deposed but as someone who was once in a very senior administrative position & a woman it seemed to me (though how would I know; I only have the media like everyone else) he was a poor administrator. I grew to admire Gillard greatly. OK she made mistakes but she did great things against a terrible tide of dislike from many males. I guess we can be comforted that her strength was such most males ended up so scared of her they had to resort childish & disgusting insults. I for one will miss her.
rosemary west | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moira; thank you for articulating how some others are viewing last night's decision making, and some of its repercussions for Julia Gillard's unfinished journey.
Anne Nolan | 27 June 2013

Thank you for your article. Like many others I believe Julia Gillard has not been treated in the manner that befits the Prime Minister of this country. I thank her for her commitment.
Barbara Matthies | 27 June 2013

I agree entirely Moira. I am very sad today to see the defeat of a woman of integrity and courage who did her level best to stay true to the ideals of the Labor Party under very difficult circumstances. I am ashamed that many Australians have failed to protest, or even have approved of the way she has been treated by various sections of our society. I think the history books will be kinder to her than to her parliamentary and other public opponents.
Carmel | 27 June 2013

Thanks, Moira. I cried yesterday looking at the TV. I'm revolted by the low elements of the Labor party including Kev, who undermined Julia from the beginning. The media was in it up to its neck, it was so obvious! May Kev have a rotten time and his henchmen also.
Nathalie | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moira for a well balanced article. I am incredibly sad to see Julia Gillard voted out, but I continue in my admiration of her, not least because of the gracious way she responded to her defeat last night. I hope that her intelligence and compassion will continue to be used in some significant way in Australia.
Susan Emeleus | 27 June 2013

From a mere male perspective, I think women have every right to feel affronted by the treatment of Julia Gillard as PM and not just last night. The media vilification & me-tooism of the commentariat has progressively undermined her over the last 3 years. But her record will stand despite the nasty intemperate comments/judgements.
Brian Larsson | 27 June 2013

Thank you for your perspective Moira - balanced and despite the circumstances, positive. The Government achieved much in the difficulties of the hung Parliament. Julia Gillard can hold her head high and I hope her time in public life is not over. I heard Rob Oakeshott's fine valedictory speech today with the simple and heartfelt tribute he paid to the former Prime Minister. He said he thought her father would have been proud of her. Well said.
Brett | 27 June 2013

The more I think about it the more I pray about it - I truly feel ashamed to be half Australian. I thank God I was brought up in the US. My father was American. It was there I learned my values. The Church is still deeply religious. This is reflected in the influence it has in government. If we have learned anything in the past few years it is to teat every human being with dignity. This includes: the marginalized, the poor. those who work for social justice, and yes, even politicians. We are all called to build up the body of Christ. Sharyn Seymour
Name | 27 June 2013

Thanks Moira for these words. I too have been frustrated and saddened by the tone of Australian politics since the last election. More than that, the terrible treatment of Julia Gillard by the media and her own party has made it almost impossible for her real message to be heard. I wish Julia Gillard all the best for her future.
katnes | 27 June 2013

YOu women are supporting a woman who has instituted the most vicious, racist torture chambers for thousands of children since the child migrants came from Britain. Not even Ruddock dared to say that kids had to be in prison limbo for years without being allowed an education for proper guardian, not even Ruddock wanted to jail babies for life, not even Ruddock arbitrarily decided to forcibly deport just one group of people without due process in defiance of a full court ruling, and so on. Trampling the rights of other women is not right and I don't know how any of the parents in our parliament can sleep at night or hold their heads up.
Marilyn | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moira, and thank you Julia. It is a shame that we, as a nation, were not ready for you. You offered much, but not the 'perfection' expected of a "decent and proper" (whatever THAT is) woman. No matter. You have made a difference and, in the final analysis, we will all benefit. We are cursed/blessed with living in interesting times.
Jenny Pengelley | 27 June 2013

This is a brilliant article.Why is it that i have had to pick this up from a lady in the uk. Eureka Street needs a higher profile. You have a brilliant way with words and are a gifted writer. Luv it
Alison | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moria, my heart is sad at what has happened to the Prime Minister. Gillard was a great social reformer and our country is the poorer for loosing her. I hardly slept last night, so I can't imagine how Ms Gillard did. Bad behaviour has been rewarded... Now that's playing the male gender card! A disgraceful day for democracy
NameLynda newton | 27 June 2013

Thank you Moira. You have really said what many would like to be able to say with so much clarity and civility! I thank Julia Gillard and wish her well!
Name | 28 June 2013

Thank you for what you have said. It helps to clear my head. As a male I could never really understand the bias against Julia. She is a good woman with the interests of the nation at heart. She did not flinch in her efforts to make our country a better and more just place. So many were trying to throw us on the scrap heap.
Geoff Kennewell | 28 June 2013

Thank you Moira for your clear perception of what we have been through and for your tribute to Julia Gillard
Irlande Alfred | 28 June 2013

Yes, Moira the way in which political behaviour has been conducted has been nasty personal, unhealthy and a sad time for us all. I fail however, to see why so many people include and blame the Opposition for this. Gillard herself has used, on many occasions, unfair personal attacks on the Opposition. I often [& still do] applauded, Tony Abbott particularly, for holding his tongue and dignity so many times when he could have retaliated. Julia may have been the first woman etc etc but if there is anyone to blame for the toxic atmosphere in my view it was largely generated by her own many barbed remarks....added to by the 'one-eyed' media and possibly the 'spin doctors', that have constantly lined the Opposition up with all the vicious attacks, party to which they have rarely been involved. Opposition must oppose, and they have managed to do that with as much grace as they could during such a ghastly period of our political history.
Penny | 28 June 2013

Well said Sharyn M. Seymour
Penny | 28 June 2013

Ms Gillard's removal of Mr Rudd in the first place was never warranted and because of that there was always a want of legitimacy about her.
Adrian | 28 June 2013

I join others in thanking Moira for her well argued article. As I continue to weep over the dumping of a woman of vision in favour of a man whose major strength is populism, I remind those who suggest that she initiated the so called “gender based” campaign, that for years she demonstrated remarkable self control and restraint in the face of sexist attacks from Abbott et al. Long before Julia Gillard became Prime Minister she was described as “deliberately barren” by former Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan. At the time I ached over the consequent pain that must have caused the many women who are unable to bear children. What selective memories people have and, how on earth were we to know, that such a comment was a mere forerunner of what was to come once Julia Gillard became Prime Minister? Personally, and regrettably, I feel I have no option but to vote for a Rudd led government because the thought of an Abbot led government is too grotesque to contemplate. God help Australia and Australians as seemingly prayer is all that is left to us in the absence of rational discussion and debate on this nation’s political future.
Susan Mera | 29 June 2013

You have to ask yourself why Margaret Thatcher did so well 30 years ago in the UK and why Angela Merkel is doing so well now in Germany. It’s simple, they are competent politicians within the political system in which they have to work; Julia Gillard is not. Certainly Ms Gillard’s government have passed important ground breaking legislation, but so did/have Thatcher and Merkel. In a democracy, you have to engage the people, gather their trust and give them belief in where their country is going. Julia Gillard has singularly failed to do this. She failed to communicate what she and her government have done, except to the political junkies like me, and I suspect those reading this website. It does not matter if you are male or female. Clement Atlee was the greatest reforming PM in the UK of the 20th century; he created the NHS and the welfare state and provided free university education to the working class. He was in power for just one term and is now largely forgotten. Not because of his sex, but because of his inability to enthuse his electorate and articulate the meaning of his reform to ordinary people.
Wirra Wirra | 30 June 2013

I am totally astounded as to youy article , Here we have a woman that participated in an act of piracy right up to the day she backstabbed her own Elected Prime Minister, Then proceeded to condemn everything he stood for , and I admit was not much as he himself is as self loving limelight chasing egomaniac , But to try and failed miserably to make Abbott and the Liberal party look like a group of women hating idiots with possibly Australia's best Shadow minister at his side Julie Bishop, and many other women in the party was disgusting, and you say her achievements,
Alfred A Arnold Be Mba Jp | 30 June 2013

Thank you for that succinct summary of Julia Gillards defeat. She was so brave and upright and yet judged so poorly. I will miss her and in fact I already do.
Faye Lawrence | 30 June 2013

Well said Moira. I am heartened to hear your critique of what has been happening in our political life in this country. I have many similar thoughts. Keep up this intelligent commentary from women!
Bern | 02 July 2013

Australians appreciate a Fair Go & the boat people were seen to circumvent this. Julia's hands were tied by the Greens who she had to share a bed with to get into power. This is how it was perceived & nothing was done about boat people. That's all that cheesed off the Aust electorate. Nothing else.
Name | 02 July 2013


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