Gillard’s ascension a giant leap for womankind

Article by Tim Leslie /
June 24, 2010 /
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Julia Gillard’s ascension to the top office has been hailed as a momentous achievement for Australian women.

Labor Senator Claire Moore, the nation co-ordinator for the ALP women’s advocacy group Emily’s List, says it is an important step in the quest for gender equality in politics.

“I think in many ways it’s actually one of those symbolic moments that people are going to look back and say that is something that has been achieved, and as you know Emily’s List has been all about ensuring that women are part of the political process,” she said.

“There will be many women across Australia and also internationally who will be watching this and also wishing Julia well.”

One of those people is Ms Gillard’s father John, who said he was thrilled by the news.

“[I’m] elated, excited, mindful of the enormous job ahead – binding the party together now, healing, dealing with contemporary issues, facing an adversary that’s formidable,” he said.

Mr Gillard said he was hopeful his daughter’s appointment would avoid a dirty election.

“I hope it will be a clean election. I hope that it will be fought on issues that confront the country, that it will not be a race to the bottom of the barrel,” he said.

Mr Gillard said he never imagined his daughter would become Australia’s first female Prime Minister when the family migrated to Australia from Wales in the 1960s.

And Mr Gillard, who with his wife Moira watched the leadership challenge on television from their Pasadena home this morning, said his daughter would be a formidable force in the upcoming election.

“Julia’s unique, hardworking, driven by noble ideals, and wants to do good things for the country and [hopefully] we’ll go to a very close, hard fought election as a united Labor Party led by the first ever female Prime Minister.”

Gillard steps up

Senator Moore said the turmoil surrounding today’s events did not undermine its significance.

“It certainly is not the way that we would want it in terms of process, but we all understand the way the political system operates and you have to be able to survive and operate effectively within the system,” she said.

“And Julia was placed in that position and she took a step and that was what needed to be done.”

She also dismissed parallels to former Labor state premiers like Joan Kirner who were brought in at the last minute in a desperate attempt to stave off election defeat.

“Julia has been an intimate part of the leadership team of the Government all the way through. She has not come from outside, it has not been some external appointment.

“She is actually moving within the political team to take the leadership, so I don’t a see a parallel with the examples that are on record in the past of women coming on in a last-gasp situation.

“I don’t sense that’s the same here. It certainly isn’t the sense of the caucus.”

Tribute for Rudd

And she was quick to pay tribute the deposed prime minister Kevin Rudd, saying he had championed the issues central to Emily’s List.

“I do want to actually pay enormous respect and gratitude to Kevin Rudd, because on the issues that Emily’s List supports, which is women’s rights, women’s equity, the Rudd government actually was a leader in all of those and we could not have wished for a better prime minister in terms of supporting our issues than we had in Kevin Rudd,” she said.

Senator Moore said while the appointment of a female prime minister would serve as an inspiration to Australian women, it was unlikely it would significantly change the Federal Government’s stance on women’s issues.

“Julia has always been an extremely influential and inspirational figure for women and women’s issues in our party and has always been very open to engage with women in the community,” she said.

“So I think in terms of entrenching women’s policy it will be very strong for us to have her as the leader. But I think the Labor Party policy has been well developed and is entrenched now that we have a strong commitment to an equitable Australian society which supports Australian women and men.”

She laughed off the suggestion that Gillard’s appointment would end the struggle for women’s rights in the political arena.

“Just getting certain women into certain positions is not the end to our work,” she said.

“We still do not have 50 per cent representation in any part of parliament or local government in this country.

“So the fact that we have some women leaders, around the states and particularly in local government [we have] the leaders, doesn’t make up for the fact that if you look at any of our governing bodies it doesn’t effectively represent the community that they’re serving.”

Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne echoed this sentiment.

“It would be wonderful if we didn’t need to draw attention to the fact that Julia Gillard is a woman but she is, and it would be remiss not to pause and acknowledge this remarkable development as a sign of just how far women have come in political life,” she said.

“The fact that we have to talk about her being the first female PM reminds us how far we have left to come.”

Dr Rosewarne says she expects the media focus on Ms Gillard’s hair, fashion and marital status to continue.

“This morning on the news already we’ve heard that she is the first prime minister who is spouseless and she’ll move a boyfriend into the lodge. It’s disturbing that we’d even have these kinds of issues on the table,” she said.

“But it does help to highlight the fact that for a woman to succeed as well as she has sacrifices do have to be made, and that’s a social policy issue we need to have a discussion about.”