When Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female PM in June 2010, it was seen as a milestone for gender equality in Australia.
Ms Gillard herself said she “didn’t set out to crash my head on any glass ceilings”. And until her now-notorious “misogyny speech” in October, in which she accused the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, of a litany of sexist actions and remarks, she never made an issue of her gender.
What role it played in her political demise will be debated endlessly here. She probably gave the most accurate analysis herself last night, saying it “doesn’t explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing”.
The main reasons for her lack of popularity were the way she came to power – Australians felt cheated by the ousting of Mr Rudd, for whom they had voted – and for her abandonment of a promise never to introduce a carbon tax. She reneged on that in order to secure support from the Greens for her minority government.
Warm and personable in private, Ms Gillard also struggled to engage with voters. But misogyny also played a part. She was subjected to a sustained campaign of offensive jokes and cartoons, of which the recently revealed menu for a Liberal Party fundraising dinner – featuring “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box” – was the tip of the iceberg.
Ms Gillard said she was “absolutely confident... it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that”. But it will take a brave woman – and Ms Gillard was described by one colleague as “one of the toughest warriors” to lead Labor – to follow in her footsteps.
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