Julia Gillard is the first woman in our nation’s history to become the Deputy Prime Minister and is tipped by many to go all the way to the top job. Highly intelligent, with a strong work ethic, Gillard is widely perceived to be ambitious. But does she even want to be Prime Minister?
Author of The Making of Julia Gillard, the acclaimed biographer Jacqueline Kent, is the first to tell Gillard’s story in it’s entirety. Kent told me she chose our Deputy Prime Minister as the subject of her third book because she has always been fascinated by women who refuse to conform to sterotype. “We haven’t had enough women politicians and Gillard’s one of the first to try and find a model of her own. She’s doesn’t fit the stereotype. Women in politics have been cute, or very well behaved, or mumsy – more stereotypical women. But she has decided she’s never going to do that.”
Born in Wales on 29 September 1961, Julia Eileen Gillard immigrated to Australia with her parents and her older sister Alison, in 1965. As a teenager she wanted to be a teacher, but ended up studying Arts/Law at the University of Adelaide instead.
After entering university, Gillard became actively involved in student politics which is where many of our MPs cut their political teeth. After transferring to the University of Melbourne, Gillard become President of the now defunct organisation, the Australian Union of Students in 1983.
Years later, her activities as a fiery student activist would provide the conservative press with some ammunition in their attempt to discredit her in the lead up to the 2007 election.
One of the many things I admire about Julia Gillard, is her ability to shrug off personal attacks and get on with the job. Of course in Gillard’s line of work, you have to develop a thick skin and she has proven to be incredibly resilient. Jacqueline Kent tells me that Gillard has never been the type of person who is easily rattled, even as a child.
“According to her mother she never got upset about anything, which is pretty interesting for a five, six, seven, eight year old. I think she was always a pretty reserved sort of person and rather calm.”
Kent added, “It’s very useful politically because the last thing you would want to be is a hysterical, emotional woman because the press would eat you alive, no question.”
After graduating from the University of Melbourne, Julia Gillard went to work as a lawer for Slater & Gordon in the firm’s Industrial Law division. Here, amongst other things, she fought to improve the working condition of migrant women outworkers who worked in sweatshops in the clothing and textile industry.
Before leaving Slater & Gordon in 1995 to pursue a career in politics, Julia Gillard achieved another first for women by becoming the first woman to be made partner of what is one of the nation’s largest law firms. But despite her status as a role model for women in this country, Gillard never set out to become a trail-blazer for gender equality in the workplace. Julia Gillard is a woman who runs her own race and if she happens to crash through some glass ceilings on the way to the top job – no big deal – it’s a non-issue.
I have to say that until I read Jacqueline Kent’s book, I had no idea how tough the preselection process can be for those wanting to enter Parliament. Kent says it took five years and three goes at it, but Julia Gillard was determined to do it. After losing preselection for the seat of Melbourne, she just kept turning up to meetings of the ALP and eventually she was preselected for the seat of Lalor (Victoria).
The conservative media were particularly hard on Julia Gillard in the lead up to the 2007 federal election. But if any of the negative commentary and accompanying press coverage bothered her, Gillard never let it show.
Jacqueline Kent explains, “She’s very confident in herself and she knows who she is. She doesn’t let other people tell her what to do and she’s not somebody who tries to court the media. She’s also quite reserved as a human being and I think politicians need that. If you’re going to be in the public eye 24/7 the way she is, you’ve got to keep some of yourself for yourself.”
When I asked Jacqueline Kent whether she thought Julia Gillard would make a good PM, she replied, “She’s certainly got the qualities to do the job. I read a quote somewhere that said it’s more important to have a first rate temperament than a first rate mind and Julia Gillard has both.”
When Jacqueline Kent asked Gillard whether she wanted the job, Julia Gillard replied: ‘Anyone who thinks that my being PM is inevitable knows nothing whatever about politics.’
I’m not a professional journalist or a political commentator, and I would rather pluck hairs from my bikini-line with a pair of tweezers, than watch one minute of Parliament Question Time, or Laurie Oaks for that matter. But after reading Jaqueline Kent’s book, I am now making a conscious effort to pay more attention to Australian politics and the people who govern our country and it’s all because of Julia Gillard. She is the most interesting political figure we’ve seen in Australia in decades and Canberra just wouldn’t be the same without her.
Jacqueline Kent said, “People always ask ‘do you like her’ and that is the kind of question they always ask about women. If I was writing a biography about Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott, I would not be asked that question. I think I’m asked that question because it’s Julia Gillard. It’s much nicer to be asked do I respect her and yes, I do enormously.”
THE MAKING OF JULIA GILLARD by Jacqueline Kent is published by Penguin and is available now at book retailers, RRP AU$32.95