Random House AUS
Purchased personal copy
I was prime minster for three years and three days. Three years and three days of resilience. Three years and three days of changing the nation. Three years and three days to give me a unique perspective of our future.
Three years and three days for you to judge.
This is a hard review to write because I suspect the way people will feel about this book depends on how they feel about Julia Gillard. Because I bought this book, quite obviously I like her. I wouldn’t shell out for a hardback on someone I didn’t like. When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010, we had just moved to her electorate of Lalor in Melbourne’s south-west. It’s a mix of older, working class suburbs and land reclaimed from market gardeners and farmers that is being redeveloped into housing estates to accommodate the growing population. We’re 35m from the city on a good day when no one has broken down or had a fender bender on the West Gate. House prices are cheap, because they’re in plentiful supply. At the same time, you can see that changing quickly. Soon the land will be gone, the house prices will increase and the development push will continue out to Rockbank and Sunbury. Julia Gillard had been the member for Lalor for over ten years when she went from being Deputy Prime Minister behind Kevin Rudd, to Prime Minister in a spill. The government had lost faith in Rudd, who clearly was buckling under the pressures of the job.
But what Gillard and probably the rest of the Labor party didn’t realise, was that there were many who didn’t take too kindly to the way she came into power. She wasn’t democratically elected by the people. Faced with an extremely hostile media presence, mostly publications owned by the incredibly right-wing Rupert Murdoch company NewsCorp, Gillard faced constant criticism about everything – including her personal life with partner Tim, her clothes, her hair, her lack of children, her past times, her manner of speech. It was open slather and the attacks and claims of upcoming leadership challenges in the Labor party were published every other day. She had to not only concentrate on running the nation and getting things done after the Rudd period of inactivity but she had to be strong in the face of adversity and personal attack. She was unmarried and an athiest. She didn’t have any children – and was referred to as “deliberately barren” and unfit for leadership because of that by a Liberal MP. And of course her partner is a hairdresser which must mean he’s a homosexual! That was actually put to Julia Gillard in a radio interview by Howard Sattler who was later sacked because of it. I don’t think I’m alone when I feel that this would never have been asked of a male PM – if their wife was really a lesbian and it was all a sham. Because Gillard was both female and in a de facto relationship rather than protected by the “sanctity” marriage, it seemed as if it gave license to ask her rude, personal questions.
The book is divided into two sections, to answer the two questions Gillard says she is asked most frequently. The first section is how she did it, revolving around the downfall of Rudd and also pulling together a minority government after the 2010 election. The second section is why she did it, which revolves around her vision and what she wanted to implement as well as what motivated her. One thing that absolutely stands out in this book is Gillard’s passion for education. She wants desperately for everyone to have access to excellent quality education, the way she and her sister were able to after her family moved here from a dirt-poor Welsh mining town. She talks at length and often, how important education is to her and how it was one of her big agendas. As someone who now has a child at school, I find myself taking much more of an interest in both state and federal funding and the vision for the future. I’m far more interested in my children’s education than I was in my own at the time and it takes hindsight and maturity to appreciate the opportunities we are afforded here.
I told my husband and someone I spoke to after reading this that this book reads like a conversation with Gillard where she answers the questions before you can ask them. You don’t have to participate as such, just absorb the answers. It showcases her personality, which I don’t think was presented in the best light when she was leader. Gillard is actually warm and funny, quite humorous and very down to earth. When I was walking back home from dropping my son off at school yesterday, I listened to a podcast of Julia Gillard at a literary lunch with Tony Delroy and she is sort of questioned about this and she admits that she’s far better off the cuff, in her own words. She can prepare for things and deliver well in a format like Q&A, or The 7:30 Report but has never been much good at delivering a prepared speech word for word. This was something that hurt her at the time I think, because it seemed that people couldn’t really connect with her, especially after the way she came to power. Listening to the podcasts and her interviews since leaving power and reading her book showcases the sort of personality she could’ve perhaps offered if not distracted by so much negativity – the media, the scare campaign the opposition ran and also within her own party, which was always being or attempting to be, destabilised. She says there was always a need to be stoic, to not ever be seen as emotional (probably lest the ‘hysterical female’ accusations appear) and perhaps that contributed too. She doesn’t have that need anymore, she is able to be freer in her expression
This book is quite frank about the mistakes she made as well – decisions that she made that didn’t turn out to be right, people she trusted that she perhaps shouldn’t have, ideas she had that weren’t ready to be implemented. But I think ultimately Gillard is very proud of the government she led and how much it achieved in the face of such adversity. So many people forget that they passed over 500 pieces of legislation and as she says, “many important pieces, not just tidying up”. She’s proud of the fact that whilst it may not have been easy for her, being the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, she hopes that it will be for the next one….and the next one….and the next one after that. I think like many others do, that history will be much kinder to Gillard than the years she reigned in were. In time, she’ll be remembered for her ideas and her strength, rather than the fact she was a woman who wore clothes the media found boring and didn’t have a husband.
Book #214 of 2014
This is the 79th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014