Last night, Julia Gillard was on Q and A and she acquitted herself exceptionally well. I’ve felt pretty betrayed by Labor in this last term but I felt just the teensiest bit won over last night. Here’s why.
1. She was poised. Julia seemed supremely confident – not cocky but definitely assured of herself. Whatever question was given to her, she didn’t um and ah or get flustered. She just answered it, undaunted, clearly and sensibly. Perhaps she was well drilled by her media team but it takes a good deal of nerve to be that unflappable.
2. She took the hard questions. Starting with Kevin Rudd’s deposal and going through to her atheism, Julia was willing to confront the questions about her character. I think she showed integrity in her unwillingness to ally herself with religion against her conscience.
3. She knew her stuff. There was a lovely moment where Julia was criticising the Abbott policy of taxing big business because it means raised prices for consumers when someone in the audience asked if that wasn’t exactly what Labor intended to do with the mining tax. She explained that mining prices are set internationally, not by consumers in Australia, so they’re less vulnerable to being changed by tax. I’m no economics expert but I thought the question was a good one and her answer made sense to me.
4. She worked hard to connect with people. Every time Julia answered a question, she first thanked the questioner for it and often affirmed the hardship that lay behind it. She identified with her Adelaide audience, speaking warmly of Don Dunstan and her childhood in Mitcham. Sure, she’s had some body language lessons and a makeover – one look at her french nails and her hands held up in that welcoming pose could tell you that – but I thought it worked.
5. She owned the work there was to do. This was especially important to me on climate change and asylum seekers. Julia acknowledged how slowly the climate change thing has progressed, saying she shares the frustration. She passionately pointed out that it would take 20 years to fill even the MCG with asylum seekers. She talked about the need for more to be done for indigenous, disadvantaged and disabled people.
6. She played the woman card. This was fascinating to watch. As expected, someone asked her how she could expect to identify with Australians families when she doesn’t have a family of her own and she answered that no Prime Minister identifies with everyone but their work speaks for itself. But again and again she raised education as an issue and her passion for the children of Australia. There was just a hint of ‘Mother Julia’ in that.
How much of this compassionate Julia you think is just spin is up to you. But politics in Australia has traditionally been a men’s game and women who want to play have had to do so on men’s terms. But Julia’s re-writing the rules. Fair or not, because she’s a woman, Julia’s quota of “I understand”s and “I share”s is much higher than Tony Abbott’s before it looks insincere. Call it re-enforcing traditional gender roles if you like, but I am enjoying seeing a woman take advantage of being a woman in her bid for the top job. It says that women are different from men and still have something incredibly valuable to offer. I read recently that women are being more highly sought-after in business. Where men are seen as lone-rangers and risk takers, women are thought to be level-headed and skilled at bringing people together. I reckon that’s what I saw in Julia last night.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.