Anne Summers, in her new online magazine Anne Summers Reports, is very proud to have conducted Julia Gillard's last major interview and clearly still very angry over how appallingly our recently ousted Prime Minister was treated by 'so many in this country'.
But before I come to the content of the interview, I will say that Gillard would undoubtedly approve of Summers' complimentary depiction of her, especially with regard to the wonderful photographs included in the 13 page article. Much better than surrounding her with knitting needles and a cavoodle, Australian Women's Weekly.
Indeed, Summers' article is most respectful of the deposed Prime Minister's legacy and contains very little criticism. So little, in fact, that I'm not sure it's an entirely balanced account of Gillard's Prime Ministership.
Summers begins The Prime Ministership according to Julia Gillard by discussing how Australia has grappled with having a woman lead us and that we've done a pretty bad job of accepting it. Summers seems to imply that most of what went wrong for Gillard was related to her gender. Yet even Gillard herself knows this is not true, saying 'that it wasn't everything (and it wasn't nothing)'.
Summers suggests that Gillard had many fine qualities that should have stood her in good stead, but that the public just couldn't see them. For starters, there was her unwavering self-assurance; a quality, Summers notes, that Hawke, Keating and Howard also possessed.
But to include Gillard in the same company as these former PMs, who were loved by 'protective, adoring mothers', is unjustified. That Gillard was likewise loved by her parents is not an amazing revelation, I wouldn't have thought. And those three Prime Ministers had something that Gillard did not: the heart of the people. Being loved by one's parents is easy to achieve – a common phenomenon; being loved by the Australian populace is not. And this was a significant failing of Gillard's, not a strength. There is no point having good policy if you are unelectable as a leader.
Similarly, Summers implies that if the voters knew how loved Gillard was by her colleagues, the admiration and loyal she commanded, they would love her too. Not sure about that one. Everyone knew that she was a better communicator and nicer to work for than Kevin Rudd, but this did nothing for her public popularity.
Summers alludes to other factors which led to Gillard's demise but, to me, these are not gender related but just part and parcel of being Prime Minister. For instance, Gillard bemoans the fact that, leading up to the 2010 election, 'all the scrutiny was on us, and none of it was on the other side'. A government being under scrutiny? Who ever heard of such a thing? There's a well-known saying that governments lose elections, rather than oppositions winning them, so yes, the scrutiny is usually on them.
Similarly, it's a bit generous of Summers to suggest that independents Oakeshott and Windsor aligned themselves with the Labor party because of their admiration for Gillard. It is more likely and widely accepted that these two were more interested in securing three years in parliament than supporting any leader in particular (and since they knew that Abbott would have called an election soon rather than waiting out the three years).
And should we pity Gillard because she felt she couldn't take Reubey Cavoodey on the RAAF plane back to Adelaide? I feel as though I'm being petty now, but perhaps if Gillard had concerned herself with legitimate causes of public wrath rather than such trivial ones, things may have worked out better for her. Why, for instance, wasn't she more worried about what the public would think of her hanging out with sleazy Sandilands on numerous occasions?
To Summers' credit, she does identify some reasons for Gillard's demise which are not linked to society's response to her being a woman. The two most obvious: Gillard was unable to connect with voters, due to her 'enigmatic and somewhat remote countenance' and what Summers labels Gillard's natural composure and serenity but which, as she rightly points out, colleagues saw as infuriating (former colleague Simon Crean called it her 'tin ear' when it came to devising political strategy). These are political shortcomings, not inherent in her gender, which certainly contributed to how she was perceived by the public and her party and how she was subsequently treated.
Summers really hammers home the fact that Gillard was a prolific policy maker, 'responsible for legislating at the rate of 0.495 acts per day'. But since when was a Prime Minister's worth measured in such terms? And doesn't a country need more from its leader than bureaucratic competence? Perhaps some of the other requirements are what Gillard lacked, such as the ability to inspire a nation with passion and purpose.