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Real Julia foiled by old battles

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 5 August 2013

There appears to be two, not necessarily incompatible, views that have emerged to account for the demise of Julia Gillard as prime minister.

One, which seems popular among the Left, is that this occurred because she was a woman. It is a view that Gillard herself, albeit partly, shares. The Left also seems to adhere to the supposition that an especially nasty campaign of destabilisation led by Kevin Rudd had also played a causal role in unseating her.

The prevailing view is that a desperate, and largely dysfunctional, Labor caucus has turned to the popular Kevin Rudd in order to have a fighting chance of winning the upcoming federal election.


I do not think that either of these views serve as an adequate explanation of recent Australian political history. To be sure, all of the above factors played a role but they do not serve as good explanations if by explanation we mean the unravelling of underlying causes.

Clearly Gillard was not unseated because her government pursued a radical feminist agenda out of tune with a predominantly patriarchal public opinion. Whatever we might say about public opinion, and Gillard's own personal preferences, hitting single mothers and opposing gay marriage, among other things, does not demonstrate that Gillard led a government determined to advance a feminist restructuring of patriarchal Australia.

So one could only argue that themere fact that Gillard was a woman accounted for the level of hostility that a misogynistic opposition and public had for her. This view does not tally with the reception that Gillard received when she first became prime minister, which was very positive. One could even argue that the mere fact that she was a woman played some part in her becoming prime minister.

Furthermore, the Australian public has welcomed female political leaders at the state level.

Queensland and Western Australia are the most conservative states in the land. Both have had female premiers. As someone that grew up in Western Australia I well recall Carmen Lawrence's standing in the electorate helping to both save the Hawke government from defeat and limiting Labor's losses at the 1993 state election.

Labor did not lose in 1993 because of Lawrence's gender, rather, Labor could not escape the WA Inc saga that accompanied the 80s boom overseen by the Burke government.


To be sure Anna Bligh was trounced at the polls in 2012, after having led Labor to victory in 2009, but that was because she pursued a neoliberal privatisation agenda despite telling Queenslanders that would not happen but knowing full well that it would. The asset sales largely occurred at the behest of credit rating agencies acting in the interests of investors and financial markets.

Why should the most conservative states have little issue with female premiers but have no truck for a female prime minister? It would be like asserting that a Democratic African-American presidential candidate was not able to carry Alabama on racial grounds, even though a Democratic African-American resides in the governor's residence.

Moreover, for much of the period of her prime ministership Gillard herself polled better than her party and the, male, leader of the opposition. If the mere fact of her being a woman accounts for her public standing, and hence her defeat, surely that could not have been so.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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