Gillard's tumultuous term showed difficulties women face in top job

By Greg Ansley, in Canberra

Julia Gillard is leaving Parliament after 15 years. Photo / AP
Julia Gillard is leaving Parliament after 15 years. Photo / AP

Australia is not likely to see another female Prime Minister for years after Julia Gillard's defeat as Labor leader and her impending departure from politics.

The nation's top political jobs are overwhelmingly held by men, and there is no early prospect of another woman shouldering them aside as Gillard did in 2006 to become deputy leader of the Labor Party and, in 2010, Prime Minister.

Gillard's 20-member Cabinet included only three women: Finance Minister Penny Wong, Families Minister Jenny Macklin, and Health and Ageing Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Although Kevin Rudd's Cabinet has yet to be announced, there are no new female stars in the wings.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who still has a good chance of winning power at the coming election, has only two women in his shadow cabinet - Julie Bishop (foreign affairs) and Sophie Mirabella (innovation, industry and science).

Although Bishop is also Deputy Leader of the Opposition, she has little prospect of succeeding or supplanting Abbott.

Gillard's tumultuous term showed the difficulties women face in the top job.

She was the target of sexism, subjected to questioning and statements that would never have been addressed to a man in her job, and vilified in the streets with placards abusing her with such terms as "bitch".

Her parliamentary attack on misogyny won applause and international attention, although later similar efforts rebounded and drew criticism as a politically inept attempt to open and exploit a gender war.

But Gillard was an intelligent, tough and courageous leader, forging a path to the top through the brutal Labor machinery and performing well both in her portfolios and as a debater on the floor of the House.

She was a reformist Prime Minister with a visionary set of social policies that she drove through Parliament by negotiation and willpower, and led a Government that was remarkably successful in achieving legislation despite the chaos of its term: 500 bills or so were passed.

On the day of her political demise, the Senate passed her education reform bills and aged care reform.

Even with five states and territories led by Liberals, she introduced the new national disability insurance scheme and health reforms, although she was still struggling to pull them into the education reforms she describes as the "defining passion of my life".

Gillard also reached a compromise deal on the mining tax, and introduced the carbon tax as a pathway to carbon trading in the nation's first real move on climate change.

But most of this was buried beneath her failure to manage the politics of power, both internally and against the Opposition. The simmering feud with Kevin Rudd ravaged her term, and she allowed Abbott to capture and dominate the political agenda.

And she could never shake the two huge monkeys on her shoulder: the deep resentment felt by voters at her knifing of Rudd, and her broken promise not to introduce a carbon tax. These cost her the trust of most Australians.

Rise and fall

• 1966 - Arrives in Australia from Wales

• 1998 - Elected as federal MP for Lalor, Melbourne

• 2007 - Becomes Deputy Prime Minister

• 2010 - Ousts Kevin Rudd to become first female Prime Minister

• 2012 - Defeats Kevin Rudd in leadership challenge

• 2013 - Survives leadership spill in March, loses on Wednesday

- NZ Herald

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