Woman Gillard, Julia Eileen (1961 - )

29 September 1961
Barry, Wales
Lawyer, Parliamentarian and Prime Minister

Written by Larissa Halonkin, Australian National University

On 24 June 2010 after then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lost the support of the Labor Party and resigned, Julia Eileen Gillard was elected unopposed as the Leader of the Labor Party, thus becoming the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first woman in the history of the nation to hold the highest political office.

Gillard was born on 29 September 1961, in Barry, Wales to John Gillard and Moira Gillard (née Mackenzie). When she suffered from bronchopneumonia as a child, her parents were advised it would aid her recovery if they were to live in a warmer climate. This led the family to migrate to Australia in 1966, settling in Adelaide. Gillard also has a sister, Alison, who is three years older. Her father, John, who died in 2012, worked as a psychiatric nurse, while her mother worked at the local Salvation Army nursing home. Their daughters attended Mitcham Demonstration School, and Julia went on to attend Unley High School. She then studied at the University of Adelaide. Introduced to politics by the daughter of a State Labor Minister in her second year at the University of Adelaide, Gillard joined the Labor Club and became involved in a campaign to fight federal education budget cuts. However, she cut short her studies in 1982 and moved to Melbourne, becoming the second woman to lead the Australian Union of Students, having previously been the secretary of the left-wing organisation, Socialist Forum.

Gillard graduated from the University of Melbourne with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees in 1986 and in the following year joined the law firm Slater & Gordon at Werribee, Melbourne, working in industrial law. In 1990, at the age of 29, she was admitted as a partner. Gillard took leave of absence in September 1995 to contest the 1996 federal election as a Senate candidate, standing third on the ALP's ticket. Although she was unsuccessful, she resigned from Slater & Gordon in May 1996, to work as chief of staff to Victorian opposition leader John Brumby. In this position she was responsible for drafting the affirmative-action rules within the Victorian Labor Party that set the target of pre-selecting women for 35 per cent of 'winnable seats'. She also played a founding role in EMILY's List, the pro-choice fund-raising and support network for Labor women.

Gillard was first elected to the House of Representatives at the 1998 federal election representing Lalor, a safe Labor seat near Melbourne and made her maiden speech to the House on 11 November 1998. After Labor's defeat at the 2001 federal election, Gillard was elected to the Shadow Cabinet under then-Labor Leader Simon Crean, where she was given responsibility for Population and Immigration. In February 2003, she was given additional responsibilities for Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs. In these roles, in the wake of the Tampa and Children Overboard affairs, which were partly credited with Labor's 2001 election loss, Gillard developed a new immigration policy for the Labor Party. She was later promoted to the position of Shadow Minister for Health in July 2003. On 1 December 2006, as part of a cross-factional political partnership with Kevin Rudd, Gillard challenged Jenny Macklin for the deputy leadership. After Rudd successfully replaced Kim Beazley as Labor Leader, Macklin chose to resign, meaning that Gillard became Deputy Leader unopposed. In the subsequent reshuffle, Gillard was allocated responsibility for Employment, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion.

After the Labor Party's victory in the 2007 federal election, Gillard was sworn in as the first ever female Deputy Prime Minister of Australia on 3 December 2007 and was given responsibility for a so-called 'super ministry', the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. In her role as Minister for Education, Gillard travelled to Washington D.C., where she signed a deal with US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to encourage improved policy collaboration in education reform. As Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Gillard removed the WorkChoices industrial relations regime introduced by the Howard Government, and replaced it with the Fair Work Bill. This established a single industrial relations bureaucracy called Fair Work Australia. Gillard also oversaw the government's 'Building the Education Revolution' program, which allocated $16 billion to build new school accommodation including classrooms, libraries and assembly halls. On 11 December 2007, she temporarily assumed the duties of the Prime Minister while Kevin Rudd attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, becoming the first woman ever to do so. She assumed these duties for a total of 69 days during Rudd's various overseas travel engagements.

During 2010 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd began to suffer a decline in his personal ratings, and a perceived loss of support among his own MPs, following the failure of the Government's insulation program, controversy regarding the implementation of a tax on mining, the failure of the government to secure passage of its carbon trading scheme and some policy debate about immigration policy. Significant disaffection had arisen within the Labor Party as to his leadership style and direction. On 23 June 2010 Rudd announced that Gillard had asked him to hold a leadership ballot the following day to determine the leadership of the Labor Party, and hence the Prime Ministership of Australia. Although Rudd initially said that he would challenge Gillard it soon became apparent that he did not have enough support to survive. Hours before the vote on 24 June, he resigned, leaving Gillard to assume the leadership unopposed. Shortly afterward, she was sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia by Governor-General Quentin Bryce, with Treasurer Wayne Swan being sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister. The leadership question was to remain a turbulent, destabilising feature of the Gillard Government's remaining time in office.

Gillard then announced the next federal election would be held on 21 August 2010. Labor and the Coalition each won 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, four short of the requirement for majority government, resulting in the first hung parliament since 1940. Both major party leaders sought to form a minority government. Of the six crossbench MPs holding the balance of power, four declared their support for Labor on confidence and supply, allowing Gillard to remain in power with a minority government. Governor-General Bryce swore in the Second Gillard Ministry on 14 September 2010. Gillard's role as Prime Minister was played out amid the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. Policy areas such as immigration were heavily debated in 2011, including the proposed Malaysia solution, which the High Court declared invalid and in 2012 the reopening of Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, for off-shore processing of asylum seekers.

Climate change was another controversial policy area. In her 2010 election campaign, Gillard pledged to build a 'national consensus' for a carbon price by creating a 'citizens assembly', to examine 'the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions', over the course of one year (Leslie) but the plan was never implemented, with the planned assembly replaced by a climate change panel consisting of Labor, Greens and Independent members of Parliament. The panel ultimately announced backing for a temporary carbon tax, leading up to an Emissions Trading Scheme. During the 2010 Election campaign, Gillard had said that no carbon tax would be introduced but with a hung parliament, the Gillard Government, with the support of the Australian Greens and some cross bench independents, negotiated the implementation of a carbon tax (the preferred policy of the Australian Greens). The Clean Energy Bill, which the opposition claimed to be a broken election promise, was passed by the Lower House in October 2011 and the Upper House in November 2011. During the course of Gillard's prime ministership, sexism was a contentious area. Former Labor Party advisor Anne Summers said in 2012 that 'Gillard is being persecuted both because she is a woman and in ways that would be impossible to apply to a man' (Summers). On 8 October 2012, Gillard addressed the issue of misogyny in a speech that was widely reported around the world.

In 2012 in the light of poor polling results for the Gillard Government, speculation that Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wished to challenge Gillard for the leadership culminated in a leadership ballot on 27 February 2012. Although Gillard won comfortably on this occasion, a continuing deterioration in the polls culminated in a successful challenge to her leadership in June 2013, which saw Rudd returned as Prime Minister Following this defeat Gillard tendered her resignation as Prime Minister and announced that she would not re-contest her seat of Lalor at the upcoming election, and thus retired from politics.

In July 2013, Gillard signed a book deal with Penguin Australia, agreeing to give them full publishing rights to her memoirs to be released in 2014. She has been appointed an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Adelaide and a non-resident senior fellow of the Brookings Institute, 'where she will work to advance the centre's key initiatives on global education' (Brookings).

Gillard's prime ministership took place in difficult circumstances, with the twin problems of a minority parliament and internal division within the Labor party. However, with grace and dignity, Gillard negotiated the minefield of gender politics in Australia, her term as Prime Minister beginning an important but uncomfortable and necessary dialogue for the Australian nation on the role of women in politics and the broader community. On stepping down from the leadership Gillard declared:

"The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership ... It explains some things and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey ... What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that ... and I am proud of that." (Gillard farewell speech)

From her beginnings in student politics, Gillard has blazed a trail, albeit at times a difficult one, to demonstrate to all Australians that women can occupy the highest political office in Australia. She will be remembered as the first female prime minister of Australia and leaves a legacy of policy reforms across many sectors including health, education, the environment and social justice and disability care. In particular, Gillard was responsible for beginning state and federal government negotiations on implementing the Gonski funding plan for education reform, and other social measures such as the plain packaging of cigarettes and establishing a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

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