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Australia’s colonial hangover: why we can’t seem to accept Julia Gillard

By Tanel Jan Palgi - posted Thursday, 21 July 2011

I have often wondered why it is that the Australian people don't seem to like their first female prime minister. Is it really just because of the Carbon Tax? Or the fact that Julia Gillard joined forces with the Greens and Independents after the 2010 federal election? Is it that Julia Gillard appears emotionless? Or is it really that Julia Gillard is a ‘liar’? You would think that the nation would be proud to have a strong female figure in politics, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Julia Gillard and Australia.

In politics there is plenty of male power and few female leaders. The reality from around the world shows that there are only a handful of strong, independent female leaders. The most prominent female politician is probably current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel: who's doing all in her power to keep the Eurozone intact.

We also have Iceland's Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, also the world's first openly gay head of government of the modern era. She has bravely stood up for the protection of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. From Asia there is a new political figure Yingluck Shinawatra who is set to become Thailand's first female prime minister. There are queens and female presidents, but those roles don't always carry the heavy burden of daily political life: and in politics women won't get flowers and open doors just for looking pretty.


Even in the 21st century it is generally harder for women to move towards power and leadership as the club is still mainly full of male testosterone: and men are not giving up their ruling willingly.

It seems in Australia that public opinion hasn't still quite figured out how to picture their first female Prime Minister. Maybe the Australian mindset wasn't quite ready for a woman leader, who is also not married, lives in a defacto relationship, doesn’t have children, and is a redhead.

She's quite the opposite to the former colonial mindset that was more about men who were the family heads, leaders and decision-makers. Even though Australian women gained voting rights in 1902 (with the exception of Aboriginal women), smart female political figures are still rare.

But as one young participant of the ABC’s Q&A show asked: Can an unmarried women be a good representative of Australia while at the same time facing a hostile public over the carbon tax?

You hear it said so often that Australia is a country down under and going backwards – in tackling climate change Gillard has a change to show that she is a great leader of a great country. This is regardless of Tony Abbott suggesting she is a liar because she said she wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax at the last election.

The result of the 2010 federal election changed that, requiring Gillard to for a government only with the support of the Greens and some independents. Abbot did not sell his policies well enough and that counts for his own misfortune and bad negotiation skills. I reckon it is definitely time to forget and forgive to Gillard for saying no to a carbon tax before the election.


Politicians must make compromises while having in mind what is the common sense and better good for the countries future. Hung parliaments are further likely and Australia would be naïve to think that the two-party system could represent all the voices and diversity of multicultural Australia.

Julia Gillard has shown good leadership twice: in forming a stable and in accepting the need for a carbon tax. She has been a master of navigating in a stream of negativity. A strong, unmarried, yet educated, independent woman as leader is something many Australians still don't seem to want to accept. Being a woman is not a weakness and she has proven that. She can't be perfect however, she is a politician.

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About the Author

Tanel Jan Palgi is a freelance Estonian journalist, who is living in Melbourne. He has been a contributor for Estonian newspapers (Postimees, Eesti Päevaleht, Eesti Ekspress) and he has MA in humanities.

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