The political arena is one that has some memorable characters and others who fade away into the history books. Whether you agreed with her politics or not, Julia Gillard will always go down in the annals of history as being the first female Prime Minister of Australia, marking an important milestone in both Australian politics and society.
Julia Eileen Gillard was born in Barry, Wales on 29 September 1961 to John and Moira Gillard. From an early time in her life, Gillard was a sickly child and diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and because of this her family was advised to move to a warmer climate to help her recover from the illness. In 1966 her family immigrated to Australia, settling in Adelaide. Her father worked as a psychiatric nurse and her mother worked at a nursing home run by the Salvation Army.
Gillard attended Mitcham Demonstration School, and from there she went to study at Unley High School where she excelled in school. After high school Gillard went on to attend University of Adelaide, before leaving to work for the Australian Union of Students in 1982. She transferred to the University of Melbourne where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees in 1986.
Soon after graduation Gillard joined the law firm of Slater & Gordon in Melbourne, working in the industrial law side of the business. In 1990 at the age of 29 she was made a partner. In 1995 Gillard took a leave of absence to campaign for a seat in the Senate, and in May of 1996 she resigned to work as the chief of staff to the Victorian opposition leader John Brumby.
Politics has always been a part of Gillard’s life with her father being very much politically involved which rubbed off on her. When at the University of Adelaide she joined the Labor Club and was active on many activities and campaigns against budget cuts to education. When she joined the Australian Union of Students, she became only the second woman to lead the organisation.
In 1998 Gillard was elected to the House of Representatives in the 1998 federal election, winning the seat of Lalor, when the incumbent Barry Jones retired.
When Labor was defeated in the 2001 election, Gillard was elected to the Shadow Cabinet under Simon Crean, and was given the Population and Immigration portfolio. While in the position Gillard helped develop a new immigration policy for the Labor Party.
After the previous election defeat the Labor wanted to take a new approach with Mark Latham, but they were again defeated by John Howard. After the election Mark Latham stepped down as party leader, being replaced by Kevin Rudd, and he made Gillard his Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
In 2007 the Labor Party under Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister and Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister. With her new role, she was now part of was called a 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 between both countries.
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.
In 2010 with Rudd’s decline in personal ratings and loss of support amongst his own MP’s, and on 23 June, Gillard asked Rudd to hold a leadership ballot to see who should lead the Labor Party as Prime Minister into the next general election.
On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard was sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia by Governor General Quentin Bryce. After the 2010 election where Labor won a minority government with support of independent crossbenchers, Gillard was sworn in again as Prime Minister on 14 September 2010.
Her tenure as PM was fraught with internal politicking within the Labor Party and on 26 June 2013 Gillard resigned as Prime Minister. Gillard unfortunately faced a few obstacles during her time in office, often sexist but she persevered. Whether you are a supporter of Gillard or not, she has to be lauded as being a woman who opened the door to The Lodge, and showed that a woman can hold the top job in government. And because of this, she is a woman of inspiration to us here at WITB.
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