Julia Gillard: Australia’s first female PM.

It’s official. Julia Gillard is our new Prime Minister, the first female Prime Minister in Australia’s history. Kevin Rudd reportedly stood down and there was no ballot in the end after Gillard was said to have overwhelmingly had the numbers.

I’ve been on The Today show set all morning absorbing all the coverage and it’s certainly a monumental day.

For a better understanding of how EXACTLY a sitting Prime Minister can be rolled, I asked Julie Cowdroy late last night to explain it in simple terms. Julie writes…

Hi folks. (Had to say it in honour of Rudd).

Our first female PM

Last night Julia Gillard formally challenged Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the ALP. It was not so long ago that Kevin Rudd joined forces with Gillard to overthrow Kim Beazley back in November 2006. Rudd then went on to win the 2007 federal election.

Neither scenario would have been possible without the NSW Right faction of the Labor Party. I lost you at the “NSW Right faction” bit, didn’t I?

A faction is a division within a political party. Like a splinter group within a larger group. So while the members of the Labor party have similar political persuasions, they are not totally in sync with every political, social and economic position. So back in the 1970s the members of the ALP organised itself into formal factions. Members of the ALP belong to a certain faction and some even pay membership fees. The factions are divided along ideological lines. The members regularly vote together on decisions regarding party policy and also throw their weight behind certain leaders.


The two largest factions are Labor Unity, otherwise known as Labor Right, and the Socialist Left. Julia Gillard is a member of Socialist Left and Kevin Rudd is a member of Labor Unity. Within these large factions, there are smaller factions often divvied up by the state, unions and age (for instance there is a Young Labor Right faction). So to win the support of the larger faction, you have to align with the smaller factions. In 2006, the NSW Right faction within Labor Unity had to give their support to Rudd in order for him to contest Beazley’s leadership. If he didn’t have that support, he would have not have had the numbers to even try and challenge. Without the NSW Right faction, and in particular, Mark Arbib, Rudd would not have become Prime Minister. Rudd never really had aligned with any faction and Arbib was trying to build one around him.

Arbib and the NSW Right was pivotal again in the Gillard leadership challenge when they decided to withdraw support from Rudd and back Gillard giving her the numbers she needed to decide to formally challenge Rudd.

The unions also play a big role in the ALP. Members within different unions align with different factions to support different leaders and policies. For example, last night Paul Howes announced that the Australian Worker’s Union was supporting Julia Gillard.

The most interesting thing in all of this is that Gillard is a member of the Left and these right factions are responsible for pushing ALP policies such as asylum seekers towards the right. It will be very interesting to see how she responds to this if she becomes PM.

PLUS HERE IS A CHEAT-SHEET ON JULIA GILLARD: prepared by the astonishingly fast and thorough Julie Cowdroy who doesn’t sleep even though she has two very small children…..


Julia and her partner Tim Matheison
  • Born in Wales in 1961
  • First female to ever become Deputy Prime Minister
  • Before being a minister, she worked as a lawyer (industrial law)
  • Member of the ALP for over 30 years
  • Formally chief of staff to Victoria Premier John Brumby’s chief of staff
  • In 1998, she ran for the seat of Lalor (south west suburbs of Melbourne) in Victoria and won
  • She has been both the Shadow Minister for Population and Immigration and the Shadow Minister for Health
  • In 2006, She became the Deputy Leader of the Opposition alongside Rudd in the leadership challenge against Kim Beazley
  • When she became the Deputy Prime Minister and frontbencher, her portfolios were Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion.
  • She lives with her partner and has no children

Julia Gillard is a remarkable woman. A fighter who has fought and won against many odds. A self confessed feminist and socialist, Gillard has survived the many attacks from the media and conservatives in Australia to become the Prime Minister of Australia, put in the position by the right wing factions that have previously tried to tear her down.


As mentioned in my factions blurb, she is a member of the Socialist Left within the Labor party. She has a controversial past. In the 1980s and early 1990s, she was a key figure in a socialist group within the ALP that pushed radical policies and social agendas. She has been accused of links with the Communist Party but responded to the claims in an interview with Tony Jones on Lateline in 2007 when she said: “It’s 2007 and I’m a 46-year-old woman. What [you’re] referring to is more than 20 years ago when I was in my 20s. I was a full-time university student and I had a part-time job for an organisation called Socialist Forum, which was a sort of debating society. It was an organisation where people who identified themselves as progressives, some in the Labor Party, some outside the Labor Party, would come together and would talk about ideas”.

Best front page? Cover of the Illawara Mercury

Another aspect of her fighting spirit and determination is exemplified in the extremely difficult pre-selection process of the ALP. It took five years and three attempts, but Gillard did it. She kept turning up to the party meetings until she was eventually given approval to run for the seat of Lalor in 1998.

She has been pivotal to an organisation called Emily’s List, which is a national group that focuses on getting more progressive Labor women elected to Parliament. In Victoria, she set a target for the ALP that women should be pre-selected for 35% of safe Labor seats.

One of the most fascinating and satisfying aspects of Julia Gillard is balance of self-confidence and humility, Michael Gordon wrote in the Age today:

“Gillard’s more grounded demeanour is just one of the reasons the disaffected are willing to embrace her.


The qualities that stamped her as a future leader are the ones that will be put to the test if, as now seems likely, she becomes the country’s first female prime minister.


There is no more consummate parliamentary performer on Labor’s side than Gillard, and no one who is better placed to take on Tony Abbott. She can master a brief, communicate a message, demonstrate wit and go for the kill. There is also the tenacity that asserted itself when, before her career even began, she failed in three separate preselection bids – and again yesterday when she staked her claim.


The qualities that some suspected would constrain her ambition – being female, unmarried and from the left of the ALP – will be of no consequence today.”

She does not fit the mould of women in politics. The author of The Making of Julia Gillard, Jacqueline Kent says:

“She’s doesn’t fit the stereotype. Women in politics have been cute, or very well behaved, or mumsy – more stereotypical women. But she has decided she’s never going to do that. She’s very confident in herself and she knows who she is. She doesn’t let other people tell her what to do and she’s not somebody who tries to court the media. She’s also quite reserved as a human being and I think politicians need that. If you’re going to be in the public eye 24/7 the way she is, you’ve got to keep some of yourself for yourself.”

An historic day for the women of Australia, and an incredible day for Julia Gillard.

Some tweets from The Australian journalist Caroline Overington:

I know it’s not supposed to matter, but a female PM? It matters.

You feel that tingle? it’s the promise our mothers made us, all those years ago.

Remember when our mothers promised us this, 40 years ago? thank you, all you ragged, lovely 1970s feminists.

It’s not just that she’s a woman. She has a defacto. Think about that, 40 years ago.

It’s the realisation of the great dream: she’s a woman, she’s got a defacto, and a house in working class altona. Thanks, Germaine!

That summed up a lot for me. How do you feel?

What will Kevin do next? How do you think Tony is feeling about going up against Julia? How sad will the Coalition be that they can’t get anymore mileage out of their Kevin 0 Lemon ad campaign? Do you mind that we now have a prime minister we didn’t elect? And, most importantly, what will we be calling Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim? First Bloke?

Also – can’t we keep Therese Rein?

UPDATE: Since you asked…

I’ve met Julia at a dinner that was held a couple of years ago by Fairfax for some of its journalists. I think she’s very real, very impressive and enormously likeable. A good politician and a smart, smart woman. Warm too.
I think this election is going to be a CORKER.

She and Abbott have a long history as sparring partners back from when they went head-to-head in the health portfolio. As people, I’m told they like each other a lot. As rivals, they will be fierce.

Former PM, Kevin Rudd gives a press conference after stepping down -Part 1

Former PM, Kevin Rudd gives a press conference after stepping down -Part 2

Julia Gillard’s first address as Prime Minister of Australia


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