What Tony Abbott could learn from Julia Gillard about life as an ex-PM.

This is how it’s done, Tony.

When Tony Abbott lost the prime ministership to Malcolm Turnbull just over a fortnight ago, Julia Gillard could have been forgiven for chortling into her cornflakes the next morning.

Whatever schadenfreude she may have enjoyed in private, in public the former Prime Minister has been incredibly gracious towards her one-time political rival.

On the night of the leadership spill she tweeted a simple congratulations to Turnbull:

This morning, in an interview with CNN, she empathised with Abbott, saying he was most likely feeling “bruised and battered” after his ousting from the top job.

“I do have an understanding of what Tony Abbott is going through; it is a very difficult thing, you are very bruised and battered,” she said.

“You don’t realise how intellectually and physically exhausted you are until you stop.”

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Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard appearing on CNN. Image via CNN.

During her time as Prime Minister, Gillard often clashed with the then-opposition leader — he was famously the subject of her powerful misogyny speech.

As leaders, their approaches to government were starkly different and in losing the leadership their responses have been equally different.

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Almost immediately after it was announced that Gillard had been deposed by Kevin Rudd, she fronted the media and gave an incredibly composed and dignified final speech as the Prime Minister.


She congratulated her opponent and announced that she would be retiring from politics — as had been her promise prior to the leadership ballot.

She thanked her party and her constituents for bestowing on her the “privilege” to represent them.

Tony Abbott, on the other hand went MIA after the party room vote and didn’t reappear until late the following afternoon.

When he did finally emerge to deliver his parting words as Prime Minister, like Gillard, he acknowledged his colleagues, staff and the people of Australia and recounted his achievements. But he didn’t bring himself to mention, let alone congratulate, Malcolm Turnbull.

Like Gillard, he promised to make the leadership transition as easy as possible.

“There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping,” he said — before almost immediately launching into a snide attack on the media and poll-driven politics.

Tony Abbott stands down feature
Tony Abbott delivers his final speech as Prime Minister. Image via ABC.

It was maybe a week before the wrecking, undermining and sniping of the Turnbull-led Coalition began in earnest.

In his first interview with the Daily Telegraph he essentially accused Scott Morrison of betraying him for the coveted position of Treasurer, saying he “badly misled people” in the lead up to the spill.

He then told The Australian that having Turnbull in charge would make little difference in terms of policy, undermining Turnbull’s assertion that this is a “new” government.

“Interestingly, just as nothing has changed on economic policy in the last fortnight, nothing’s changed on climate change policy in the last fortnight, nothing’s changed in respect of same-sex marriage in the last fortnight and nothing’s changed in respect of border protection in the last fortnight, and I don’t imagine anything will change in national security policy more broadly,” Abbott said.


“The commentariat have now got the PM they want but the public have lost the PM they voted for… This is a real issue for our country.”

Clearly, NewsCorp columnist Andrew Bolt agrees, producing this baffling column and image over the weekend. Image via the Herald Sun.

He reiterated the point yesterday in his first broadcast interview with Ray Hadley, slamming Australia’s revolving door prime ministership.”

“The last four changes of prime minister, only one has been at the hands of the people,” he said.

“This is a real problem for our country.”

He also said he could have led his party to “a convincing victory” if not for the “back room cabal”.

By comparison, when Julia Gillard lost the top job, she stepped away from the limelight.

She waited until the 2013 election was done (after Kevin Rudd had lost) before breaking her silence; offering a frank and full reflection in The Guardian which counted around 5000 words.

She later appeared in a one-on-one interview with journalist Anne Summers to answer questions about her time in politics and her future, later releasing her memoir My Story.

Had she opted for a Tony Abbott-Ray Hadley type exit interview with Tracey Grimshaw or Annabel Crabb, it’s difficult to imagine she would have fared well.

Say what you will about her time as Prime Minister, but even the most hardened Gillard opponents would be hard pressed to argue she was — or has been — anything less than dignified in defeat.


Currently, she is in New York, where she just appeared alongside US First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Charlize Theron at an event called The Power of an Educated Girl, to talk about their shared commitment to women’s education (and where she was hailed as something of a feminist superhero).

Glamour hosts "The Power Of An Educated Girl" with First Lady Michelle Obama at The Apollo Theater on September 29, 2015 in New York City.
Julia Gillard on Stage with Charlize Theron and Michelle Obama. Image via Getty.

Although the Americans struggled to pronounce her name (they kept calling her ‘Gulard’), they praised her “true passion” for education and described her as the “fierce” — and only — former female Prime Minister of Australia.

She was asked to reflect on the obstacles she had faced in her career and what advice she would give to her high school-aged self. Rather than taking a dig at her former detractors, she focussed on what she had learned about dealing with critics.

“I’d certainly say to myself don’t get the spiral perm,” she started.

“But I’d also say really nurture a sense of self, of who you are. We live in a world of instantaneous feedback, and often its instantaneous criticism. You don’t have to be in a publicly exposed profession like politics to feel the sting of that… Any girl could look at social media and see something very unkind said about them.

“So it’s very important to work on who you know you are, rather than be buffeted around by these quick and harsh critiques.”

It’s great advice, that Tony Abbott would do well to take on.