By JONATHAN GREEN
Our first female prime minister.
That was clearly a game-changing moment, and in the obvious respects it had to be a change for the better: hard to argue that this was not a measure of gender equality well beyond due. And did Gillard’s rise change the tenor of our politics for the better?
Well, that’s not a question whose answer need necessarily come as a consequence of gender. Being a woman in the top job is a fine thing in isolation. Performing well in that job—well, that’s another thing altogether; gender may have had something to do with that, but not everything to do with it.
It’s easy to argue that our politics has rarely been as spiteful and angry as it has been between the election of 2010 and the return of Rudd in June 2013, and this has rarely been an anger built on profound differences of ideology or opinion. Those three years have not seen a contest between market forces and a yearning for a modified command economy, or between an instinct for war and a preference for peace, or some other crucial divide on the fundamental role of the state.
In all the bedrock of our politics, our parties are in broad agreement while simultaneously cultivating an air of bitter division. In Australian politics, as elsewhere, heartfelt views that test the status quo are out of favour in a mannered modern politics that is an often loud contest for whatever unique but slender toeholds might be found in the narrows of the middle ground.
Sad to say, but so much of the heat and fury of the Gillard years grew from prejudice, tainting our politics with bitter spite coloured by chauvinism and something that oscillated between casual sexism and ingrained misogyny.