by SARRAH LE MARQUAND
Fraternising with the cricket team or eating a meat pie at the footy has long been considered perfectly acceptable conduct for a prime minister. But morning tea with a circle of women? Well, that’s just silly.
So went the indignant response when Julia Gillard hosted a gathering of the country’s most popular “mummy bloggers” at Kirribilli House a few months ago.
It was a dismissive sentiment later echoed when the PM treated caucus to a one-hour presentation designed to convince backbenchers to venture on to Facebook to woo this new generation of “soft” voters.
“I stopped listening as soon as the PowerPoint screen came down,” a senior Labor MP – one of several cynics in their leader’s midst – told The Daily Telegraph at the time.
But according to some of the more prominent women who attended Gillard’s morning tea in June, our federal parliamentarians underestimate this so-called soft demographic at their peril.
“Politicians need to wake up, stop rolling their eyes, and keep up with the sentiment and real issues affecting men and women in their electorates,” advises Eden Riley, whose blog Edenland attracts 90,000 hits a month and was named Sydney Writers Centre’s Best Blog for 2012. “Most Australians, not just women, are on Facebook. (It’s) a bit like the old days of door knocking.”
As someone who has witnessed the power of social media first hand after landing a publishing deal on the strength of her online musings, blogger and author Kerri Sackville agrees the PM is on to something.
“You put them (MPs) online and people can actually talk to them and they cease being generic policy makers and start being real people,” she says. “Someone who does it brilliantly is Kevin Rudd.”
As with all who were invited to the PM’s winter morning tea, Sackville is bursting with anecdotes of her host’s warmth and humility and recalls being charmed by the nation’s most powerful woman ducking into the kitchen to wash an empty tray before returning it to its owner.
“I think it was an incredibly smart move,” she says of the morning tea. “It served to humanise her to all of us. She can’t meet everybody but to meet key players who can then spread the word in our own way is very important.”
If the objective was to forge a connection with fellow women, then Chantelle Ellem, from popular blog Fat Mum Slim, believes it was a successful mission.
“It certainly opened the door for her to create relationships and get into the minds of mums in Australia,” she observes.