Friday, August 27, 2010
Why Julia Gillard as PM says something good about Australian politics
No, what has struck me about Julia Gillard is that she embodies certain characteristics that in many other countries, would be an insurmountable barrier to her achieving the top job. The fact that these do not really matter in Australia, is a sign that something is right with the way we view our politicians.
1. She's a woman.
Many countries have never had a female leader, and some would consider it unthinkable. That said, we are hardly blazing new trails here. Liberia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, New Zealand and the UK are only a few of the other countries that have previously voted in a female to the highest office. We didn't actually vote Gillard in, but she's there nonetheless.
2. She is unmarried and lives in a de facto relationship.
Or "living in sin" as some still call it. Obviously this will rankle with some conservative religious types, but they probably wouldn't vote for her party anyway. The majority of Australia appears to not care.
3. She is childless.
When Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan branded Gillard unfit to lead the nation because she was "deliberately barren", the resounding response seemed to be that Heffernan was a bit of a d!ckhead. Which was the correct response, and it is heartening that even though his statement was made at all, it was a lone voice in the wilderness.
4. She is an atheist.
Is this not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it surely is of marginal importance to how she does her job as PM, and Australians recognise that. Interestingly, Tony Abbott's conservative Catholic beliefs are of greater concern than Gillard's complete lack of faith. She is our first atheist PM, the final step towards Godlessness on the path blazed by Bob Hawke, who was agnostic. Compare this with the US Presidential campaigns in which candidates must make a big show of their religious beliefs, and Barack Obama is under constant scrutiny for having a religious background that differs slightly from the norm.
5. She has a socialist-leaning background.
In the US, branding a politician as a socialist is worse than calling them a pedophile. Gillard, on the other hand, was once a member of a group called Socialist Forum. This barely matters to Australians, because firstly she's obviously not a socialist any longer (if she ever was), and secondly, we know what socialism actually means. It's not actually that scary. Compare this to Barack Obama, who is not actually a socialist, yet is viewed by many Americans as if he is the love-child of Stalin and Mao.
Australia is in many ways an apathetic nation compared to many others. And sometimes that's a good thing, if it means we don't really give a sh!t about things that don't matter.