Class act: Former prime minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Nic Walker & Louie Douvis
Dignity is a finite resource. Give it away and it won't automatically replenish.
This is, of course, particularly the case for those in public life, whose foolish utterances, embarrassing photos and churlish behaviour are now digitally superglued to the public record. Which makes dignity even more rare.
Not a single snarky word – or suggestive retweet.
This is why I would like to tip my hat, as we head to the polling booths to vote another bloke in as PM, to our former and first female prime minister Julia Gillard.
Moving on: Ms Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson. Photo: Justin McManus
Her exit has been extraordinarily dignified. And her silence deserves respect.
During this election campaign, Gillard has not staged events that would capitalise on her celebrity – crowds would flock to her if she appeared in public now for, as Kevin Rudd discovered, Australians love an underdog. A dumped underdog is even better.
She has not sat at party launches with wry, meaningful expressions on her much-photographed face, strutted about on television, uttered passive aggressive statements about the Labor Party choosing “the best man for the job”, or commented on sinking polls.
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In fact, Gillard has not commented on anything at all.
Some news has trickled out. She has bought a fancy new home near the beach. She will be an honorary professor at Adelaide University. She turns 52 at the end of the month. She had coffee with Craig “Whyalla Wipe-out” Emerson. She had a “genial and respectful exchange” with Tony Abbott in an airport lounge a few weeks ago.
That's pretty much it.
Last weekend she emerged to speak at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints event in her electorate, where she spoke about the need for discipline under pressure and was given a written her family's genealogy going back four generations. (The same was done for Rudd and John Howard.) Mormons believe families stay together in the afterlife. Which seems to be something this atheist adheres to, too. She is moving to Adelaide to be closer to her sister and elderly mother. (And she has promised to be “the most meddlesome great aunt in Australia's history” to her niece's new baby.)
Gillard said, when explaining her absence from the ALP campaign launch, that she had “respectfully decided not to be present because I simply do not want to distract in any way from Kevin Rudd's powerful message to the Australian people”.
Some interpreted this as an effective sideswipe, a mealy-mouthed insinuation that Rudd did not have a “powerful message”. But I doubt it. Gillard may have colourful private views on Rudd but she has urged disgruntled Labor Party members to support him ever since he toppled her.
Which is exactly the right thing to do. And exactly in line with an approach that has consistently been dignified: cop it, chin up, back straight, onwards.
Think of some of Gillard's most excruciating, key moments.
When announcing a spill earlier this year – in which she was not challenged – she opened question time saying there would be a ballot for the leadership at 4.30pm. Turning to the opposition, she said: “In the meantime, take your best shot”.
It was a fine moment for someone under eye-popping pressure.
After she had been blasted by the furnace of public disdain, Rudd finally ousted her. She called a final news conference in which she spoke about the “absolute privilege” of representing her electorate, and told her colleagues to do what then seemed impossible and unite: “don't lack the guts, don't lack the fortitude, don't lack the resilience to go out there with our Labor agenda and to win this election”.
At a party for supporters and staff, Gillard was philosophical. She did not bad-mouth Rudd. She said: “Don't let this disillusion you. Shit happens. But it's also about getting up the next day and doing it all over again.”
She told them to ditch personal grievances and get behind Labor.
News reporter Jessica Marszalek quoted a senior aide saying Gillard had convinced a lot of people to keep working for Kevin Rudd. “Here was someone who'd been undercut and undermined by Kevin from day one and she stands up hours after and is all class.”
Have a look, too, at Gillard's Twitter feed. Of her last 10 tweets, one was urging people to donate blood, another noted Tony Windsor's “lovely, warm, dignified farewell press conference”. Another said Rob Oakeshott had been a “huge contributor” and “his smile and substance will be missed”. The next six were about school funding and her last tweet, on July 11, said: “Thanks to all who have sent notes and gifts. Deeply appreciated. Looking forward to time with family. Will see you all down the track.”
Not a single snarky word – or suggestive retweet.
Whatever you may have thought of Gillard as prime minister, you cannot deny she is a class act. And remaining silent might just be the most delicious revenge possible.
@bairdjulia on Twitter.