"In stressing her determination to prevail, she pointed out she had endured thus far against the odds." Photo: Penny Bradfield
Julia Gillard is not one to bemoan her lot publicly, nor is she prone to reacting to the potshots her detractors take at her personal life.
A case in point was the Prime Minister's appearance on Channel Ten's Meet the Press program yesterday.
Asked about Tony Abbott's brain snap last week, in which the Opposition Leader found himself in sync with the Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer, Gillard was abrupt.
Abbott's words, she said, were ''a matter for Mr Abbott''.
When pressed, she shut it down: ''I'm not going to add to what I just said.''
Abbott blundered when caught on camera while mixing with the crowd at a community function.
A woman, clearly not a fan of the Prime Minister or her wardrobe, told Abbott: ''Get some of those jackets off her.'' Abbott replied: ''I know, I know, I know. Germaine Greer was right on that subject.''
That was a reference to Greer setting back the cause a few decades last Monday night when she launched into Gillard's appearance.
''What I want her to do is get rid of those bloody jackets … They don't fit,'' she said on the ABC's Q&A program. ''You've got a big arse Julia. Just get on with it.''
After being sprung, Abbott expressed regret for the remark but perhaps this sort of nonsense has preyed on Gillard's mind more than we knew.
On Thursday night last week, hours after Abbott's gaffe, Gillard gave a speech described by some members of the audience as ''extraordinary''.
The function was a private fund-raiser at Doltone House, Pyrmont. There were about 40 tables, each paid for by a business or some other interest group. Also there was most of the cabinet. Wayne Swan gave the warm-up address.
The elephant in the room was Labor's near-extinction at the Queensland election, five days before, and the subsequent Newspoll showing federal Labor's primary vote in the toilet.
As a way of broaching the Queensland result, Gillard told the audience that at her table was Anthony Chisholm, the Queensland Labor Party secretary. Chisholm, she said, was understandably having ''a couple of beers''.
According to people present, Gillard's tone was paraphrased variously as ''never say die'' and ''don't write me off''.
In stressing her determination to prevail, she pointed out she had endured thus far against the odds.
She likened the personal challenges stacked against her to those of the US President, Barack Obama, with whom she had caught up at the nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea, earlier in the week.
She regaled the audience with a humorous exchange they often have when they meet.
''I'm good mates with Barack Obama,'' Gillard was quoted as saying.
''I tell him: 'You think it's tough being African-American? Try being me … Try being an atheist, childless, single woman as Prime Minister.'''
Gillard was using humour, insofar as she would never elevate her own struggle as a woman in politics to the same level as a black man becoming the President of the United States.
But it was, according to those in the room, humour with a sharp edge. Everything about her prime ministership so far had been unorthodox, so it would be wrong to use political orthodoxy to write off her government.
She told the function: ''If you are judging by normal political rules, it's impossible to explain how I became Prime Minister.
''It's impossible to explain how we got through the 2010 election campaign with all the leaking.
''Then I formed a government relying on two conservative country independents.
''And it's impossible to explain how a minority government did the big blockbuster reforms.''
Gillard's mission was to deliberately challenge the audience to consider that all she had done so far defied expectation, so it should not automatically extrapolate what happened in Queensland to the federal sphere.
''You can't explain, so don't use the [normal rules] to predict the future.''
Her defiance recalled the scene from the The Iron Lady, the film about the life of Margaret Thatcher, starring Meryl Streep.
In a scene that revisits Thatcher's decision to wage war against Argentina in the Falklands, she tells her wavering cabinet: ''Your problem, some of you, is that you haven't got the courage for this fight.''
When Ronald Reagan's secretary of state Alexander Haig seeks to caution Thatcher on the consequences of going to war, she equates it to her own struggle to get to where she is: ''With all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day of my life.''
Phillip Coorey is the chief political correspondent.
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