Federal Politics

License article

Gillard sets new political target for young and restless

Equality beckons, the mantle of Australia's worst PM has shifted.

EVERY cloud has a silver lining is one of those homilies that can grate. I have never warmed to people who say they are always happy. It is just not normal. The eternally happy are, in fact, a little disturbing.

The person who says blithely, ''Turn that frown upside down,'' only escapes ''una pizza nella faccia'' (a good slap in the face) because we are temporarily stunned by their stupidity. Sometimes I think they are just completely socially unaware.

Hence I am loath to appear in any way happy with Ms Gillard. Heaven knows there is plenty to say on the dark side.

Nonetheless there is one aspect of her tenure as Prime Minister for which all Liberals should be grateful, and still another in which we should all rejoice.

For Liberals, at last, the mantle of being the party responsible for Australia's worst Prime Minister has shifted from us, with Billy McMahon, to Labor, with Julia Gillard.

All of us, whatever our politics, should be delighted that Gillard has well and truly broken the glass ceiling in politics for women.


The reality of what equal opportunity should mean in practice has been misunderstood for some time. Nobody can complain if a really talented man, well suited to and qualified, gets the job. There will always be arguments and innuendo that someone else, male or female, was a whisker away from getting the job or indeed, should have got it.

What really irritates women, what really shows the boys' club at work is when a guy who just isn't up to it, gets a good job. I have always said that we will know when we really have equal opportunity is not when a really talented woman rises to the top because, increasingly, we can expect that to happen. No, we will have arrived when a woman who is not up to it gets a job in the same way that some dopey blokes have for years been rewarded over more talented women.

There is a very real sense in which male prime ministers cannot be role models for young girls. When we have had good ones, from either party (Hawke and Howard come to mind) young girls, and boys for that matter, do not necessarily think, ''I could do that.''

Even when we have less illustrious men in the job, the gender thing still precludes so many young girls from thinking they could do the job.

At last, we have a woman as PM. The ceiling has been broken. If our Prime Minister had turned out to be a star performer that would, of course, have been a good thing. But she may then have only served as a role model to young women who are already blessed with confidence in themselves and their future.

If she was seen as a woman clearly elected to the job on her talents, if she delivered speeches that touched the hearts and minds of Australians, if her contributions at the international level were keenly anticipated and respected, then only the girls who are already ambitious might think they could follow in her footsteps.

Alas, she is none of those things. Her speeches follow a cold, dreary and heartless monotone. She said she wanted to raise standards, but can't leave slagging the Opposition Leader to others. The shoes of a statesman are not to her taste. She goes overseas and tells everyone she is not really interested in foreign affairs. She, having presided over a government that keeps racking up debt, purports to lecture other world leaders about the need to keep one's house in order.

She presents as cold and calculating, which reinforces all the negativity associated with how she came to office. She fails to inspire. In fact, her very ordinariness allows hundreds of thousands of young girls to say to themselves that at her age they would be able to do that, or better.

This is, oddly, a tremendous contribution. To change attitudes you need to have an impact on younger generations. If you want more kids to do maths and science then you better make maths and science interesting and exciting early on in their life. If you want more to go to university you need to have them believing at year 7 that there is opportunity for them to realise their full potential. And if you want more women to go into politics you need more young girls looking at whoever is the prime minister and saying, if not boldly to their friends then at least to their inner self: ''Hell, I could do better than that.''

Thanks to Ms Gillard, plenty of teenage girls have not the slightest doubt that they have got what it takes.

Amanda Vanstone was a minister in the Howard government.