Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Canadian Parliament Liberal Party member Justin Trudeau and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright participate in a panel discussion during a conference in Washington. Photo: AFP
Washington: Julia Gillard was a long way from home but on friendly ground when she addressed a left-leaning think tank on Thursday morning in Washington DC.
Nevertheless the former prime minister did occasionally manage to raise eyebrows when she spoke about challenges faced by progressive leaders as part of a panel with on a panel with the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
Ms Gillard mounted a strong defence of Australia's system of compulsory voting, saying that it ensured debates were played out within the mainstream rather than among energetic minorities. She said she believed this was one reason gun control had been accepted in Australia and failed in America.
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks at a policy forum in Washington. Photo: Reuters
During a discussion about the potential diplomatic fallout from allegations that the US has been tapping the phones of leaders of Friendly nations such as France, Mexico and Brazil, Ms Gillard declared, "If my telephone was intercepted when I was prime minister, all that anybody would have heard would have been praise for President Obama."
But she was not without criticism of politics in the United States, particularly about the impact of the government shutdown and debt crisis.
She said she was attending a meeting in Bali when it was reported that President Barack Obama would not be attending the APEC forum in order to deal with the domestic crisis.
"You could hear the painful thud," in the room, she said.
"There are many nations within our region in this time of strategic change that are working out where their long-term alliances should be.
"When you have the US say we're pivoting towards you, and then the American president is unable to come to the two pivotal meetings this year because your government shut down, that's a really bad message."
In the opening question the panel's moderator, founder of the Centre for American Progress, former White House chief of staff John Podesta asked Ms Gillard why, despite Australia's strong economic performance during the global recession, her government had been unable to "translate policy success into political success".
Ms Gillard said that we lived in "an easy age for slogans and a difficult age for complex and deep arguments" and that progressive politicians tended to be the parties that were seeking to engage in complex ideas.
She said the two areas in which Labor succeeded in communicating its ideas during the campaign were in education reform and the disability insurance scheme.
She did not respond at all to the suggestion by Mr Podesta, that the Coalition had run "a virulent anti-immigration, anti-refugee campaign."
Ms Albright said she agreed with Ms Gillard that sloganeering in politics had made it harder for progressive parties to realise their goals. She also said it had become harder to explain to Americans not only the importance of the role of government domestically, but also of engaging internationally.
"Americans don't like the word multilateralism because it has too many syllables and it ends with an ism," she said.
She said she believed that at present the United States was not "fully regarded" as the international leader, in part because of the shutdown.
Speaking about allegations and revelations of America's international intelligence activies she said, "Let me just say this, this is not a surprise to people. Countries spy on each other.
"And I will very much remember when I was at the United Nations, the French ambassador coming up to me saying, 'Why did you say that to somebody about why do you want women in the government?' And I said, 'Excuse me?'
"They had an intercept of something, so it isn't exactly as if this is new."
Nonetheless she said the leaks by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency staffer, had severely damaged the US.
"I think that a lot of the things that have come out, I think are specifically damaging, because of they are negotiating positions and a variety of ways that we have to go about business and I think it has made life very difficult for Secretary Kerry.''
Ms Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton as the first female secretary of state in US history, said Mr Snowden's leaks had made America's diplomatic efforts far harder and warned against glorifying him.
"This is my personal opinion, glorifying Snowden is a mistake, I think that what he has done is a criminal act and it has hurt us very, very badly."