Saturday, June 26, 2010

E for Prime Minister?

 A few days ago Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister. This was a surprise to me; I thought she would take over from Kevin at some point, but certainly not so soon. There were a few media stories in the week prior about how Labor was likely to lose key marginal seats at the next election, and about Rudd’s unpopularity as PM compared to Abbott.

I watch a disgraceful amount of morning television these days because I usually stumble out of bed for Little E's 6am/7am feed and turn on Sunrise, which then stays on for company, and blurs into the Morning Show or Playschool ... I am proud to say I usually turn it off when they start doing ads for kitchen products that come with free steak knives (taking the moral and intellectual highground here). Anyway, even with all my over-exposure to the media, Julia's ascendacy occurred really fast. As late as the afternoon before she was denying a takeover was imminent and then by 8pm they were interrupting Masterchef (!) to announce that it had happened.

When I first heard of the challenge I was a bit underwhelmed, but on reflection I am quite excited about there being a female Prime Minister. It reminds me of how I felt when Natasha Stott-Despoja was elected, and again when she came to speak at a conference I attended in 1996. This surprised me somewhat, as I don’t think of myself as overtly feminist; I think I’ve always taken for granted that I will be able to do whatever I want regardless of gender.

I initially thought it was a smart move by the ALP given Rudd had become so unpopular, and much better to do it quickly than the party spending months arguing and imploding in public. But at least according to Sunrise there seems to be a real feeling that she did the dirty on Rudd. As far as I can gather she didn't, it really looks to me as though the faction/union leaders talked her into it and at the last moment she agreed.

It's also interesting how disappointed people seem to be that the first female PM got in through factional wrangling rather than through an election. (Although in some ways isn't this a bit of an embarrassment? Behind so many other western countries, we don’t get around to electing our own female leader, we only get one because she's forced upon us?) I think she is smart to be refusing to live in the Lodge until after an election; she appears to be in tune with the sentiment that her ascension is somehow illegitimate. The funniest aspect of that is that if Obama actually gets around to visiting before the election, he will have to have tea in the kitchen of her tiny Canberra flat rather than the Lodge!

Another thing I wonder about is how many people realise that almost everything about the role of the Prime Minister is purely a case of convention rather than law. There is no mention of the Prime Minister in the Constitution: it is a role governed purely by convention.

At any rate, it’s nice to know that if one day little E wants to be Prime Minister the way will have been forged for her.

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