Last night Australia bid farewell to our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. After a bitterly contested internal ballot, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was reinstated as leader of the Labour Party.
In Gillard’s parting speech she reflected on her often difficult political career and, despite her defeat, showed what even the harshest critics have lauded as grace and dignity under fire. Watch Julia Gillard’s speech at the media conference last night, in which she reflected on key moments as Prime Minister and her time as Deputy Prime Minister.
As you would probably be aware Kevin Rudd has been elected as leader of the Federal parliamentary Labor Party.
I congratulate Mr Rudd on his election. In view of his election I have written to the Governor-General asking her to commission Rudd as prime minister of Australia.
I will shortly leave from this Parliament to see the Governor-General on this matter.
In accordance with the pledge I gave earlier today I announce that I will not recontest the Federal electorate of Lawler at the forthcoming election.
I will have time in the coming weeks to be back home in my electorate and to say hello and goodbye to the community that I’ve had the absolute privilege of representing in this Parliament since 1998. So I will keep comments about my electorate until that time.
Three years ago I had the very great honour of being elected as Labor leader. It followed having the honour of being elected as deputy leader and Deputy Prime Minister following the 2007 election. This privilege was truly humbling.
I thank the Australian Labor Party for that privilege and I thank the Australian people for their support. When I first put myself forward for consideration as Labor leader in 2010 I had the overwhelming support of my colleagues to do. I thank them for that and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to not only to serve the nation, but to serve as the first female prime minister of this country. In the years in which I’ve served as prime minister, predominantly, I have faced a minority Parliament and faced internal division within my political party.
It has not been an easy environment to work in. But I am pleased that in this environment, which wasn’t easy, I have prevailed to ensure that this country is made stronger and smarter and fairer for the future.
I am very proud of what this government has achieved, which will endure for the long term. Very proud of the way in which we achieved health reform, against the odds, with newly elected conservative leaders. Very pleased that we pushed through and put a price on carbon – an historic reform that will serve this nation well and required us to have the guts and tenacity to stare down one of the most reckless fear campaigns in this nation’s history.
What we have achieved through Disability Care to launch on 1 July this year – apparently an obvious reform to everyone now but something that it took this Labor Government to get done and I am very proud of it.
I am very proud too of the work we have done in Australian schools. Today we passed the legislation which means 60 per cent of schoolchildren are covered by our new reforms. But this great Labor mission must be concluded, not only in the days that remain to the 30th of June, but in the days beyond by Labor winning the Federal election.
It has been the defining passion of my life that every Australian child gets a great opportunity at a life of work and the dignity that comes with work, gets a great opportunity for the education that they should have and that reform is almost completed and it needs to be part of the continuing Labor project to get it done.
I’m also very proud of having commenced the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutional settings. This Royal Commission is working its way around the country. I believe it will have many years of work in front of it but it will change the nation. It will change individual lives as people get to come forward and tell their story.
It will change the nation because we will learn how to better protect our children for the future.
I’m also very proud of the foreign policy achievements of this Government. Things people said couldn’t be done we have done, particularly we have strengthened both our alliance with the US while taking a major stride forward in our relationship with China. I’m very pleased too that we have taken big strides forward in other relationships including our relationship with India.
I am confident that I leave the prime ministership having strengthened the relationship with our major partners, every one of them. I also believe the work we have done in Afghanistan is something to be proud of as an Australian nation.
One of the things that has most delighted me as Prime Minister and before that as Deputy Prime Minister has been getting to know our Defence Force personnel. I can’t claim that I came out of opposition with any great experience in defence or any great exposure to Australian Defence Force personnel. Now I have had both experience in defence and that exposure and whilst there are issues to address in our Defence Force about the treatment of women overwhelmingly the men and women of our ADF are great Australians and getting to know them has been a real privilege.
I have, either as Prime Minister or as Acting Prime Minister, attended 24 funerals for soldiers lost in Afghanistan. I’m very aware of the courage and the sacrifice and part of being Prime Minister has been being there for those families in their darkest moments.
My colleagues through all of this journey have provided me with great support and I want to thank them for that great support.
They defied political gravity time after time to provide me with more support as the leader of the Labor Party when the going got incredibly tough. When all of those that read polls and do the commentary on them were saying that there was only one logical conclusion, and that was to change the leader, my colleagues showed courage, they showed determination, they showed spine in the face of that kind of pressure. They showed conviction in our Labor project and in our Labor cause. They showed belief in the agenda of this Labor Government.
I understand that at the caucus meeting today, the pressure finally got too great for many of my colleagues. I respect that. And I respect the decision that they have made. But I do say to my caucus colleagues: 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. I know that it can be done.
And I also say to my caucus colleagues that that will best be done by us putting the divisions of the past behind us, and uniting as a political party, making sure we put our best face forward at the forthcoming election campaign, and in the years beyond.
I want to just say a few remarks about being the first woman to serve in this position. There’s been a lot of analysis about the so-called gender wars. Me playing the so-called gender card because heavens knows no-one noticed I was a woman until I raised it, but against that background, I do want to say about all of these issues, the reaction to being the first female Prime Minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership.
I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past but then concluded that it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor Party. It doesn’t explain everything, it doesn’t explain nothing, it explains some things. And it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.
What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that. And I’m proud of that.
Can I say now a few thank yous, particularly to my colleague Wayne Swan who I think will address you shortly. He has been fantastic. I have had loyal and capable colleagues. I want to thank them for their dedication and determination. Politicians aren’t fashionable in the Australian community but take it from me even as I go out the door, politicians work incredibly hard and overwhelmingly, people come into this Parliament with a sense of service and that certainly defines my colleagues – their sense of service to the nation.
I want to thank the people who have worked with me. I want to thank the staff at The Lodge and Kirribilli House. I want to thank the AFP, what’s a few sandwiches between friends? Don’t worry about it.
I want to thank my personal staff, led ably by Ben Hubbard. Unfortunately it is becoming part of our political debate to draw staff members into the political contest. I think that’s wrong. I’ve always believed it’s wrong and I hope it desists now.
I would like to thank my electorate office staff, particularly Michelle Fitzgerald, Anne Carlos who have been with me since I was elected in 1998.
I would like to thank Tim and my family, and I would like to say as I’ve already said by way of text to my niece who is due to have a baby in July, look forward to the most meddlesome great-aunt in Australia’s history. Thank you very much.
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