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'A good family … well presented'
Julia Eileen Gillard was born on 29 September 1961 in Barry in Glamorgan, South Wales. In its heyday 50 years before, Barry was the largest coal port in the world and in the 1950s was redeveloping as an industrial port. She was four years old and her sister Alison seven when their parents, John and Moira Gillard (nee Mackenzie), decided to emigrate. They left from Southampton on 7 February 1966 under Australia's assisted passage migration scheme.
The family settled in Adelaide and the two girls attended Mitcham Primary and then Unley High School, where Gillard became a star debater. She enrolled at the University of Adelaide in 1979 and joined both the University Labor Club and the Australian Labor Party.
An Arts/Law student, Julia Gillard took a prominent role in campus politics, including campaigning for better student representation in running the University of Adelaide Union. In 1981 she was elected president of the Union's council, its first student head.
The Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme introduced by Gough Whitlam's Labor government (1972–75) was among the victims of the anti-recession strategies of Malcolm Fraser's Coalition government. Another popular Whitlam initiative, the abolition of university tuition fees, was also under threat when the Fraser government's 'Razor Gang' recommended re-introducing fees for graduate students in 1981. Gillard was one of the lead organisers of the national student 'Fight Back' campaign against the erosion of these reforms.
Elected to the key role of education vice-president of the Australian Union of Students (AUS) in 1982, Gillard transferred to the University of Melbourne. Among the student politicians she worked with at the AUS head office in Carlton were Lindsay Tanner and her close friend Michael O'Connor.
In 1983 Gillard became only the second woman elected as national AUS president. When Labor won the federal election that year, Bob Hawke succeeded Fraser as Prime Minister. The AUS education reformers achieved unaccustomed recognition when Gillard was consulted by Education Minister John Dawkins about his proposal to achieve accessibility to higher education through a low-interest loan scheme. Neither Cabinet nor the AUS supported the plan, now familiar to many students and graduates as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, or HECS.
Gillard was succeeded by Michael O'Connor as AUS president in 1984. They were its last two leaders in an unsuccessful struggle against the erosion of the organisation, which 10 years before had been a powerful national lobby for tertiary students and an effective political training arena.
Seven years of student politics and active branch membership of the Australian Labor Party defined Gillard as determined, well-organised and a shrewd networker. This apprenticeship also positioned her within the Labor Party's moderate Left factions. In 1985 Gillard was elected president of the Carlton branch of the Australian Labor Party. Opposed to the radical Left within both the AUS and Australian Labor Party, she was just as far from the inflexible hard Right – the ideal range for a young political aspirant well aware of the value of flexibility in strategy and alliances.
At 25, Julia Gillard graduated with an Arts/Law degree and began working at Slater & Gordon, a prominent Melbourne law firm specialising in workers' compensation. Three years before, the firm had taken its first class action, against the owners of Wittenoom asbestos mine. Gillard was soon working mainly in industrial law, including cases brought by unions on behalf of women in clothing trades, an industry notoriously intractable in reforming unfair wages and working conditions. Within three years she was a partner in the firm.
Gillard first stood for preselection in 1993 when Keating minister Gerry Hand announced his resignation from parliament. She lost this bid for the seat of Melbourne to Lindsay Tanner, then the Federated Clerks' Union Victorian secretary. Tanner won the safe Labor seat in Prime Minister Paul Keating's first election after replacing Bob Hawke as leader of the Labor Party in 1991.
Before the next federal election Gillard resigned from Slater & Gordon and stood for preselection for Labor's Senate ticket for Victoria. The sitting Labor senators Robert Ray and Barney Cooney had the two safe positions, and the third and less likely ranking went to Jennie George. However, before the election, George became the first woman president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Gillard was put on the ticket in her place. At the 1996 federal election Labor lost government and John Howard became Prime Minister. Senators Ray and Cooney won the two Victorian seats in the half-Senate election and Gillard went to work for John Brumby, Opposition Leader in the Victorian parliament, as his chief of staff.
In 1994 former state premiers Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence had led a campaign proposed by the National Labor Women's conference that year to have the Labor Party adopt affirmative action rules for selecting candidates. With the support of Labor Party leader Keating, the conference ruled that women were to be pre-selected for 35 per cent of winnable seats. Gillard was co-convenor of the ALP Affirmative Action Working Party drafting the change to the party's rules in 1993–94. She was also a founding member of EMILY's List Australia, derived from a US initiative to support women political candidates. Gillard was among those actively working to raise funds for the principle that gave the movement its name – 'early money is like yeast'.
In 1998, when Barry Jones, who had held the working-class seat of Lalor for 20 years, retired from parliament Gillard again sought party preselection. Even with affirmative action rules in place and a favour due to Gillard's Socialist Left faction, this preselection was another struggle. While party opponents such as Lindsay Tanner and Kim Carr were continuing to obstruct her selection, Gillard had enough backing from groups including Michael O'Connor's Miscellaneous Workers' Union and the Unity faction, now led by John Brumby and Stephen Conroy. Gillard succeeded Jones as the candidate for Lalor, the first woman chosen by the Victorian Labor Party to stand for a safe Labor seat.
She bought a house in Altona, an industrial suburb in Melbourne's west, located within the seat of Lalor. At the federal election on 3 October 1998 Gillard won the seat with a 1.3 per cent swing, giving her nearly 70 per cent of the vote.
Julia Gillard was 37 when she entered the House of Representatives in 1998, one of 11 new Labor women members. She delivered her maiden speech on 11 November – as did another new parliamentarian, Kevin Rudd.
Despite a swing to Labor, the 1998 election won John Howard the second of his four terms as Prime Minister. Kim Beazley remained Leader of the Opposition, but when Labor lost the following federal election in 2001 he resigned and Simon Crean was elected Labor Party leader.
Like all backbenchers, Gillard was appointed to parliamentary committees – her first were the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Workplace Relations, and the Joint Statutory Committee on Public Accounts and Audit. In June 1999 she went to Indonesia, as did Rudd, on the official observer mission led by former US President Jimmy Carter to oversee Indonesia's first national elections in 44 years. She attended voting booths in West Timor for this historic election of the government led by Megawati Sukarnoputri.
When Crean won the party leadership in 2001 he appointed Gillard to his Shadow Ministry with the portfolio of Immigration and Population, adding Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs in February 2003. In the July 2003 reshuffle Gillard was allocated the Health portfolio and made deputy manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.
But after two years as Opposition leader Crean had lost key supporters and resigned the party leadership in November 2003. Beazley contested the leadership ballot but lost to Mark Latham, who became Leader of the Opposition on 2 December 2003. Gillard was one of Latham's strongest supporters and also had his confidence – he referred to her as a future Labor Party leader. She remained Shadow Minister for Health and was promoted to manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.
Gillard remained loyal to Latham during the decline in his support and health after Labor lost the 2004 election. After Latham resigned the leadership in January 2005, Gillard and Rudd were seen as potential challengers to Kim Beazley in the leadership contest. However, both announced they would not stand, and Beazley returned to the leadership. Beazley was Leader of the Opposition for almost two years, during which time Gillard continued to hold the Health portfolio in his Shadow Ministry.
On 4 December 2006 the Parliamentary Labor Party held the leadership ballot that replaced Beazley with Rudd, and made Gillard Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party. She was given the portfolios of Employment and Industrial Relations and Social Inclusion in the Shadow Ministry.
Deputy Prime Minister
On 24 November 2007 Labor won government from the Coalition with an 18-seat majority in the House of Representatives. After nine years in Opposition, Julia Gillard became Australia's first woman Deputy Prime Minister and was sworn in as Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister for Social Inclusion on 3 December 2007.
On 11 December, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd left for the United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Gillard again made headlines, becoming Australia's first woman acting Prime Minister. Perhaps more than most other prime ministerial deputies, she took this role often, on each of Rudd's overseas trips as well as his brief annual holiday. One estimate suggested she occupied the position for about one-quarter of Rudd's two-and-a-half years in office.
The Fair Work legislation, passed by the Senate on 20 March 2009, was among the major policy initiatives under the Employment portfolio, overturning the contentious WorkChoices program of the Howard government.
In the vocational training sector of her Education portfolio, Gillard introduced Skills Australia as a means of improving delivery of federal responsibilities. The review of higher education led by Denise Bradley was completed in December 2008 with recommendations for major reforms.
In 2010 newspolls showed declining support for Rudd but he retained the confidence of his party until June. With a federal election due, rumours of a Caucus challenge to his leadership grew. In less than two weeks, this support collapsed. Gillard agreed to stand for the leadership on 23 June, and a ballot was held the following day. Unable to muster sufficient support to contest the ballot, Rudd stood down as leader. The suddenness of Rudd's demise and Gillard's accession surprised even the most experienced in the parliamentary press gallery.
After two-and-a-half years as Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party, and three-and-a-half years as a popular Deputy Prime Minister, on 24 June 2010 Gillard was elected Labor Party leader and sworn in as Prime Minister the same day.
- Baird, Julie, 'Julia Gillard', The Monthly, August 2010, pp. 8–14.
- Kent, Jacqueline, The Making of Julia Gillard, Viking, Camberwell, 2009.
From the National Archives of Australia collection
- Gillard family assisted passage migration scheme file, 1965–66. NAA: A1877, 07/02/1966