Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, visited Lesley University on Wednesday afternoon, October 22. She spoke with students, faculty, and staff in Marran Theater on the Doble campus. Then, on Wednesday night, Gillard spoke at Boston Symphony Hall, as part of Lesley University’s 2014-2015 Boston Speakers Series.
In her talk at Marran Theater, Prime Minister Gillard spoke of the differences in the political system in Australia, compared to the system we are accustomed to in the United States: for one example, in Australia, voting is mandatory, so participation is much higher. She also noted the difference in policy changes and the efficiency in which that happens; policymakers in one party vote as a block, therefore the party with majority power is able to pass whichever law it proposes.
Ms. Gillard spoke of her beginnings in politics, going back to her time in college when she started to feel a pull toward political activism. Education has always been close to Ms. Gillard’s heart, as both her parents were unable to receive an education and emphasized its importance. She went on to become a Minister for Education where worked to reform education in her country.
In Australia, voter registration and participation is mandatory; noncompliance with this can result in a fine. This allows for policies and policy makers to be more aware of what the citizens actually want. Ms. Gillard believes this is much more effective than the voluntary system that America allows.
Ms. Gillard also spoke about gender differences and the impact those have on education, career choices and positions held within a company. She noted that while on the surface it may seem as though gender equality has been achieved in successful countries such as Australia and the United States, all is not equal. Statistically, more women attend university than men and about fifty percent of those entering entry-level jobs are women; however, when looking at the top positions at most large companies, they are overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Sexism is something Ms. Gillard is well aware of, and she has experienced it in her own career. Much like female politicians in America, Ms. Gillard faced extreme sexism from the media, many members of the public, and other politicians. In 2012, Ms. Gillard attracted widespread interest due to a speech she gave known as the “Misogyny Speech,” where she referred to Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader at the time, as sexist and misogynist “every day in every way.”
After her talk, she took questions from the audience. Responding to a question about media bias in Australia as compared to America, Ms. Gillard explained that there are only two nationwide daily newspapers and eight statewide daily papers across the six states in the country. Rupert Murdoch owns eight of the ten daily papers that reach the country. Unlike in America where people can turn on the television and watch news that follows along with their political beliefs, there is much less choice for people when reading their daily papers or watching television in Australia.
Of Ms. Gillard’s many accomplishments, her most prominent is her role as the first female Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia. She was first elected to the House of Representatives at the 1998 federal election, elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 2001, became the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in 2006, and was sworn in as the first female Deputy Prime Minister in 2007, where she remained until becoming Prime Minister in 2010. She held the office of Prime Minister until 2013. Currently, Ms. Gillard serves as a chair of the Global Partnership for Education.