Julia Gillard: Why she's knitting for the royal baby
Wondering what the beleaguered Prime Minister has been doing lately? She's been knitting a gift for the royal baby, writes Caroline Overington.
Some will remember the record spending, or perhaps the record debt. Others will ponder the wisdom of knifing Kevin Rudd.
By contrast, Julia Gillard will look back on her time as Australia's first female Prime Minister with "a sense of pride and achievement" and few, if any, regrets.
"I'm not a person who agonises," Ms Gillard said, in an exclusive interview in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, out on Wednesday.
"You always look back over your life and say there are some things you might have liked to have done (differently) … but I think I'll be really comfortable with the choices I've made."
Ms Gillard was responding to a series of questions about what she and those closest to her will say about her legacy, long after she has left the Lodge.
She believes she will be able to look back "with a sense of pride and achievement about things that have changed … I hope that I'd be active enough to be able to go to a local school and say gee, things are different here because of things I did so many years ago … (and) go to a local hospital and say the same."
She believes her father, who died last September, would be particularly proud of what she's achieved including her legacy, as first woman ever to rise to the nation's highest office.
"Dad was incredibly proud of me becoming Prime Minister, and incredibly proud, I think, that it was him that sparked the interest in values, politics, current affairs, and particularly education," Ms Gillard said.
"I hope he would congratulate me on a life well lived, and changes for our nation. What he dreamt about as a child was a fair go, a great education. He didn't get it … (I hope) he'd say, 'You did make a difference for Australia's kids'."
Ms Gillard said her sister, Alison, would still be amazed that it was Julia who rose to become PM.
"I was always the shy one, the one who was less forthcoming, she was the bigger personality," Ms Gillard said. "She'd say how startled she was that it all worked out that I ended up being Prime Minister, and how proud the family was that I ended up becoming Prime Minister, particularly the first woman to do it."
Ms Gillard posed for a series of photographs, whilst knitting a toy kangaroo for the baby that Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, is due to deliver in July.
The request to be shown knitting the roo came from the Prime Minister's office.
"I guess my life is full of the engagements that politics brings and some are them are quite combative engagements," she said.
"I don't shy away from that. If there is something I hope I have done for the image of women in public life is that we can go into an adversarial environment like parliament and we can dominate it and conquer it.
"But that's not all of me. (Knitting the kangaroo) is an opportunity to show a side of me. I can't imagine Laurie Oakes saying: 'hmmm, knitting patterns. What are you working on at the moment?'
"And in terms of knitting for Kate's baby I knit for babies in part, because they are smaller projects, I've got not that much time in my life. You can get them done and there's a sense of satisfaction in having completed it.
"I just thought it would be a cute project to work on."
As to whether it's Australia's formal gift to the heir to the throne, Ms Gillard said: "I suspect our nation will probably do something a little more than a stuffed kangaroo," but did not elaborate.
The interview took place at Kirribilli House, just seven days after a Newspoll showed support for the ALP had slumped to 29 per cent.
Ms Gillard nonetheless insisted that she would win the September 14 election, but could not name a seat that Labor will pick up.
"I can go through a list of seats but I believe we can win seats, the seats necessary to have a majority Labor government, and I would relish the opportunity to lead a majority Labor government," she said.
"But we don't telegraph … I have a battery of people who do this for me, and we don't telegraph that clearly which ones we've got our eyes on but we've certainly got our eyes on running this election to win."
Ms Gillard says the pleasure of knitting for the royal baby hadn't shifted her opposition to the monarchy.
She still hopes Australia will be a republic one day.
"I do hope we become a republic," she said. "I campaigned for a yes case. We will get there again. There is a real sense of respect for the queen, so I do think a natural moment to look again will be when her reign comes to an end.
"Prince William and Kate, and their child will still be personalities in Australia; people will still follow their lives with interest."
Gillard confirmed that not all about life in the Lodge is rosy. In particular, she described the comments that feminist Germaine Greer made about her "fat arse" as both catty, and stupid.
It happened last March, when Dr Greer was a guest on the ABC's QandA program. Panellists were talking about Ms Gillard's image.
Dr Greer, who has devoted her life to feminist principles, including the idea that women should not be judged by appearance, derided the PM's wardrobe, and said: "You've got a big arse, Julia, just get on with it."
Ms Gillard told The Weekly that she thought Greer's commentary "demeaned her more than it demeaned me".
"It was just kind of dumb is the best reaction," she said. "I do take a lot of pride in being someone who not only fought for equal opportunities for women.
"But for her, given everything she stands for, everything she would have inspired, I just thought it was stupid."
Ms Gillard said people who "want to be stereotypical about women will look at that and say, 'it just goes to show, it doesn't matter if it's a female prime minister and a feminist icon … they're just as catty as the two women down the local coffee shop.'
"It frustrated me that her, or all people would catapult into that kind of conduct. I don't want that to be the image of women."
The interview took place after Gillard spent the morning in Sydney's west, trying to rev up Labor candidates for the election.
The result, on election day, will be ruin.
The reasons for this are multitude: the failure of the mining tax to bring in any useful revenue; the discarded promise to return the Budget to surplus by 2013; the decision to introduce a carbon tax; the failure to halt the battalion of leaky boats bumping up against our borders; and to end to the dreaded "double-drop off" by building child care centres on school sites; the disastrous home insulation program; the collapse of Fuel Watch and Grocery Watch; the kamikaze decision to try to take on News Ltd in an election year; and on it goes.
There have been important victories, too: Australia is the only nation that did not slip into recession during the GFC; it has less debt than any comparable country; parental leave is in place, plus there's the shining jewel that is DisabilityCare.
Ms Gillard said she had no regrets about calling the election so many months ago.
"Every time I pick up a newspaper and it's got articles about our school agenda, even if they are articles I don't agree with, every time that happens, I think to myself, gee, I'm glad I cleared all of that space got all that early election fever, to make sure we were talking about some of the big policy issues," she says.
"Because I know even from the few short weeks I was Prime Minister before the 2010 election, I know how ridiculous this can be. People trying to chase the car I'm in, just in case I'm going to see the Governor-General.
"Poor old (political journalist) Kieren Gilbert from Sky (News), I thought he was going to be hospitalised if required to sit outside in the cold outside the Governor-General's for any more hours.
"This is crazy. The debate about the election shouldn't be about when it is, it should be about what future we are choosing for the nation when we vote."
For the record, Gillard was in great shape, and she admitted to "feeling pretty good, physically. I have a personal trainer. Do a bit of yoga and boxing, not as much as I should. I love boxing … and no, there's no truth in the rumour that we've got Tony Abbott's face on the mitts."
Read more of this story in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.