Julia Gillard

14 September 2009

My family are Welsh. My parents migrated to Australia when I was four. They did so because I had bronchial pneumonia and they were told a warm climate would be better for me, but also because they saw new economic opportunity in Australia.

My Dad grew up in a small coal mining village, one of seven children. He was very good at school, passed very high in the eleven plus exams and was offered a scholarship. But his family’s circumstances meant that he couldn’t take that opportunity up.

We settled in Adelaide, South Australia. My father worked in a variety of blue-collar jobs before training as a psychiatric nurse. My mother worked as a domestic in an aged care institution. Between them they have contributed greatly to Australia as workers and as citizens. As well as their hard work, my parents always modelled a commitment to ideas and education that we absorbed as we grew up.

I went to state schools. There’s no way in the world that mum and dad could have afforded private school education. We didn’t come from a family where it was natural to go to university, but my parents were always very keen to get us to be the best that we could. It became possible for me because of the excellent state school funded by a Labour State Government and because Gough Whitlam, Labour Prime Minister, removed upfront university fees.

Even when I was at school, when I was a teenager, I had a sense of what I thought was right or wrong in a values sense. Instinctively at home, Labour was our team. Even more importantly than the events, we’d talk about the values behind what was happening in the news. A sense of indignation has always burned in me about what happened to my father. That someone who had the capacity to go on to higher education, to even more schooling, who won a scholarship to do so, could still have that opportunity ripped from their hands by economic circumstance.

In the last century Australia has been a place of opportunity for people who came here. But I think many would recognise that, in Australia today, it would be harder for someone to make the journey that I made from a working class background through state education to university and a career in national politics.

What makes my beliefs left rather than right wing is that, while I believe individual effort and personal responsibility are fundamentally important, I also believe that collective responsibility and democratic action are necessary to ensure people can develop themselves and excel in all kinds of ways.

What that action looks like varies enormously. But without it, the alternative is a society in which individuals increasingly feel insecure and powerless to control their lives in the face of rapid economic and social change. Too many parents believe their teenagers are facing a tougher world than they themselves faced.

What makes me angry is quite simple: when talent is wasted and when power or privilege is misused.

Globalisation is creating opportunities that were unimaginable a generation ago and risks that are bewildering to millions of people. Our responsibility in politics is to pursue change that enables those people to be confident about their aspirations and to share the responsibility for building and rebuilding a decent society.

For me, there is no more powerful way to achieve that goal than to fashion an education system in which economic and family circumstance do not dictate whether a child has the opportunity to excel and to shape their own life course. Unfortunately that is still a radical aim, but it is also an intensely practical one. In pursuing it I am inspired by my Welsh forebear, Nye Bevan, who never gave up either his determination to improve the circumstances of working people or his pragmatism about how to achieve that goal.

Position:  Prime Minister of Australia. She is MP for Labour, in Melbourne’s West.

9 Responses to “Julia Gillard”

  1. bigpond
    September 18th, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    As an UK emigrant I spent most of my life in NSW, and as a son of a single mother, my life was transformed by the educational opportunities available to me in the 50's.
    Having come back to UK ten years ago to retire, I am increasingly discouraged by Labour action here that seeks to increase opportunities for the less affluent by throwing lots of money around, rather than empowering and enabling individual success through achievement.
    I am not sure that things are much different in Australia nowadays, from what I glean from here and there. There as well as here, there seems to be a general dumbing down and an overall move to make everyone succeed, lest some feel somehow a failure. League tables and targets, positive discrimination have tilted the competitive and academic playing field

  2. clyde cameron II
    October 8th, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Firstly Mr Bevan was a socialist first and foremost. Funny how Labor figures like Ms Gillard dont ever mention words like socialism anymore. Painting him as a pragmatist of course is very convenient as there are legions of Labor people here in Australia aghast that a pragmatic do nothing Labor Govt is largely carrying on the Tory policies of its predecessor. Its doing barely anything to reverse the inequality that 13 years of Tory mis rule has produced.
    Bevan was not a pragmatist in when he was in Govt unlike Ms Gillard. Bevan only found pragmatism late in his career when he had been in Opposition for more than five years. Bevan was a socialist. And thats what hes remembered for.
    As Employment Minister it's very sad indeed that Ms Gillard has seen fit to not raise the unemployment benefit in Australia. Remember we still have a housing bubble here and rents are driving people, including many unemployed on the street or to the clutches of rapacious rooming house landlords with their slum accomodation (which should be but are not regulated by state Labor Govts)
    Of course with her eye on the Prime Ministership one day, it is crucial that she keeps the dominant Murdoch press onside by letting them set the rate of unemployment benefit. The press sets the rate of benefit not the Labor Govt. It is currently set at the lowest rate in the western world. The lowest rate in the country with the most expensive housing. They will never take on the capitalist media unlike another Labor hero Ms Gillard is desperate to associate herself with – Gough Whitlam. He was true to Labor's mission statement to transform society. Nowadays Labor in Australia is just a path for people from the wrong backgrounds to enter high society and get some wealthy business contacts.
    I guess sucking up to the press by starving unemployed people is what you call pragmatic but not as Mr Bevan would have seen it. Saying you are following in the footsteps of Labour heroes who share your nation of birth is a nice try but as Minister for Employment, but Ms Gillard employs benefit policies that have just been copied by the Tory party in the UK. Cut benefits decline in real terms and then trump up the claim that the missing money is being spent on training. This is just sophistry writ large.
    By scapegoating the unemployed Ms Gillard thus continues and approves of the policies of her conservative predecessors. Australia has one of the lowest rates of benefit in the developed world. Little wonder that street crime is on the rise and has embarassed the nation internationally after vicious attacks on foreign students. It is simply unconscionable that a Labor Government would abandon the unemployed on a benefit which with some of the highest housing costs in the world that is simply not a living wage. Not a living wage. What a load of bunkum for Ms Gillard to claim that instead of giving the unemployed a living wage, the government prefers to spend money on training. The reality is that Ms Gillard and her “Labor” government are far more worried about the opinion of the welfare state hating Murdoch press than they are worried about how unemployed are going to survive on the measly payments set by Mr Howard's Conservative Government. Hence while they guessed rightly they could raise the pensions for retired people without raising the ire of the press, they do not have the courage to defy the media and do what a Labor Government has always done when it assumes office in the past – raise the unemployment benefit to a dignified level.
    I had to laugh when Ms Gillard wrote that she admired Bevan's pragmatism. It's a nice try but pragmatic does not mean abandoning your core values and that means not abandoning the unemployed to live on money that does not pay rent and buy food. Mr Bevan would not have left the unemployed on rates that they simply can not live in. Nothing in the world would make me believe that.
    I leave with a quote from Ken Davidson, a writer for the newspaper, The Age from Ms Gillard's home town Melbourne.

    “Even worse, the Labor Government has evolved into a self-perpetuating oligarchy whose defining purpose is retaining power. In this moral and intellectual vacuum, the Government functions as the servant of the old corporate establishment and other rent seekers such as the private schools lobby in the case of education, the private health funds in the case of health policy, the roads lobby in the case of transportation and the big polluters and the finance industry in the case of climate change.”

    The Government serves as the servant of the old corporate establishment and other rent seekers – now no one would have ever said that about Mr Atlee's Government of which Ms Gillard's hero, Mr Bevan was a leading member. Socialist, not pragmatist.

  3. clyde cameron II
    October 25th, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    “In pursuing it I am inspired by my Welsh forebear, Nye Bevan, who never gave up either his determination to improve the circumstances of working people or his pragmatism about how to achieve that goal.”

    Yes Ms Gillard but Nye Bevan himself said

    “Those who stand in the middle of the road get run over”

    So what pragmatism do you speak of then?

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