The gender revolution of the last half century has failed to change hostile attitudes towards women, former prime minister Julia Gillard says.
Ms Gillard, addressing a Victorian Women’s Trust event in Melbourne, said she stood by her statement that being the first female prime minister, explained some things, but not all, about her tenure.
Ms Gillard said while it is up to the nation to think in a sophisticated way about that, the gender revolution of the last 50 years had failed to leave as deep an impact as hoped.
“In too many ways, that change has done no more than create a brittle veneer and when the veneer cracks, what lies beneath is deeply held cultural stereotyping, anger and misogyny,” she said.
Ms Gillard highlighted the historically high numbers of women in major roles in her government and said some sections of the community may have felt challenged, even threatened, by so much change.
She was saddened the new government didn’t have the same level of women’s representation.
“I despair that we have gone so far backwards in women’s participation,” she said.
“I despair even more when I read the false debate about equality versus merit, which is adding insult to injury.
“The simple reality is, equality and merit go hand in hand.
“If you believe as I do that merit is equally distributed between the sexes, then in any institution, a cabinet, a court, a corporate board, (that) does not comprise around 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men, women of merit have been excluded.”
Ms Gillard said despite all her government’s achievements, there were calls that women were “destroying the joint”.
“That the witch needed to be ditched,” she said.
“What is it about a woman assuming the prime ministers role for the first time that called for so much that was so ugly?
“The truth is I do not believe we entirely know yet.”
Ms Gillard said the nation has nothing to fear about having a genuine conversation about achieving true gender equality and urged young female aspiring leaders to not be deterred by her experience.
She said her biggest mistake was not telling the Australian people in 2010 about why she became prime minister.
“My unwillingness at that stage to canvas issues critical of Kevin Rudd allowed a myth about a conspiracy of faceless men to be publicly substituted for the more complex truth,” she said.
Ms Gillard said another error was failing to clearly spell out the government was not considering a carbon tax, but a market-based emissions trading scheme.
Ms Gillard also regretted that the government and parliament was not better able to handle the asylum seeker issue.
She said during her toughest days she drew inspiration from the everyday female “heroines” she met.
Meanwhile, Gillard urged her former Labor colleagues to stand by carbon pricing ahead of the coalition’s plans to have it scrapped during federal parliament this week.
Climate change will be the key battleground when the 44th parliament sits for the first time, with the Abbott government expected to introduce its carbon tax repeal bills first thing on Wednesday morning.
The Greens oppose the bills while Labor says it’s open to scrapping the tax if the government replaces it with an emissions trading scheme – something the coalition is not going to do.
Ms Gillard encouraged her colleagues to continue “staring down the most reckless of fear campaigns”.
“I always want our nation to be brave enough to shape the future, not to be passive and overwhelmed by it,” she told the Victorian Women’s Trust in Melbourne.
“And be gutsy enough to do the hard things that are right, like pricing carbon.”
She said the nation’s renewable energy output was up almost 25 per cent, while emissions in the national electricity market were down more than 12 million tonnes.
“That’s the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road for a year,” she said.
“Carbon pricing is here and it is working.”
Ms Gillard said that one of her major errors during her prime ministership was effectively conceding the terminology “carbon tax”.
“Our carbon pricing mechanism is an emissions trading scheme, with a fixed price for the first three years and I should have clearly said so,” she said.