At the Opera House, a Gillard curtain call to a cacophony of love
The first chapter of ex-prime minister Julia Gillard’s first post-politics public love-in kicked off in rapturous fashion at the Sydney Opera House last night.
Before a sold-out crowd of 2600 true believers clamouring to cleanse the nation’s conscience of the sexism meted out to Australia’s first woman prime minister, Gillard barely managed to get a word in as waves of deafening applause, assisted by Jørn Utzon’s superb acoustics, seeped across the harbour on a magical spring evening.
It was like the former member for Lalor had never failed to communicate Labor’s successes to the Australian people, had never agitated to abandon carbon trading, weaken the mining tax and cut welfare for single mothers — that the party was never sleepwalking to disaster under her watch. None of that was more important than Gillard’s appalling treatment at the hands of misogynist nutjobs on the internet.
At the outset, MC Catriona was on hand to remind everyone that:
“… this is a very significant event, it is the launch of Anne Summers Conversation Event Series where Anne will interview live in an environment like this, extremely important people … I have the great pleasure to introduce your host for this evening, and the publisher and editor of Anne Summers Reports, the host of Anne Summers Conversations, well-known journalist and commentator Anne Summers!”
In a scene straight from the set of Oprah, Gillard strode on stage to the strains of Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s Respect and the crowd went totally apeshit. At times she seemed embarrassed by the reaction that included a shout-out to the Altona fans in the house.
Lindsay Tanner’s long-term Melbourne University student union sparring partner, 52 on Sunday, had just returned from New York City with partner Tim Mathieson and seized the opportunity inside the first five minutes to sledge Australian Financial Review gossip columnist Joe Aston for penning an erroneous Woman’s Day pick-up last week claiming she and Tim were on the rocks. Aston, Gillard alleged, should have known when he called spokesperson Bruce Wolpe for comment it was 1am on the east coast and that she replied at the first available opportunity of 6am (8pm AEST) — too late for the Fin’s crushing deadline.
The “night of June 26” was repeatedly raised in hushed tones, Gillard explaining that the difference between her takedown of Kevin Rudd in 2010 and his revenge attack three years later was that “to ask your leader to have a leadership ballot that’s legitimate, to do things continuously that undermine the Labor Party and the Labor government then of course that shouldn’t be done by anyone.”
Summers: “So the difference is you asked for a ballot?”
Gillard: “The difference is every day that I was deputy prime Minister I spent all of my time doing everything I could to help the Labor government prosper.” [sustained hooting and applause]
The media was a repeated focus, especially the decision by editors to grant oxygen to the slightest off-the-record muttering from the Rudd cardinals. Social media and bloggers had played a damaging role in disseminating the hatred of Larry Pickering and other crazies (Gillard said she’d seen his infamous “dildo” cartoon but had tried to ignore it). But luckily there are independent media proprietors on the case:
“Maybe I’m just a starry-eyed optimist, but in some ways I actually think we are seeing the death throes of this kind of business model in the newspapers and we are going to emerge into a media landscape of trusted voices where it will be about trusted voices giving you the facts.”
Gillard was at her best when riffing about her suburban roots and the world of day-to-day beltway manoeuvring. She talked about how her brick veneer features on the official Hobsons Bay walking tour and “30 or 40 tourists” routinely turn up to take photos of the weeds in her front yard. And how every day in the Lodge she would pore over “the four newspapers you can get in Canberra early in the morning” (The Australian Financial Review, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph?) arranged by a staffer, Margaret, in order of positivity. She would then convene with Wayne Swan and Anthony Albanese at Parliament House to commiserate. Other anecdotes about calling Barack Obama “mad” for liking question time and revelations about Christopher Pyne’s spiteful niggling across the despatch box also played well.
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