Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, is fighting a two-front political war: The opposition party leader is ahead of her in the polls before the September election, and disgruntled members of her party are plotting to restore former prime minister Kevin Rudd— the man she ousted 21 / 2 years ago — to power. Gillard sat down this past week in Sydney with Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth and discussed her opponents, her relationship with Obama and whether Australians or Americans are more judgmental. Excerpts:
You face an election in September. You are trailing in the polls, as is your party. What is your view of the situation?
We’ve got a big fight on our hands and a lot of hard work to do. We’ve been in this period of hyper-partisanship, replicating some of the cycles of American politics. We [the Labor Party] emerged from the 2010 election with a minority Parliament, which is very unusual in Australia. The Republican equivalents — misleadingly called “Liberals” — deliberately embarked post the 2010 election on a sharply partisan campaign. Their aim was to force the government back to an election quickly.
Despite their best efforts, we have managed to get some very big things done, including — quite controversially — creating a carbon tax and moving to an emissions-trading scheme. We’ve got some very big reforms through, but the hyper-partisanship takes its toll. The community grows weary of it. But as President Obama showed in your own elections, ultimately, rationality and common sense can prevail.
Do you feel you have some similarities to Obama?
We are sister political parties — the Labor Party and the Democrats. Organizationally and in a values sense, we’ve got a lot in common. In terms of the value that we put on opportunity, education, social mobility and building the future, I think the political pictures are quite aligned.
What have you learned from Obama’s campaign that you feel you can apply to yours?
The organizational techniques, like our political party’s social media strategy.
Two years after he was elected as prime minister, you ousted Kevin Rudd.
That’s not quite what actually happened. The Labor government was first elected in 2007, with Kevin Rudd as prime minister and me as deputy prime minister. I served very loyally as Kevin’s deputy. But in order to be prime minister, you need to enjoy the continuing support of your political party, and in 2010, he no longer enjoyed that. So, I requested of him that there be a leadership ballot. He chose not to contest it because he knew his support was so slender.
People say he is going to try to come back now.
They have said that continuously since 2010. Kevin put himself forward for the leadership again in February last year and was quite resoundingly defeated, and has from then on maintained that he will not challenge [me] for the leadership.
So you are not worried?
Not at all.
Reportedly, many Labor members who are worried about losing their seats believe that if Rudd were heading the party, Labor might lose fewer seats. Do you believe there’s any validity to that?