In a new series in The Conversation highlighting key figures in Australian political history and how they changed political debate in this country, Blair Williams writes (2.6.20) about Julia Gillard and the transformation of how we talk and think about women in politics.
‘When Julia Gillard was sworn into office as Australia’s first female prime minister on a chilly Canberra morning in 2010, it seemed like the ultimate glass ceiling had been smashed.
‘But this momentous occasion was marred by the onslaught of sexism and misogyny Gillard endured from the opposition, and especially the mainstream media, over the next three years of her term.
‘Since she lost the prime ministership in 2013, Gillard has fostered a legacy that extends beyond parliamentary politics, with a focus on women’s rights, education and mental health.
‘… Twelve iconic words have come to define Gillard’s legacy: “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.”
‘This statement launched a blistering 15-minute speech, in which Gillard called out the sexism and hypocrisy of Abbott during Question Time in October 2012.
‘The anger and frustration she felt about Abbott – known for his sexist sentiments – and the systemic double standards she’d endured for years, resonated with women around the world.’
Henry Parkes had a vision of a new Australian nation. In 1901, it became a reality
David Lee writes the next series instalment in The Conversation (4.6.20) about Henry Parkes, known now as the ‘Father of Federation’.
‘Henry Parkes, known today as the “Father of Federation”, set in motion the process that led to the joining of Australia’s six colonies in 1901 – a significant moment that heralded the birth of a new nation.
‘While he did not live to see the outcome – he died five years before the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia – Parkes had been the driving force behind the idea of federation and a key architect of the process that ultimately created it.
‘Parkes’s vision was to unite the British colonies into a self-governing and democratic nation that spanned the continent. The new country would have a constitution written by Australians, but would remain “under the British crown” in an enduring relationship with the land of his birth.
‘Perhaps the most defining moment of his political career came in 1889, when he gave his Tenterfield Oration. Much like US President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863, Parkes’ speech was little reported at the time, but later took on legendary status.’
Bob Santamaria, ‘the most significant’ figure in Australian politics never to have been in parliament
Gregory Melleuish writes in The Conversation (12.6.20) that Bob Santamaria knew four Australian prime ministers. The author asks if he is the most significant figure in Australian politics never to have held office.
‘Bartholomew Augustine (“Bob”) Santamaria is the most significant figure in Australian politics never to have held political office.
‘Santamaria was a friend of, or associated with, four Australian prime ministers: Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, John Howard and Tony Abbott. But his career was spent outside parliament.
‘There are two crucial things that need to be understood about Santamaria in order to make sense of his work. One is he was a devout lay Catholic whose career began in church-sponsored organisations. The other is he was both anti-socialist and anti-capitalist.
‘His ideal society was one composed of small property owners. In the 1940s and 1950s, he dreamed of an Australia dotted with rural villages.’
How Paul Keating transformed the economy and the nation
Carol Johnson writes in The Conversation (16.6.20) about Paul Keating who as Prime Minister, along with his predecessor Bob Hawke, modernised the Australian economy and opened it up to Asia.
‘Paul Keating was one of Australia’s most charismatic and controversial prime ministers.
‘Born in Bankstown, New South Wales, into an Irish-Catholic, working-class and Labor-voting family, he left school before he turned 15. Keating joined the Labor Party as a teenager, quickly honing the political skills that would serve him so well in later life. He entered parliament as MP for Blaxland in 1969 at just 25 years old, and briefly served as minister for Northern Australia in the ill-fated Whitlam government.
‘He subsequently served as a very high-profile treasurer in the Hawke government from 1983-1991, before defeating Bob Hawke in a leadership ballot in December 1991. In doing so Keating became Australia’s 24th prime minister, serving until John Howard defeated him in the 1996 election.
‘To Keating’s supporters, he is a visionary figure whose “big picture” ideas helped transform the Australian economy, while still pursuing socially inclusive policies. To his conservative critics, Keating left a legacy of government debt and rejected “mainstream” Australians in favour of politically correct “special interests”.’
‘The time has come to say something of the forgotten class’: how Menzies transformed Australian political debate
James Murphy writes in The Conversation (18.6.20) about former Prime Minister Robert Menzies who, while his ideas and values were old-fashioned by the time he left office in 1966, left a legacy which shapes the political debate in other ways.
‘As Australia’s longest serving prime minister, the career of Robert Menzies remains a model of political success in this country.
‘Despite this, much of Menzies’s legacy has failed to live long past his time in office, let alone into the 21st century. He was, for instance, firmly in favour of White Australia, obsessed with Australia’s British roots and idolised the monarchy. He also believed the Communist Party ought to be outlawed, and oversaw a highly protected, regulated economy. In many ways, Menzies was the last bastion of an old Australia we would hardly recognise today.
‘However, there are two notable exceptions – ways in which Menzies did manage to transform Australian political debate in a lasting way: firstly, through his construction of a middle-class political constituency he called “the forgotten people”; secondly, as the founder of the Liberal Party and Coalition.’
Pauline Hanson built a political career on white victimhood and brought far-right rhetoric to the mainstream
Kurt Sengul writes in The Conversation (22.6.20) about Pauline Hanson who, while largely unsuccessful in seeing her signature policies realised, has helped normalise xenophobia and racism and thus has had a disproportionate influence on the national debate.
‘Pauline Hanson and her party have only achieved modest electoral successes. Yet, she is undoubtedly Australia’s most successful populist politician and has had a profound impact on the way the country talks about issues like multiculturalism and immigration.
‘Hanson’s entire political career can be seen as a denial and rejection of the realities of whiteness in Australia – that is, the unearned benefits and privileges afforded to white people in settler-colonial countries.
‘Hanson has benefited from – and helped to shape – the normalisation of racism and xenophobia in Australia. She has pushed the boundaries of what can be “acceptably said” in public discourse and has had a disproportionate influence on the national debate.
‘In doing so, she has also created the political space for other far-right figures like Fraser Anning to emerge and become more a part of the political mainstream.’
How Graham Berry brought party democracy to colonial Australia – and then was forgotten
Sean Scalmer writes in The Conversation (28.7.20) about Graham Berry, an Englishman who emigrated to gold-rush Victoria where he helped to shape modern Australian democracy.
‘The grocer-turned-politician was the leader of a movement for “protectionism”. He argued taxes should be applied to certain categories of imported goods, especially manufactured goods. This would stimulate new industries, he said, and create good jobs at high wages.
‘Leading political economists attacked the doctrine. Berry was its most eloquent advocate as a platform speaker, newspaper editor and parliamentarian. He passed the first clearly protectionist tariff as Victorian treasurer in the early 1870s. He entrenched the system as premier in later decades.
‘He also travelled to New South Wales to spread the creed, arguing that protection against “cheap and underpaid labour” provided an impetus to national unity. Berry called the federation of the Australian colonies behind a great tariff wall “the great dream” of his life.
‘His protégé, Alfred Deakin, would advance that dream, but Berry’s earlier campaigns were the foundation of later success.’
Charles Perkins forced Australia to confront its racist past. His fight for justice continues today
Paul Gray and Lindon Coombes write in The Conversation (6.8.20) about Charles Perkins, the Aboriginal leader who viewed basic rights such as housing, education and employment as the building blocks of self-reliant communities.
‘In his pursuit of justice and self-determination for Aboriginal people, Charles Perkins, an Arrernte and Kalkadoon man and lifelong civil rights activist, held a mirror up to Australia.
‘Through his outspoken and sometimes controversial advocacy, he challenged Australia to confront its own history. He kept a spotlight on discrimination and inequality, making many people uncomfortable, and in doing so, opened the space for debate and opportunities for change.
‘… Perkins passionately believed Aboriginal people had a unique contribution to make to our society – they represented Australia’s conscience and could give the country its soul.’
William Cooper: the Indigenous leader who petitioned the king, demanding a Voice to Parliament in the 1930s
Bain Attwood writes in The Conversation (13.8.20) about William Cooper, who was in his 70s when he began a remarkable political campaign pushing for Indigenous rights and recognition.
‘William Cooper is not a household name, but he should be. This Yorta Yorta elder is one of Australia’s most formative political leaders.
‘In the 1930s, he began a remarkable political campaign, pushing for Indigenous rights and recognition, nearly all of which have significant implications for Australian politics today.
‘… His notion of “thinking black” would in time also catch the imagination of yet another generation of Aboriginal leaders, such as Oodgeroo Noonuccal.
‘Most importantly, perhaps, Cooper is remembered above all else for his prescient call for an Aboriginal voice to Parliament. Through this, and his fight to overcome Aboriginal disadvantage, he continues to speak to us today.’
How Bob Brown taught Australians to talk about, and care for, the ‘wilderness’
Libby Lester writes in The Conversation (24.8.20) about Bob Brown who, starting with his campaign against the damming of the Franklin River, has had a huge impact on the prominence of the environment in Australian political debate.
‘To understand Bob Brown’s impact on Australian political debate, watch Tasmanian commercial television and stay on the couch during the ad breaks.
‘Here’s an advertisement for “wilderness tours”, another for small businesses on the “Tarkine coast”. Few of the audience, let alone the businesses paying for the ads, would know these terms came into common use because of the way Bob Brown does politics.
‘Anywhere known as “wilderness” was best avoided before the late 1970s when Brown, then leader of the campaign to save Tasmania’s Franklin River from damming, started deliberately including the term in almost every public statement he made about the threatened area. He understood the symbolic power of the term.’