In November 2020, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard sat down with Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus. Journalist Monica Crouch zoomed in.
“My next guest needs no introduction,” quipped ACTU Secretary Sally McManus in opening her conversation with Julia Gillard as part of ACTU’s Virtual Organising Conference on 18 November 2020.
McManus said that while we all know Julia Gillard was Australia’s 27th Prime Minister (from June 2010 to June 2013), what we may not know is what she’s doing now.
Julia Gillard is Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, an international fund dedicated to developing education in lower-income countries; she is Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College, London; and she is a Distinguished Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. She is also Chair of Australian mental health support service Beyond Blue, and co-author, with Ngozi Okongo-Iweala, of Women and Leadership: Real lives, real lessons, published in 2020.
Gillard and McManus tackled a broad theme: Where is the world up to now? In her initial remarks, Gillard broke this down into three central challenges and three opportunities.
Challenge 1: Nationalism
“There is a tendency of populations during difficult days, when the pressures of globalisation and change are so acute, to turn inwards,” Gillard said. “This had full-throated expression through the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. It’s the kind of politics that’s driven ‘make America great again’ and the Donald Trump phenomenon, and it has also had a deep hold in many other countries around the world and led to Trump-style leaders in many places.”
Gillard says the pandemic is “turbocharging” this trend, despite the election of Joe Biden in the United States. “Many nations have turned inwards to fight the health crisis,” she said. “And they will want to continue to turn inwards even in the days beyond the health crisis. We will continue to see nationalism shaping domestic politics in many places in the world.”
McManus noted that this inward-facing, nationalist trend is not serving people well. “Those right-wing populist leaders are the most hopeless in terms of dealing with the pandemic,” she said. “If you look at Trump, at Bolsonaro in Brazil, at Boris Johnson – it’s a total disaster for those countries. They haven’t been able to use that strength or nationalism to mobilise their countries to deal with the pandemic. In fact, they’ve denied it.”
Gillard said that in contrast to these strong-man types, she really wanted to believe women were proving better leaders during the pandemic – think Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Angela Merkel in Germany, and Erna Solberg in Norway. However, her inner statistician initially thought the sample size was too small and focused on countries with advantages before the pandemic.
“But I’ve been very taken by a piece of UK research which has compared like countries and concluded that many women have led better,” she said. While the researchers are still drilling down to find out exactly what they did differently, she said, “one of the things appears to be that they listened to the scientists and they acted early on things like lockdowns and community restrictions”.
Stay tuned for more on science.
Challenge 2: Inequality
While economic, race and gender inequality pre-date the pandemic, “what the health crisis has done is put new stresses, strains and spotlights on the underlying fault lines”, Gillard said.
McManus said the pandemic had reinforced economic inequality, with entire workforces losing their jobs overnight and the health of many communities threatened because countless workers in insecure jobs did not have access to sick leave.