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Australia's First Female Prime Minister; Imagine a World

Aired November 21, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, my exclusive interview with Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia. We speak about the trials and the many tribulations of being the country's first female prime minister, the policies that she's proud of and those she regrets.

We also talk about the fallout from the Snowden NSA leaks, now reaching Asia, that has landed Australia in hot water with its ally, Indonesia. Protesters in Yogyakarta have burned Australian flags outside the presidential palace as anger grows over reports that Canberra spied on the president, his wife and other top officials.

President Yudhoyono has frozen military and intelligence cooperation now with Australia. The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, who succeeded Gillard, hasn't apologized but he has expressed regret for the embarrassment the media reports have caused to Indonesia.

I asked Gillard about the crisis when I sat down with her earlier this week in Washington.


AMANPOUR: Did you ever knowingly have your intelligence services tap other leaders' phones?

JULIA GILLARD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm going to have to give you the very standard answer, which is that I wouldn't have commented on those intelligence questions as prime minister and it's not appropriate for me to comment in my current status, having been prime minister.


AMANPOUR: Gillard has now left politics, having served three years as prime minister. She was ousted in June after a bitter leadership battle by her own party, which then went on to lose the election. Despite her groundbreaking tenure, she told me that she doesn't want to be defined just as the first female prime minister.

Nonetheless, around the world, she's probably best known certainly by her legions of female fans for a fiery speech in Parliament last year and a video that instantly went viral when dealing with a scandal over sexist texts by the House Speaker and taunts about misogyny from then-opposition leader Tony Abbott.


GILLARD: Now I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. (INAUDIBLE) will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, not now, not ever. But I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation, because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives. He needs a mirror. That's what he needs.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Well, he, of course, is now prime minister. He's already dismissed her policies, including a clean energy bill as the very worst. I will discuss all of that with Gillard later.

We sat down at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., this week for her first TV news interview since leaving office. Now she wouldn't be drawn on the politics of that fight in leadership, but she had plenty to say about how it felt to be in it.


AMANPOUR: Julia Gillard, welcome to the program.

GILLARD: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me.

What does it feel like?

You've talked about it like a fist in the gut to suffer that kind of political stabbing.

GILLARD: Well, it's a horrible thing to happen. It's a sense of personal loss because you are leaving a position that you very much enjoyed doing, some sense of regret about it all. But also a sense of achievement.

AMANPOUR: What are you most proud of? What is your greatest sense of achievement?

GILLARD: Well, closest to my heart is what we achieved in education, particularly school education, but not just that. We've brought a revolution to early childhood education, to Australian universities. There are more kids having apprenticeships in Australia and getting a chance in life than ever before in our nation's history.

AMANPOUR: What was it like being the first female prime minister of Australia?

What kind of reception did you get?

GILLARD: There were things about it which were hugely warm and embracing. I would get people coming up to me, asking me to sign things for their daughters because they wanted to take them home and say to their daughters, you know, there are no closed doors. You can do anything with your life.

Indeed, I'd have men come up to me and say, can you sign this for my daughter? Some of them would say, "I didn't vote for you," or "I'm not going to vote for you, but I still think it's a really good thing that our nation has got its first female prime minister." So there was all of that, the sense of inspiration and possibility.

There was a dark side to it as well. It seemed to unleash, in many ways, very harsh and hostile discussion about gender roles in Australia, which culminated with things like people standing at rallies, holding signs that said, "Ditch the witch," meaning me.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that and I'm going to play a clip now of that very part of your speech that really made you go viral around the world.


GILLARD: I was offended when the leader of the opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said, "Ditch the witch." I was offended when the leader of the opposition --


GILLARD: -- stood next to a sign that described me as a man's bitch. I was offended by those things. Misogyny, sexism, every day from this leader of the opposition.


AMANPOUR: There he was, Tony Abbott, sitting as you launched into him -- at what point did you feel that this was not just a speech or a diatribe against a person, but something bigger?

GILLARD: I felt within the parliamentary chamber the theater which is in Parliament, that it was a powerful speech because you actually see the opposition sort of drop their heads. And so they went from yelling at me and very engaged in the debate to suddenly completely entranced by their mobile phones.

But I didn't have any sense of how it was going to resonate beyond the parliamentary chamber or, indeed, around the world. And to this day I still get a little bit startled when a woman will come up to me, wherever I am in the world, and say, "I saw that speech and it really meant something for me," or "I watched it with my daughter and we cried while we watched it."

And I do still have women come up to me and say those kinds of things.

AMANPOUR: So what would you advise a young Australian woman coming up through the political ranks? Do you think there will be anytime soon another female prime minister?

GILLARD: I don't see a female prime minister in Australia anytime soon, but I'm very confident that, you know, I'll live to see the next female prime minister and probably more than one. And I'm also very confident that it will be easier for the next woman who comes along because, you know, some of these that happened, I don't think that the nation will want to go through twice.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a few personal questions.

You're an unconventional woman leader. You're not married and you're quite proud of not being married. You said you're controversially not married.

GILLARD: For me, for my personal life, my life with Tim, we've structured that the way that makes sense to us and has meaning to us. And it just seems to me that their asset of choices and they're not really up for negotiation or debate or people's approval --


AMANPOUR: And what is it?

GILLARD: -- I think Australians are pretty easygoing about those kinds of things. I can't imagine someone putting their hand up to run for president in America and living a de facto relationship. I think that would be a huge, huge political issue here.

AMANPOUR: As a public figure, being partnered with a hairdresser, it was pretty useful.


GILLARD: Yes, poor Tim's been asked to get up at extraordinarily early hours and help with blow drying hair that's for sure. But our relationship is built on other things.

AMANPOUR: I bet it is. But I ask because obviously you had, again, some outrageous slings and arrows thrown your way. People say, oh, he's a hairdresser; he must be gay.

GILLARD: Look, we did have ridiculous and painful, shocking things said about our relationship, including a very -- what came to be very well known interview that I did with a shock jock on Western Australian Radio.



GILLARD: Well --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's somebody saying, that's a myth.

GILLARD: -- well, that's absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but you hear it, he must be gay. He's a hairdresser.


GILLARD: I think the fact that I was the first woman to do the job, that our relationship is not the stereotypical marriage relationship, that it left it open to some of that sort of nastiness and unpleasant carry-on, really, quite vile carry-on.

You know, there's a set of issues here that it's hard for women to get the answer right in some ways if you don't have children, then apparently you're not familiar with everyday experiences. I had to put up with being chided for being deliberately barren, for example. If you do have children, then how can you possibly have the time to be in politics? Who's looking after the children?

So all of this is still representing some of the double standards that are around women in leadership.

AMANPOUR: Well, some of your supporters say why did you not back same-sex marriage? The Human Rights Council has just come out to say that certainly in the United States, 2013 has been the gayest year, 16 states approving gay marriage.

Why did you not support or not publicly back or back at all same-sex marriage?

GILLARD: I feel for me that this kind of debate about marriage and its status in our society, I feel like I kind of got into this debate at a different point. I remember being as a young woman at the university as a young feminist, if anybody had said to me then, you know, you shouldn't get married, very important for your relationship to be signified as a marriage, I would have said, no, there -- you know, people have got choices and there's lots of ways of being committed and lots of ways of having loving relationships that are rich and deep in meaning without having a traditional marriage as that term has come to be defined in our society. And I still feel like that now.

AMANPOUR: Except that was an option for you because you were straight.

Is there any circumstance under which you would support, back the idea of gay marriage, same-sex marriage?

GILLARD: I've made up my mind about my own personal position and I do think that it --

AMANPOUR: There's a political position, too.

GILLARD: Oh, well, I mean, for me, when I was in politics, yes, yes, it was, but I made sure that it was my position, that it was not my political party's position. So look, this is a debate with a big force for change now. I recognize that there was that big force for change. I recognize that I had perhaps an eccentric view in some ways. I'd reasoned my way to my position through my own life experiences. And I didn't want to impose it on anyone else. I think this will end up ultimately being a conscience vote across the Parliament. And it's only in those circumstances that there's any real prospect for change.


AMANPOUR: And we'll move on to other policies after we take a quick break.

As prime minister, Gillard pushed through a clean energy bill in the face of opposition from her own party. A new index by Climate Action Network Europe ranks Australia as one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. I'll ask her about the rap on the new Australian government, that it's anti-climate, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And now we continue my conversation with Australia's former prime minister, Julia Gillard, her first TV news interview since losing power. As prime minister, climate change was always near the top of her agenda and many, including Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, says that Gillard's carbon tax is the reason her party lost. Abbott and Gillard had a contentious relationship, as we've seen.

So I started our conversation about her policies by asking her to respond to some of the prime minister's recent comments about her tenure.


AMANPOUR: In a recent interview with an American journalist, he criticized your government and he said, "I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history."

How do you respond to that?

GILLARD: Well, it's not full of compliments, is it?

But I would have thought for people in the United States, who are reading their first interview from the new prime minister of Australia, they'd probably be interested in other things than what he thinks of the opposition.

AMANPOUR: The climate one is a big one, though, right? I mean, many people say that this election actually turned on the whole idea of a carbon tax.

Do you regret the term "carbon tax"? Do you regret -- what do you regret about how that sort of came back to haunt you?

GILLARD: I regret using or allowing to be used the term "carbon tax," but I, rather than play the semantic game of his emissions trading scheme with a fixed price, a carbon tax or isn't it a carbon tax, I wanted to get onto the substance of the policy.

But it did all end up being a semantic game. And that, I think, cost me politically.

AMANPOUR: Your successor, Tony Abbott, has in various speeches called climate change absolute nonsense.

What is going to happen in Australia? Because it is the most polluting country per head in the developed world.

GILLARD: The new prime minister, Mr. Abbott, is committed to repealing our carbon pricing mechanism. Now that is a political battle to still be fought out in our nation's Parliament for me, for Australia. I think that for our economy, which is so emissions intensive, that we have the most rational mechanism for change and the most rational mechanism is putting a price on carbon.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about some of the issues that -- the whole NSA issue, Edward Snowden, the leaks, has been a massive story, as you know. Australia is part of the Five Eyes group, the England language allies of the United States, where you have special accords.

How do you strike a balance? How does any leader strike a balance with the need to share intelligence, again, last month, your media, the Australian media, reported that your embassies in Asia, Australian embassies, were part of the U.S.-led electronic eavesdropping scheme.

GILLARD: I think these are very difficult issues for governments to get the right balance. And it's, you know, from the point of view of a population, also a difficult issue to get the right balance. On the one hand, Australians would rightly say to their government if there was a terrorist attack or something like that in Australia, why didn't you know? Why didn't you collect the intelligence? Why didn't you stop it? If we had something happen like happened in America at the Boston Marathon, people would be saying, well, why didn't you know?

Then on the other hand, people would say but, you know, I want my privacy and I don't want the sense that phones are being tapped. Well, you know, ultimately these two things don't add up. In order to collect intelligence, then there will be electronic surveillance. The judgments, the difficult judgments about where the outer limits of that are for democratic governments to make, do governments get it right all of the time? Well, obviously not; governments are made of human beings and so errors will be made.

But you need a system with sufficient checks and balances and oversight.

AMANPOUR: Do you think there are sufficient checks and balances and oversight in Australia?

GILLARD: I think we've overall got a good system of checks and balances. But given these revelations about President Yudhoyono, then obviously you would be looking again to make sure that the system is as robust as you would want it to be for the future.

AMANPOUR: What would you say is the biggest foreign policy that you enacted?

GILLARD: I think the single biggest change is getting an agreed regular leaders' level meeting with China, we are one of the few countries in the world that has a relationship at that level, which has that structure in the calendar every year. And we did that at the same time that we took a step forward in our alliance with the United States.

There's plenty of fashionable foreign policy dogma that, for us, there's a zero-sum game between the U.S. and China, someone's got to win and someone's got to lose. I proved as prime minister that you can win on both fronts and make this work.

AMANPOUR: Certain issues in Australia have been dealt with. For instance, some of these -- some of these really hot-button issues, like gun control.

In Australia, in 1996, obvious you well know this, you had a terrible massacre in Port Arthur and then there were policies enacted that restricted the use and the ability to possess guns. And it worked.

How long can a democratic society like the United States keep sort of holding back from sensible gun control laws?

GILLARD: Well, I would wish that we could see better laws in the United States. I think for Australia that Port Arthur massacre did bring change. I would pay tribute to Prime Minister John Howard's leadership at the time. He's not a member of my political party, but he showed extraordinary leadership at that point.

AMANPOUR: So what could the United States learn from that?

GILLARD: Well, I think it does take leadership, but there's a big difference between our two systems. We have compulsory voting in Australia. So it's not compulsory to actually mark your ballot paper in a valid way, but it is compulsory to go to a polling station on Polling Day and get your ballot paper.

You can write a rude word on it if you like and put it in the ballot box. But most people use the opportunity to actually record their vote. That means inevitably our politics is about the mainstream. And the mainstream wants practical, sensible things like gun controls that work and keep people safe.

AMANPOUR: Are you really never going to go back into politics? You said you've quit forever.


GILLARD: Really. I've quit forever.

AMANPOUR: Julia Gillard, thank you very much for joining me.

GILLARD: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Gillard's journey to prime minister actually began in the small town of Barrie in Wales. She was 4 when she left; her father went off to Australia in search of a better life and in the hope that the dry climate would help her bronchial pneumonia. Now experiences of hope and adversity from both migrants and the indigenous population have produced some great works of art in Australia and a new exhibit at London's Royal Academy attempts to showcase some of them, spanning 200 years of Australian art, bringing a few of the country's greatest treasures to the U.K. for the very first major survey in half a century. While the show is popular with the public, among critics, it's drawn more flak than fans with reviews ranging from "tepid" to "terrible."

But as always, the paintings themselves have the last word. And after a break, another thing that makes Australia different and it isn't just the (INAUDIBLE) surfing while the half goes snowboarding. As we heard, one person, one vote or else. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, politics, as we've seen in this program, can be a very dirty business. But in Australia, it isn't just the politicians who have to get their hands dirty. Imagine a world where voting isn't merely a rite and a privilege; it is the law. In many Western nations, voter turnout has been slipping. The U.S., for instance, has struggled to reach 60 percent for the past four decades.

Australia, on the other hand, claims one of the highest percentages of participation on the planet, with a voter turnout of over 90 percent in the last federal election. And they've been putting up those kinds of numbers since 1925. That's because as Julia Gillard reminded us, in Australia, it's illegal not to vote. In fact, Australia is one of 23 countries that makes voting compulsory.

Failure to cast a ballot can bring a fine and sometimes a date with a judge and we're not talking a kangaroo court.

Supporters like Gillard say the law makes the system more democratic and claims that it limits campaign financing since candidates don't have to spend as much to get the vote out. And as you heard Gillard tell us, it also makes policy more mainstream.

Still, critics argue that the right to vote also includes the right to stay home on Election Day, in Australia keeping your hands clean can cost you.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us as our website,, and you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.