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Jacqueline Kent is… a writer of non-fiction and biography, fiction, general articles and literary journalism. Her working background includes radio interviewing, print journalism, radio and TV scriptwriting, editing books, ghostwriting, teaching editing and creative writing, and arts administration.
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Biography Newsletter

Biography Footnotes, no 4, 2009

Book Review: Jacqueline Kent, The Making of Julia Gillard, Penguin/Viking, 2009,

328pp, $32.95.

Many people want to know about Julia Gillard, undoubtedly the most powerful woman in Australian Federal politics today – what makes her tick and how she came to be such a star parliamentary performer.

The Making of Julia Gillard, gives us an insight into what has made this formidable politician. But we get very little about her personal life, how she operates and keeps up with her personal workload of three key portfolios, Industrial Relations, Education and Social Inclusion.

Kent writes that ‗only once did I feel I had slipped below the surface: when I asked her about her relationship with Bruce Wilson. She shrugged it off with, ―Oh well, these things happen‖. When I pushed a bit, quoting some of the more unpleasant tabloid headlines and saying, that must have impressed you, she flashed ―Not so much‖. And for a second I saw how that squalid scandal-mongering had hurt her‘.

[In1995, Gillard worked on a case for Bruce Wilson, the AWU secretary, in an intra- union dispute, and began an affair with him. After several months it was discovered that Wilson was defrauding the union. As soon as it was discovered, Gillard ended her relationship with Wilson. There were headlines such as ‗How Gillard‘s Ex Scammed‘ and Con Man Broke my Heart‘].

Julia Gillard has been considered to be very much in control in her relationships with men. ‗But that doesn‘t mean her heart is not engaged‘, Kent says. ‗Close friends knew how upset she was about what happened with Wilson. It hurt her a lot. She put a lot of trust in the guy‘.

Gillard came to Australia as a four-year-old with her parents, who came from Wales as Ten-Pound Poms‘. They settled in Adelaide where her parents were determined that their children would have the chance of an education, which they had not.

After Mitcham Primary and Unley High School, she started at Adelaide University in 1979. Soon she became involved in student politics and in 1982 became education vice- president of the Australian Union of Students. The AUS secretariat was in Melbourne, where she finished her arts-law degree at the University of Melbourne.

In 1987, leaving student politics behind her, Gillard got a job as a solicitor at Slater and Gordon. There she developed her capacity for work, being often in the office at six in the morning. She was soon moved into industrial law, in which she became a specialist. But she had never taken her eye off a political career, despite her success as a lawyer. For her ‗law was always an offshoot of politics rather than politics as an offshoot of law‘, says Andrew McKenzie, a former Gillard colleague.

Kent says that Julia Gillard is one of the most single-minded and determined realists in this or any other Australian Government‘. It was that determination and persistence that got her into politics. After finishing with the law, Gillard twice failed to gain Labor preselection for a Federal seat. She was thwarted in this by Kim Carr and Lindsay Tanner. Before she finally cracked it, she served as Chief of Staff in John Brumby‘s office when he was leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Parliament. There she gained a useful insight into politics, which helped her when she finally entered Parliament, as Member for Lalor, in October 1998.

Though at first people were slow to take to Gillard, she is now very popular with the public. From an early age, she made clear the domestic arts have no great appeal for her. And she has no children either. When Senator Bill Heffernan launched a personal attack on her saying that she was unfit for leadership because she was unmarried and childless, she won sympathy and support for her composure in handling an unprovoked political onslaught, which backfired. Heffernan was widely ridiculed and John Howard made him apologise.

Of course, she still attracts hostility in some quarters. That is inevitable for one who plays the political game for what it is and because she doesn‘t display the vulnerability expected from women politicians. She knows who she is and where she is going and the media know she is not about to let them run the agenda. She is adept at switching topics and not following interviewers‘ leads. She says what she wants to, and nothing more. She thinks quickly on her feet and never su

ccumbs under pressure.

Throughout her parliamentary career Gillard‘s advancement has been helped by Simon Crean and Mark Latham. After the 2001 election when Simon Crean became Leader of the Opposition, Gillard was promoted to the Front Bench as Immigration spokesperson.

With support from Simon Crean and Mark Latham, she went on to become shadow Health Minister. She was as close as anybody to Mark Latham when he decided to resign as Labor leader after the 2004 election. It was Latham who first put her forward as a possible Labor leader. She remained loyal to Crean and Latham by publicly defending them, despite criticism within the party.

In the lead up to the 2007 election, Gillard teamed up with Rudd and won. She had not been a Rudd supporter until she was nudged into it by Kim Carr. She and Rudd agreed to run on a joint ticket, with Rudd as leader and herself as deputy. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

On 3 December 2007, Julia Gillard, at the age of 46, was sworn in to be Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for Education and Minister for Social Inclusion. She and Kevin Rudd had worked out this particular range of responsibilities for her precisely because they were so compatible. With the exception of the Prime Ministership and Treasury, Gillard‘s portfolios were the most wide-ranging and influential in the Rudd Government.

As Minister for Industrial Relations and Education she has abolished Work Choices, replacing it with her Fair Work Bill, and introduced an educational revolution, which is still being played out over league tables. It is an argument she is determined to win.  A lawyer friend once said, ‗If ever I meet anyone tougher than Julia Gillard I‘ll fall over. There isn‘t anyone‘. That is what has made her such a star parliamentary performer. She is unflappable and articulate, knows what she wants to say and lets it go at that.

Kent gives lots of clues about Gillard in this book: how she relaxes, her relations with men, her reading habits. ‗I don‘t read seriously‘, she told Kent. ‗Mysteries, detective novels, stuff like that. One of our Commonwealth car drivers keeps me supplied‘. She told Kent that she was just too busy to get back to serious reading. But there is still a lot more to come out about Gillard than Kent has been able to reveal. She says that having this book written about her makes her feel ‘rather like a lab rat‘. However, she gives little away. Under that engaging manner is a reserved person, a woman who is very self-protected‘.

This is a competent biography as far as it goes. However, politics is a new field for Kent, who has won national awards for her earlier highly acclaimed, A Certain Style, Beatrice Davis, A Literary Life and An Exacting Heart: The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin. She has made a good fist of Julia Gillard, but I found her analysis of policy decisions, with which Gillard was associated, a little too detailed. A more general outline would have sufficed. In the recounting of them, I sometimes lost sight of Gillard. But overall, this is a well researched book that deserves to be read widely.

Kent‘s book is the first of two biographies of Gillard. The second, written by political journalist Christine Wallace, entitled Gillard, will be published next year by Allen & Unwin. That was straight forward enough until the recently appointed editor of The Monthly, Ben Naparstek, seeking to create some mischief, asked Christine Wallace to review Kent‘s book. If Wallace had had any sense she would have gracefully declined Naparstek‘s offer. But she went ahead and damned Kent‘s book with faint praise, making a fundamental mistake along the way by suggesting that the book was authorised by Gillard. It was not approved by Gillard, who agreed to interviews long after Kent began her research. Narparstek defended his choice of Wallace by declaring she was ‗the most qualified person in the country‘. Kent was outraged, as was her Penguin publisher Ben Ball. ‘I make mistakes, too,‘ said Kent, ‘but this one was a clear conflict of interest‘. It will be interesting to see who Naparstek gets to review Wallace‘s book.

by John Farquharson

* John is an ADB author and member of the ADB‘s Commonwealth Working Party. He worked previously as a political journalist and was a former deputy editor of the

Canberra Times. He is now a freelance writer.

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