June 24, 2022

Australia’s First Woman Prime Minister

Australia’s First Woman Prime Minister

June 24, 2010. After an internal party struggle, Labor politician Julia Gillard becomes the first woman to be Prime Minister of Australia.


Cold Open - Julia rebels in Home Economics

It’s fall 1976 in a high school home economics classroom in southern Australia.

A teenager, Julia Gillard, looks up from her sewing project and catches the eyes of a few of the other girls in class. Julia gives them a knowing smile. Because she and her friends are about to pull a prank.

Julie doesn’t think it’s fair that the girls at her high school are required to take home economics classes where they learn to sew, cook, and do laundry; while the boys get to take “shop”. Julia believes every student should get to choose which class they want, regardless of gender. And today, Julia and her classmates are about to make their feelings known.

Julia stops sewing, gets up, and heads across the room to a washing machine. She quickly fills it to the brim with dirty clothes from a nearby basket.

Then, Julia opens a cabinet above the washer and grabs a box of laundry detergent.

She glances back at her friends who giggle with delight. But Julia silences them with a finger to her lips. Finally, she glances at the teacher to make sure she isn’t watching and then pours in the entire box of detergent.

Julia starts the washing machine and quietly returns to her seat where she and her friends watch and wait.

Minutes later, torrents of bubbles pour out of the washer and onto the classroom floor. Julia and the others burst into laughter. The teacher rushes over and asks what’s going on, but they all play dumb. They all say they’re working on a sewing project, and they have no idea what went wrong.

While her teacher deals with the washing machine, Julia and her friends beam, triumphant. It’s just a simple prank. But she is deeply proud of this small act of rebellion.

As a teenager, Julia Gillard makes it a point to speak out for women’s equality. In addition to pulling pranks at school, she serves on the student government; a practice she continues when she goes off to college.

And Julia’s time as a student leader introduces her to the biases and discrimination women and other minority groups face in education. And then as Julia gets older and moves into the private sector, she continues to advocate for equal rights and equal representation for all Australians, regardless of race, creed, and gender.

But eventually, Julia will come to believe that if she wants to make a difference, she must enter the world of politics. In her mid-30s, Julia will leave her job, run for office, and start a political career that will make history when she becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Australia on June 24th, 2010.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is June 24th, 2010: “Australia’s First Woman Prime Minister”

Act One: Julia starts her political career

It’s September 1995 at the law offices of Slater and Gordon in Melbourne, Australia.

Julia Gillard places a few odds and ends from her desk into a box. As she packs up her office, she feels slightly queasy, because she knows she’s walking away from a lucrative career to follow a dream that might never come to fruition.

For the past several years, Julia has practiced industrial law, often fighting for the rights of workers. During that time, she’s seen that women and minority groups are often taken advantage of by employers, the government, and their own unions. Julia wants to do more to help, so she’s decided to run for federal office. And today is her last day at the law firm.

Before Julia heads out, she says goodbye to her co-workers. Some of them ask her if this is really what she wants. Several others suggest that she can keep her job while she mounts her political campaign. But Julia tells them that if she wants to be taken seriously in politics, she has to commit.

But Julia does feel nervous about her decision to leave her job. Still, she’s confident that it’s the right choice. Since her days in school, Julia has been a firm believer that Australia must do more when it comes to equality and education. Even while working as an attorney, she’s advocated for making higher learning more accessible to all Australians, and she’s been a vocal proponent for equal pay for women in the workplace.

After leaving the firm, Julia carries those principles into her political career. In late 1995, she becomes an Australian Labor Party candidate for senator from the state of Victoria.

And Julia enjoys the rigors of campaigning. She embraces the long days, and the occasional, sleepless nights. Julia’s father instilled a strong work ethic in her at an early age, and it’s stuck with her ever since. She puts in the time and effort because it gives her the chance to meet people, to listen to their concerns, and share her vision for Australia. For Julia, that vision always comes back to her core principles: equality and education.

But as Julia continues to campaign, she realizes that meeting with everyday people is the easy part; it’s dealing with her fellow party members that give her headaches. Julia finds the Australian Labor Party disorganized. She feels they lack a clear message and focus, and the majority of the Australian people agree.

In the March 1996 elections, the Labor Party suffers their worst vote since the 1930s. Julia isn’t spared. Just months after leaving her job to go into politics, she fails to win her election.

Now, Julia is faced with a major decision. She considers walking away from politics and returning to the legal field. But along with learning the merits of hard work from her father, Julia also learned the value of persistence. So, Julia doesn’t give up. She decides to learn from her failed election and to keep her political ambitions alive.

Soon, Julia secures a position as Chief of Staff for a Victoria politician, a position she will hold for two years. In this new role, she gets better at navigating internal party politics, and she makes strong connections with party leadership. She uses those lessons and connections to lay the groundwork for her next campaign.

In 1998, Julia runs for a seat in Australia's House of Representatives, but she shifts her strategy. Julia still speaks on equality and education, but this time, she also focuses on local issues. Julia talks to people about freeways, local wetlands, and fighting to keep toxic waste out of the community.

Julia’s tactics work. In October of 1998, at 37 years old, Julia becomes a member of Australia’s House. But Julia’s strong campaign doesn’t just win over the voters; it rallies the support of members of the Labor Party to her side too. 

As time marches on, Julie holds her seat in the House and moves up the party ranks. She works to create stronger unity between the factions and to clarify Labor’s goals for the voters. Julia thinks promoting a unified party with a clear message is the only way for Labor to make gains and to get a Labor Prime Minister elected.

And in 2006, Julia will see a clear opportunity for Labor to strike out against their opponents. She’ll form alliances, work nonstop to push her party’s platform, and she will help to restore Australian Labor to power for the first time in over a decade.

Act Two: Julia forms an alliance with Kevin Rudd

It’s fall 2006 and the Australian Parliament is about to perform a daily ritual known as “Question Time”; a chance for the opposition to hound the party in power, fire off tough questions, and present their own vision for the country. 

Julia Gillard sits in the audience and watches as Prime Minister John Howard takes his place at the front of the chamber. She’s eager for Question Time to start. Julia thinks that after 11 years as Prime Minister, John Howard’s power is waning. She’s worked hard to help the Australian Labor Party expose his weaknesses.

Julia currently serves as Labor’s Manager of Opposition Business. And one of her main duties is to put together a packet of questions for the Opposition Party Leader to ask the Prime Minister. Today, Julia has compiled questions that she thinks will hit the PM hard on the economy and demonstrate the positive change Labor has to offer.

But Julia’s excitement disappears when her party leader, Kim Beazley, takes the floor. To Julia, Kim seems unprepared and weak. He lets the Prime Minister off easy and doesn’t even ask obvious follow-up questions. At the end of Question Time, Julia is frustrated. Soon after, she decides Labor needs a change too; they need new blood at the top.

In her heart, Julia believes she’s the right person to lead her party and the country. But when Julia views the situation from a purely logical standpoint, she worries Australian voters will see her as too big of a change to accept.

Julia is a woman, she’s unmarried, and she’s been vocal about the fact that she’s an atheist. She worries that if she runs, she will lose and that the party in power will continue to do nothing on the economy, education, or human rights. Julia believes that for Labor to win, they need a candidate who’s like almost every other Prime Minister Australia has had; a white Christian man. And Julia has the perfect candidate in mind, Parliament Member Kevin Rudd.

Kevin is only a few years older than Julia, and together they represent the “next generation of Labor.” Julia thinks if she and Kevin form an alliance, they can win over enough of the factions within their party to supplant Kim Beazley as leader. Then, Kevin will run for Prime Minister, and if their party wins in the federal election, Julia will assume the role of Deputy Prime Minister.

Many in the media agree that Julia and Kevin make a perfect political pair. And when the two announce that they want to lead Labor into the next election, they’re heralded as a “Dream Team.” Before long, they get their chance to live up to their name. In December 2006, Kim is removed from his leadership position and Kevin takes control. Not long after, he and Julia start preparing for the upcoming 2007 election.

As always, Julia works tirelessly on the campaign trail. She travels the country, trying to secure every potential vote. And she’s ecstatic that Kevin does the same. At times, Julia is in awe of how much energy Kevin displays on the road.

Their hard work pays off. On December 3rd, 2007, after a hard-won election, Kevin is sworn in as Prime Minister, and Julia becomes the first woman ever to serve as Australia's Deputy Prime Minister. From the outside, it appears the “Dream Team” is a picture-perfect image of the future of Labor. The sheen will quickly wear off when Julia discovers that Kevin is a far better candidate than he is a Prime Minister.

Once Kevin is in power, Julia is shocked by his lack of leadership. The man who seemed so focused during the campaign now looks disorganized and overwhelmed. Julia watches him lash out at his staff, and raise tensions in every room he enters. Kevin treats suggestions from his own people like personal attacks. And Julia begins to wonder if she should have left Kim Beazley in charge.

As time marches on, the situation takes a turn for the worse. Kevin is an inept leader, but he also refuses to delegate. And as a result, nothing is getting done. Julia fears the Australian people won’t stand for it, and that in the next election, they’ll vote Labor out.

So in order to keep the party in power and to make good on their campaign promises, Julia will decide that she has to do something drastic. In 2010, Julia will challenge Kevin Rudd’s leadership. She will call for an Australian Labor Party vote, rally her supporters, and fight to become the next Prime Minister.

Act Three: Julia becomes Prime Minister

It’s June 23rd, 2010 in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office in Canberra, Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard steps into the office and finds Kevin sitting at his desk.

The former “Dream Team” has been at odds for months. Julia and many of her supporters believe Kevin is killing the Australian Labor Party. Julia thinks the only way to keep the party in power is to remove Kevin as party leader, and as Prime Minister, before the next election.

In their meeting, Julia tells Kevin to call a leadership vote. If she wins, she’ll take charge of the party and of Australia. Kevin knows he’s lost the faith of the party and the people. So Kevin agrees to call the vote, hoping to save face. On June 24th, 2010, Julia Gillard wins with overwhelming support. And as the new leader of the party in power, she is now the first woman Prime Minister of Australia.

But Julia has not been elected by the Australian people. She’s been put in place by her own party to run the government until a federal election is held two months later. The overnight change in leadership takes much of the country by surprise, but Julia is prepared for that.

On her first day as Prime Minister, Julia holds a press conference and lays out her plans for the future. She speaks to topics that have always been important to her: equality, education, and the economy; and she assures Australians that a steady hand is now leading the government.

And then in August of 2010, Julia wins in a federal election, narrowly holding her seat as Prime Minister. But almost immediately, Julia faces the type of misogyny she’s witnessed throughout her career. Members of the press and of the opposition party often attack Julia’s looks, and call into question why she’s unmarried and childless.

In October of 2012, Julia’s frustration boils over when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accuses her of being sexist against men. Speaking to Parliament, she gives a rebuttal, and what will become her most famous speech:

"JULIA: I say to the Leader of the Opposition, I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever."

But the true threat to Julia’s position comes from within her own party. On June 26th, 2013, backed by multiple factions within Labor, Kevin Rudd defeats Julia in a leadership vote and reclaims his position as Prime Minister.

In the aftermath of this defeat, Julia decides to step away from politics and work with nonprofits that support the causes that always drove her.

But though, Julia Gillard's time in office is shorter than she had hoped, Julia's work ethic and her commitment to unify her party helped break a long-standing barrier in her country when she became the first woman Prime Minister of Australia on June 24th, 2010.


Next on History Daily. June 27th, 1844. The self-styled prophet and founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, is murdered by an angry mob. 

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Mollie Baack.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Michael Federico.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.