Watch: Strong Female Lead Talk

On October 7, director of Strong Female Lead, Tosca Looby and author of The Stalking of Julia Gillard, Kerry-Anne Walsh joined Executive Officer of the Victorian Women’s Trust Mary Crooks and moderator Nyadol Nyuon to discuss the different forms of misogyny that Julia Gillard faced during her prime ministership, and the activism they pursued in the intervening years.

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Watch the video and read the transcript below:


NYADOL: Welcome.

My name is Nyadol and I will be moderating today’s session presented by the Victorian Women’s Trust which is following the experiences of Julia Gillard and as all of you know, this session is Strong Female Lead.

As always, we start with an acknowledgement of country. I want to do that. I want to acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which I am.I know we are all on different lands today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and.

For me personally, an acknowledgement of country is a time to pause and think about the unfinished business that this country still has to do in terms of reconciliation and building a national identity that is very much influenced by one of the oldest civilisation on earth.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

I’ll give you a bit of a background of what today’s session is going to look like before introducing the wonderful panellists. Of course as most of you will know, the purpose of this event is to discuss how different organisations and thinkers recognise the misogyny that Julia Gillard faced during her prime ministership and the activism they pursued in the intervening years and most recently the Strong Female Lead. 

Some of the discussions of course might bring up some issues. So if you’re watching  and you just feel as though it is bringing up any issues for you, please prioritise your health or chat to – make some comments in the comments section. The Victorian Trust staff will assist you.

Second, there is a silent auction. I’ll get to the exciting part in a bit. There is a silent auction as part of this event. We have three items to be auctioned. There are Carol Porter’s iconic ‘Don’t Get Mad, Get Elected’ posters and they’re all signed by Julia Gillard herself. The process of bidding, I will outline a little bit. You can email Lucy at That is at with the subject line Strong Female Lead with your bid in the body of the email.

Again, this is a silent auction, so please do not send your bid to the Zoom chat. The three highest bidders will be announced at the end of this session.

Now I have the great pleasure of introducing our panelists. We have Tosca Looby. Tosca is a factual series producer and director at Northern Pictures. She has been writing, directing and producing award-winning social and national history documentaries for 12 years across Europe, Asia and Australia. She is the director of Strong Female Lead.

The next panelist is Kerry-Anne Walsh and she is the author of The Stalking of Julia Gillard, a story of one of the most extraordinary episodes in recent Australian political history outlining how the media and Team Rudd brought down the Prime Minister. Kerry-Anne’s work has been shortlisted for the Indy Award and won the Australian Book Industry Award for Best General Non-Fiction Book in the year 2014.

Finally, we’ve got Mary Crooks, the executive director of Victorian Women’s Trust. After an extensive public policy career, Mary became the exec director in 1996. She was instrumental in designing and executing Credit Where Credit is Due, an initiative to recognise and celebrate the effort and achievements made by the minority government led by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first ever female Prime Minister.

Now I wanted to reflect a little bit before asking the panelists today some questions about what it means to almost be in a way an insider-outsider. I arrived in Australia in 2005 as a refugee to the Australian humanitarian intake. During my arrival it was the time of John Howard’s leadership. This is the outsider part that I was mentioning before.

The conversations around that time were about ‘Australian’, who is Australian and what is un-Australian. It did make me feel to some degree that I was an outsider that could not really ever become Australian. Then things changed with the election of Rudd, and then Julia Gillard came to power. I was quite hopeful for a few moments, a few weeks, a few months that perhaps the narrative of who can be Australian was changing. The election – when Julia Gillard became the Prime Minister, personally as a woman that also shifted another angle. I remember calling my sister so excited by the idea that Australia had their first female Prime Minister and what that meant for all little girls across the world. Not just Australia, across the world. Of course things seemed to go down really quickly from that.

Watching the horrible treatment that Julia Gillard received, the disrespect, particularly the disrespect that did not seem to take any account of the achievements and the woman that she was were quite frustrating to watch. But also really depressing in some forms.

Let me now move on to Kerry-Anne Walsh who resides in Canberra. She was a member of the press club for 25 years and left in 2010. I want to ask you to reflect a little bit on what you thought the media treatment of Julia Gillard was and whether you thought other people saw the different treatment that she was receiving at the time.

KERRY-ANNE: Initially the media had been very good. They had given her a honeymoon. They welcomed her. It was a bit of a novelty to have a female Prime Minister. But when she struck the deal with the Independents after 17 days of negotiation in 2010, bearing in mind these were rural independents, Tony Abbott and the Coalition expected that they would go with the Coalition. They had been members of the National Party in their previous careers before becoming independent. So her negotiating skills for a start were not recognised properly when she won a minority government with the support of these two who really had to stand up to a lot of rural constituents to make her Prime Minister.

That was the beginning of the pile-on. The Australian newspaper and other Murdoch publications also decided at that time that they would go for her because of the deal she had done on carbon pricing with the Greens. She flagged it right up. She said that she was going to pursue an emissions reduction strategy. The Australian in one of its first editorials said that they would pursue her and pursue the alliance with the Greens. The actual relationship with the press gallery was never particularly good, whereas with Kevin Rudd it was extraordinary. He had assiduously courted the press gallery whereas Julia Gillard preferred to get on with the job. There were a number of things that right from the get go you could see were not going to work in her favour.

NYADOL: I’m interested in pursuing that comment about courting the gallery because I think we have a perception that the media is somewhat independent in some ways and bring an objective perspective to policy discussions or even in individual politics.

Would that be a right assumption to make?

KERRY-ANNE:  No. I wish it was. It used to be but it…No, that is really, that is blackening every member of the gallery and I don’t mean to do that. There are some fine, independent, strong-minded, independent thinkers in the press gallery. I departed the press gallery at the end of – in 2009. I was disillusioned with the nature of political reporting. I found that the pack mentality was becoming more and more so. In many ways I could understand it that the number of jobs in traditional media were shrinking, people were fearful of their jobs. There were very few prepared to swim upstream.

It was much easier to run with the pack to take a collective view of what was happening for fear of stepping outside the boundaries of what your masters want. When you have a particular media entity that owns 60 to 70 per cent of the media outlets in this country and they’ve decided to take a particular stand against a government, it’s very hard for you to be a journalist within that organisation and take a different point of view. So there is that that was operating. 

But there was also the fact that a lot of journalists were very transactional. Kevin Rudd knew how to play transactional politics. He was exceptionally good at duchessing and exceptionally ‘feeding the chooks’ as Joh Bjelke-Petersen used to describe it. It was very difficult I think for a lot of journalists to think that – they just joined the pile-on basically rather than look at it through clear eyes and with independent thought. It was easier to join the pile-on because there is a natural progression to a lot of these sorts of leadership contests where if there’s one person who is determined to get a job, which is the job as leader, Prime Minister, whatever it is, that person will stop at nothing. There was also a degree of being spooked by the fact that what had – the night that Kevin Rudd had lost the prime ministership by almost overwhelming support of the caucus, nobody in the gallery knew anything about it. Because it wasn’t a staged media coup like Kevin was very good at. They didn’t want to be left-footed by this and they wanted to be prepared. They did play the game.

NYADOL: How does the game look different, the pack mentality, the context of the media space shrinking in terms of job availability. How do you think that pack mentality impacted Julia Gillard because she was the first female Prime Minister? Do you think the pack would have operated differently had it been a male Prime Minister in place?

KERRY-ANNE:  Number of strands to that, yes. From a number of quarters. In the press gallery – it wasn’t just the press gallery. It was the bunkers where the old cranky, mean-minded, shock jocks resided who were very intent on pulling her down. There was also people lurking around in the dark net or in the net rather that were very unhappy that we had a female Prime Minister. There were a number of forces at work. I don’t wish to be damning of all journalists because that certainly wasn’t the case. There are and remain very, very good journalists in the political space. But Julia Gillard did not play that game where she felt she needed to drop a story a day, needed to give schmooze-y interviews. She just wanted to get on with the job and that didn’t stand her well.

NYADOL: That’s a really interesting point to reflect on because Julia Gillard has now moved on but you see almost the same behaviour with the media that she is not as much doing what you see as Kevin Rudd and the most recent Prime Minister still doing, still wanting I suppose the limelight. It makes me wonder whether it’s a reflection of a personal character to just focus on the job instead of having the attendant bomb bassing and noise that can follow a lot of male-type leadership, the loud bursty opinions.

KERRY-ANNE:  There is a lot of fear involved. There are Prime Ministers –  oh gee today that just loves donning a high-vis vest, jumping into the carriage of a tractor, doing a stunt a day. It’s about media exposure and then dropping little messages and having the media pick them up. There’s not a lot of depth to a lot of this. I’m sorry to sound like such a downer. But you have to wait for more in-depth reporting to see what is really happening sometimes, because superficially on a daily basis because of the nature of the 24/7 beast, it’s very hard to step back and have a look at what’s going on.

NYADOL: Our final question before I move to Mary, are some of these issues that you discuss the reasons for writing or thinking about writing The Stalking of Julia Gillard? Why that title, The Stalking of Julia Gillard?

KERRY-ANNE:  Because I thought that’s what it was. She was being stalked by a number of forces, the media and Kevin Rudd and his team. They were absolutely zealous in their pursuit of returning him to the lodge. I didn’t actually start off writing about her. I started off writing about the first minority government in more than half a decade. It wasn’t long before I realised that that was not the story. The story was what was happening to her. This undercurrent of – it was a daily battle that was going on between his forces and the media people that wanted her out and her trying to get on with the job. When she left in 2013 she had – her minority government had pulled off more than 600 pieces of legislation. That is an extraordinary, outstanding achievement. Some of them weren’t tiny. They were very big pieces of – it was a reformist agenda. I was so pleased that Mary got her piece out in the newspapers which she’ll talk about. So pleased that Tosca did this because finally the negativity around her leadership, which is a complete disconnect from the way a lot of people see the way she led, is being revealed and is becoming part of history rather than something that a few – as I was dubbed a hysterical conspiracy theorist saw it at the time.

So hooray, excellent.

NYADOL:  I want to move on to Mary. Thank you so much for that. I could keep asking questions but we better move on. Mary, if I could ask about your collection at the time of the treatment of Julia Gillard and why did you write A Switch in Time and then create the advertisement Credit Where Credit is Due. I know it is delayed.

I think you are on mute.

KERRY-ANNE:  You’re muted Mary.

MARY:  Isn’t it always the way?

Similarly to Kerry’s experience, and it is interesting that we hadn’t met or set eyes on one another until in fact, 2013. But we were observing the same kind of atmospherics. It seems to me it was almost as though the day after Gillard became Prime Minister that those atmospherics changed. I started noticing that and short story, went to our board and said a dreadful thing is happening here in terms of having a first female Prime Minister in a century or so of politics. 

As a feminist organisation, are we prepared to get out there and call it in the public realm, or do we stand by and suck our teeth about it? The board was at one about this and effectively gave me a green light to research and write A Switch in Time. I think it’s interesting if I can just talk about this a little bit. Kerry has talked really eloquently here and at other times about this massive disconnect between the parliamentary and media connection and ordinary people on the ground that the media and parliamentary culture are so interested in one another and yet there are people on the ground who are witnessing that. When we published A Switch in Time in 2012 we were deluged with feedback, positive feedback from all around the country. Absolutely deluged by it. It was quite eye-opening. So much so that when the 2013 election was forthcoming and we, like Kerry, saw this quite extraordinary leadership despite the odds, the leadership being carried out by Gillard and the reform, that we decided at the trust that we wanted to somehow independently, without being party-aligned, which the Trust isn’t, we wanted to nonetheless celebrate her leadership going into the 2013 election. So I actually had five women donors join us and gave us $94,000 without any tax deductibility applying to carry out the one-page advertisement which would pay a toast to her leadership and supporting her and hoping she would win in her own right in the 2013 election. Then we started to see the Rudd forces circling like sharks. We thought we can’t just waste this kind of money. So we waited till the end of the parliamentary session in that year and as we all know, Rudd challenged her again and this time won the challenge. So we had already determined that if Rudd succeeded in deposing her, we would turn what was going to be our toast into a tribute to her leadership. So when we published Credit Where Credit is Due on 5 July 2013 we were blown away by the kind of public feedback that came into us from all around the country, weeks and weeks of it. It made me realise we had put a barometer out to where ordinary folk were. We had seen their reactions, which were very, very different from the reactions across not just the Murdoch press but the Fairfax press, the ABC, other commentators. It told us that there was actually a massive public support for Gillard. What a lot of people did back then was that, in Zoom lexicon, they muted themselves. They actually put their fingers in their ears and said out of distress and anger and powerlessness perceived powerlessness, they said I can’t stand this. I can’t stand it anymore and they retreated. They retreated.

I would like to come back to that Nyadol later because we can’t afford to retreat like that when women are attacked in public office.

NYADOL: Thank you Mary. I will come back to you on that. I think it might be good to hear a little bit from Tosca about developing Strong Female Lead. I’m really interested and I think some of the audience would be interested in understanding what was the motivation for doing the film. I’m aware watching it that a lot of it was from archives. Things that all happened. Why is it you chose that method as well?

TOSCA:  It is 100 percent archives. Every bit of that film is drawn from archives. So nothing is from – it was an important decision for us to say that this is not contemporaneous. We’re not using hindsight. We’re saying this is what happened at the time. We felt that is where the power would be, that it’s not about people looking back and saying yeah, actually now I reflect on it, I do think she was treated differently. We’re just showing how she was treated during that period. When you put all of that together, it’s obviously pretty shocking. That was a very early editorial decision that we made about the film. In terms of why we decided to make it, the editor, Rachel Grierson Johns and I kept swapping ideas of how we would do a film in this genre. As we kind of closed in on it, the film A Final Quarter came out, which is the film about the footballer Adam Goodes. It tracks the three years of his playing career and the racism that came at him in that three years. For us, that really provided a template to demonstrate to us and to broadcasters who obviously you need to rely on to get these projects funded that it could be done and that it could be powerful. People still said, I’m not sure you’ll have enough material. Well, we definitely had enough material. It was much longer, we’ve had to pull it down and down and down. There’s so many scenes in an original cut that we’ve taken out.

Sadly, there was an absolute surplus of archive material for us to use. Also just in terms of what Kerry-Anne was saying earlier, it was really interesting that we were looking at all the different media outlets in our grab for footage. It’s true that you could see one incident reported in many different ways. Whether it was ABC or SBS or one of the commercial channels, whether it was commercial radio. Really interesting to see that their reporting on the same incident was absolutely poles apart.

NYADOL:  Was there anything – I’m assuming before you did the film the reason you did the film was because you thought there was a story to be told and there is a story.

Was there anything surprising, shocking? Did you discover it was even more horrible than you thought it was? Or were you relieved?

TOSCA:  It was more horrible than I thought it would be. I guess we had so many people asking whether we would have enough footage that I had to wonder that too. As we started working through it, just the number of people who deserved to be in this film because of their sexism and their misogyny was pretty overwhelming. The things that were said and that no one responded to. The press gallery just seemed immune to and I think that was shocking. That it just seemed routine, it seemed this is how things are done and there’s nothing to see here, nothing to comment on. Yet, when we were looking at it in this context, it’s completely shocking and of course shocking now not only because it’s a decade on but also because we’ve put it all together. When you see it concentrated like that, it has its own power. It takes away all the noise that I guess arguably, to be kind, was distracting the press gallery.

NYADOL: We talked about the press gallery, but it’s also quite shocking and also noticeable that even almost eight years after Julia Gillard’s prime ministership that the book and the movie you have done, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information, films, stuff being produced about Australia’s first female Prime Minister. I’d like to ask all of you to reflect on that. Is it more the anti-Julia Gillard sentiment still pervasive? Is it just a commentary on the kind of society we still have that we don’t seem to give women credit where credit is due in the public space?

KERRY-ANNE:  If I could just jump in here and say that a director did buy the rights to my book almost immediately. When he prepared a synopsis – obviously the synopsis was in the book – but went around to a whole range of places including the ABC trying to sell the idea, the commercials in particular were saying you’ve got to be kidding. This woman is disliked. He was saying no she’s not. She most definitely is not. I had and my publisher had the most extraordinary reaction to the book, just like Mary. Ordinary folk. I was getting beautifully handwritten notes from elderly men and women in their 80s and 90s in this beautiful sloping handwriting saying thank you. Thank you, we knew something was wrong. From young women and from young men and from all across the spectrum. What the broadcasters and what the stations and what the media were not seeing was what was happening in Australia. That is a tragedy that there is just such an extraordinary inability for those who are telling us what we should be reading, seeing and listening to cannot see what people are actually feeling and wanting to read, see and listen to. I found that quite astonishing and that was 2014. Her sold-out book, when she wrote her own book, all across the country. I went up to the launch of her book in Sydney. You could not get near the place. She had fans lining the street. Hello, we’re not in a parallel universe. This was actually happening. The fact that eight years later Tosca comes out – I am sure she had an extraordinary reaction to her film too. But the powers that be are still trying to pretend it never happened. 

NYADOL: I think that connects really well to Mary’s point about the disconnect between parliament, media and ordinary folks. And also just what you were going to mention, sorry I jumped in Mary.

MARY:  I would love to follow that in terms of the time. When Gillard was deposed and the media did a whole lot of dissection of that, it was very commonplace for male and female journalists, women such as Janet Albrechtsen to dismiss the support of Gillard as coming from a few crusty old feminists. She never got it so wrong as did a lot of the media. All I want to say Nyadol is that in all of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters and cards and phone calls that we got to the ad that we published in the four mainstream papers, we had such a response from ordinary folk, we raised another $7,000 in little $200, $75, $50, $25, we raised another $7,000 and we had the ad translated into Greek and Italian and for Kevin Rudd, Mandarin and we published one-page ads in all of the major ethnic newspapers. But one of the things I went back to with the mountain – we still have the mountain of feedback in here. Something interested me and I went back and looked at it again. I discovered that of all of our feedback probably 36 to 38 per cent had come from men all around the country.

I could hide the headers and the footers to emails, for example, to hide the sex of the writer. I swear you would tear up at the profound sentiments. Take your hand away, it was Kevin from Broome, Rodney from Port Arlington, Garry from Brisbane. Our first cheque of $200 was from a 92-year-old World War II veteran. He said ‘thank you ladies’. I suppose my point as a feminist organisation that that public feedback didn’t tell us anything new but it was a powerful affirmation that there is a huge reservoir across Australian society of Australian men who also were very disturbed by what happened, who aren’t threatened by gender equality and who are hungry to stand beside women in the quest to become a more equal society. It’s been very important for us as an organisation to embrace that actively as a policy and activist agenda ever since then.

NYADOL:  We are running out of time. Thank you for that Mary. I want to follow up with some questions but I do notice we are out of time and there are some really good questions coming in for the panelists. I’m going to ask all of you for some general themes of all the work and the activism that you’ve done. What we can read into the future about what we think should be happening for more women to be in public and to serve in public.

MARY:  I’d love to have a small start to that. I know that we could talk a lot about this, but I just wanted to congratulate Tosca from our point of view. The public record is just such a precondition in my view for being able to achieve equality and what she’s done is a massive contribution to that in my view. I just want to quickly share with the audience that although I had researched this and was right across it, there were things that reminded me so powerfully. They made me so angry, my nostrils flaring at watching Tosca’s film. When Germane Greer said you have a big arse Julia, get on with it. The thing that was galling was, not just that she failed the acid test of feminist leadership, is that the men and women in the audience laughed with her. They thought it was a hell of a joke. That is a lesson. 

The other thing was the other Q and A segment where Lindsey Tanner, Labor politician and Christopher Pine Liberal politician had their own private conversation at the end of the bench in the panel while Kate Ellis spoke. That was another potent reminder of what women have been used to over centuries of being not heard by men. That’s another issue. The other thing is that the ABC I think needed reminding more recently that they actually produced At Home With Julia in 2011, which to use the word political satire loosely was an absolute disgrace and would not have been made about Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison or Kevin Rudd. It was an absolute disgrace. The first response publicly to that was very strong until people realised that it was over the top.

My final comment here is one of the most inspiring bits in the film in my view is Rob Oakeshott’s speech the day after Gillard is deposed. He himself was pilloried by his male peers and in the media not just for helping support the minority government but for taking so long to justify his reason. But that speech I think is brilliant because he says we are a great country in so many ways. So it wasn’t hubris. He was right. We are a great country in so many ways, but we have this ugly dark side to us. It wasn’t just the sexism and the misogyny around Gillard, it’s the violence and abuse that is perpetrated every day of the week against mainly women and children in this country of which this sexism and misogyny was a manifestation.

NYADOL:  Tosca?

TOSCA:  Rob Oakeshott of course wasn’t the only person who did make really great comments in Gillard’s defence during her time. I’m sorry that they can’t be in there. Mark Dreyfuss and Tony Windsor said great things. There are other really uplifting moments that didn’t make it into the film in terms of that. Of course this is not about a handful of men defending Gillard. Overall in Australia’s parliament today the same men who stood by and either created that sexism and misogyny or supported it are in power today. As far as I can see, until there is a clean sweep of those dinosaurs, what changes? Why change it?

NYADOL: When Mary was talking about some of the reflection, I also noticed watching the film I think Tony Abbott not even congratulating Julia Gillard when she got in but noting that Kevin Rudd had been removed and then congratulating Kevin when he came back. I thought that was quite interesting. Kerry-Anne, you get to have the last say.

KERRY-ANNE:  I’d like to finish on an optimistic note and say until the male patriarchy in parliament is challenged, things are going to stay the same. But that having been said, look around the country. Who’s driving the movements for true authentic, local, independent voices? It’s women. Thanks very much to Mary for her kitchen table models that she and the VWT pioneered a long time ago and introduced into Indy when Cathy McGowan was standing there. That is what drove Cathy getting in. That has been replicated across the country in these independence movements. You look at who’s running those movements, it’s women. You look at who they’re preselecting, it’s women. Bring on the Independents I reckon and just watch what’s going to happen if a lot of them get in and challenge the status quo. It is going to be phenomenal.

NYADOL:  Thank you all. Thank you so much. We’ve got only five more minutes left. I feel almost guilty not picking any questions from those attending but I have some thank yous to make and then we are going to announce the winner of the silent auction.

I don’t think we’ll have time to take any questions. I would like to thank all the panelists. I really enjoyed the sessions. I hope all of you who attended today enjoyed it.

I would like to thank the Victorian Women’s Trust for putting this together and all their staff who have been working on it. And of course I would like to thank all the audience for taking part in this program.

Hopefully next time or something similar like this is held we will be out of this COVID situation and we will do it in person. I do miss seeing people.

The winners are just coming up. That’s good. That gives us about three minutes before I get the names of the audience or perhaps – the names of the winners not the audience. Perhaps I’ll ask a question then. Tempt fate and tempt time and ask a question from the audience.

One question was what do we do with female enablers?

MARY:  What was the question?

NYADOL:  What do we do with female enablers? Females who participate in bashing women or not standing up for them. I think we have noticed that some people are more vocal after they left parliament about the issues in their political party when they were in parliament. So what do we do with women who are enablers?

KERRY-ANNE:  Mary, you take that.

MARY:  For a start, we don’t try to destroy them across social media. I guess my point would be not to worry so much about the female enablers but work with the enablers, the men and the women who can join together in respectful ways to achieve even more equality in this country. Work to our strengths and our best sides and don’t let those turkeys get you down. I think we’ve also seen – even last week there was a report by a female journalist in The Age who referred to Gladys Berejiklian by saying she showed occasional bouts of girlishness. You would not find that comment written about Scott Morrison showing occasional bouts of boyishness. That’s maybe a bridge too far for most people in the audience anyhow. I think we just keep working with the people who can increasingly commit to these broad social movements and social reform and not to worry too much about those who have been complicit.

NYADOL:  There are some wonderful comments coming through. Some feedback for the panellists. Thank you panelists, that was a very interesting and powerful discussion. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

Someone participating from New Zealand.

I have the names of the winners – I hope this is correct.

Poster No.1 bidder is Kylie Heine. Poster 2 is Gina Pederick and poster 3 is Christine Mathieson.

Someone will be in contact with you from the Victorian Women’s Trust to organise giving you your posters.

Congratulations everyone and thank you so much for having me. Thanks very much to the Victorian Women’s Trust and thank you again to the panelists for all your work but also for attending this session.

We have finished right in time.

EVERYONE: Thank you!

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