Sitting on the tarmac at Adelaide airport waiting for the plane's doors to close, I received a text message from a friend. The gist was that my friend was watching the news and couldn't believe this was happening again. I barely had enough time to read it before I was instructed to turn my phone off. I guessed the news to which she referred was probably about the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. I'd briefly caught up on the news while waiting for my flight and it seemed that the leadership rumblings were gathering steam.
The moment we landed and were given permission to turn phones back on, I dived for mine. My phone went crazy with messages about what was unfolding. My friends and I often talk politics and as a former union leader they often ask my opinion.
I couldn't contain myself and announced to fellow passengers that Australia had a new Prime Minister and his name was Kevin Rudd. Again.
I shook my head and worried about the off-handedness with which the office of Prime Minister was being treated by the ALP; surely changing leaders was the domain of the opposition party? What would the Australian public think about this attitude? Would we trust them to hold the high office again? I worried. Then I wondered about who would want to be leader in such a situation? Some would argue that it's a selfless and necessary act to take it on, but that's not my view. I'm watching a Shakespearean drama play out and believe that the fourth act will see Kevin Rudd sitting on the windswept opposition benches kept company by a few people who didn't resign and managed to hold their seats and some tumbleweeds. But he'll be leader. It feels like that's what it's all about.
When I arrived home and turned on the television I started to understand more about what had happened and where people had lined up. Bill Shorten had previously been one of the leaders to oust Rudd and replace a Prime Minister in his first term with Julia Gillard, the first woman to hold the office. He swore support for her right up until last night when he switched to back Rudd. I'd be nervous if he was backing me. Did he even stop to wipe the knife?
Labor leaders often seem to make their best speeches in defeat. Julia Gillard was magnificent last night. I tried to imagine how I would be feeling if I had gone through the same thing. It was hard to imagine such composure. The other thing that struck me about her speech was its lack of ego - service was truly at her heart.
The next day, today, former Prime Minister Gillard sat on the backbenches while colleagues sang her praises. It's a bizarre business, politics. Prime Minister Gillard was not a perfect leader. Well the news is that no one is! No one has been! No one is likely to be! Perfection is not required of our male leaders; they seem to be given space to err. The bar for a woman in the role was set to an unattainable height.
Echoing many of the sentiments on twitter, I now wait for the moment when Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott is asked about whether their wives are gay, thereby questioning their own sexuality as endured by Julia Gillard. I know that it won't happen. It's not really the point either, for if it did happen it would mean all respect had gone. I do like to cling to the thought that a new path has been cut and that our second female Prime Minister will not have quite as hard a time and she will have Julia Gillard to thank for that.