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The Witch-


Sophie Kleiman

Orator of the Year


Witch is a powerful word. Images of ugly, old, wart-ridden women

brewing evil spring readily to mind. The word ‘witch’ came to

prominence early in JuliaGillard’s reign as Australia’s PrimeMinister,

when the leader of the opposition’s photograph was splashed across

the media in front of a placard reading “ditch the witch.” It was sexist,

rude and downright disrespectful, but little did we realize that it was

the beginning of something that soon became nothing less than a


I want to make it clear that I am not interested in whether you

support Liberal or Labor, or even if you agree with the policies under

her government. I don’t care if you think she was a good Prime

Minister or a terrible one. We are entitled to agree and disagree as

we see fit. That is not the point. The point is that Australia’s first

female Prime Minister was subject to unrelenting, unreasonable

demeaning treatment. Why? Largely because she was female and

the first.

From the moment she was sworn in as our first female Prime

Minister, Gillard was fair game it seemed, for Australia’s sexist

blokey, stereotyped attitudes. When she was deputy Prime Minister

it was okay. We could tolerate her. When she was photographed in

her kitchen with an empty fruit bowl and gleaming benches there

were tut-tuts, but we satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that

women of the modern era were entitled to be career women. Fast

forward to the prime ministership and it quickly became evident

Gillard was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. The most

scary part of the witch-hunt was that it was not simply orchestrated

by men; women also were ready to burn her at the stake for her


It is impossible within the scope of this speech to detail every slur.

But here are a selection: Criticism of her fashion sense and figure

that was demeaning to Gillard and the office of Prime Minister. The

cut of her jackets, the cut of her hair. When she visited Japan in the

wake of the tsunami she was told by Gai Waterhouse to “ smarten up

her appearance and pay a visit to the hairdresser.” Please correct me

if I’m wrong, but Gillard didn’t visit Japan as a contestant in a Miss

Universe pageant, but as a political leader visiting a country battered

by a natural disaster. Were the victims of the tsunami, whom she

met, judging her appearance or taking some consolation from her

interest and support?