Julia Gillard

On this date in 1961, Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Eileen Gillard, was born in Wales into a Baptist family, which migrated to Australia in 1965. Initially she wanted to be a teacher, but a friend's mother suggested a career in law since young Gillard already had excellent debating skills. (She is now considered one of the most skillful and articulate communicators in Australian politics.) Gillard studied art and law at the University of Adelaide, where she became active in politics. She transferred to the University of Melbourne and became president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in law in 1986, worked in Melbourne for a law firm and became its first female partner in 1990. Specializing in industrial law, Gillard fought to improve working conditions for women in clothing and textile industry sweatshops. In 1996, Gillard was appointed chief of staff for Victorian Opposition leader John Brumby and was herself elected to Federal Parliament in 1998. She entered Labor's Shadow Ministry in 2001, and became the Shadow Health Minister in 2003. Gillard was sworn in as Australia's first female Deputy Prime Minister in 2007, and simultaneously served as the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. Gillard ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for what she considered steering the government in the wrong direction, making her Australia's first female prime minister on June 24, 2010. She is additionally Australia's first unmarried prime minister, and the first foreign-born prime minister in almost a century. 

Gillard called herself a "non-practicing Baptist," on Dec. 26, 2009 (The Sydney Morning Herald, "Catholics divided in the House," by Jacqueline Maley). She told ABC Radio Melbourne's Jon Faine (June 29, 2010): "I grew up in the Christian church, a Christian background. I won prizes for catechism, for being able to remember Bible verses. I am steeped in that tradition, but I've made decisions in my adult life about my own views" and "I'm not going to pretend a faith I don't feel" (Telegraph UK, "Australian prime minister 'does not believe in God,'" by Bonnie Malkin, June 29, 2010). "I've never thought it was the right thing for me to go through religious rituals for the sake of appearance. . . . For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay them is to respect their genuinely-held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine." 

Faine: Do you believe in God?
Gillard: No, I don't, Jon, I'm not a religious person. I'm of course a great respecter of religious beliefs but they're not my beliefs.

—ABC Radio 774 Melbourne interview with Jon Faine, quoted by The Australian, "Julia Gillard risks Christian vote with doubts on God," by Matthew Franklin, June 30, 2010

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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