On Tuesday, the 9th of October, Australia’s Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard, the first female Prime Minister and the first Female Leader of Australia’s ruling Labour Party, stood up in the house of representatives and blasted the Leader of Opposition into pieces by delivering an epic speech on Sexism and Misogyny in Australia and the Leader of Opposition’s double standards on the issue. The speech went viral on the social networking sites and Ms. Gillard was hailed as the first head of state anywhere in the world to have put the issue of gender sensitivity in a very clear perspective. Back here in India, I sat back and saw the way in which she launched the attack, awed by the content of her words and even more by her composure while delivering the speech.
It was in this context that I was overjoyed to receive an invitation from Youth Forum on Foreign Policy in my capacity at Youth Ki Awaaz to be a part of one of the very few people who would have a chance to interact with Ms. Gillard, when she visited India a week later. On 16th, I walked in the Australian High Commission in New Delhi to meet the woman who had overnight become an inspirational figure for countless women across the globe.
Here is the report on the interaction between the Australian Prime Minister and a group of young people representing various organizations and forums.
The Australian High Commission in New Delhi organized an interaction with the Australian Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012. The interaction was attended by various people representing a wide spectrum of youth leadership in the country. The interaction was moderated by well known Television Personality and the anchor of popular chat show ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, Mr. Karan Thapar.
Beginning the interaction, Ms. Gillard said that she was visiting India to inaugurate the Oz Festival, the biggest Australian Cultural Festival in India which will span for four months and would tour 18 cities. She said that the message of the festival was to show that face of contemporary Australia to the Indians and showcase her country’s diversity. She said that she was extremely proud of being the premier of a multicultural nation and that the immigrants from various parts of the world added to the “tapestry of modern Australia“. She also touched upon the issue of Racism in Australia, which had hogged headlines in the past two years due to the selected attacks on Indians in her country. She said that both Australia and India had a large population of the youth and that the future of engagement between these two countries was going to be defined by the young people of both the nations. She also said that youth in both the countries can contribute to the emerging world order as the economic interests of India and Australia will continue to converge in the future. She added that the ideas and opinions of the youth did make a difference to the leaders across the world. It was therefore necessary that groups of young people, apart from being organized and being visible, should also come up with practical suggestions that the leaders could implement.
On being asked about the strategic challenges facing the region, the Australian Prime Minister replied that both the country’s region was one with the most middle class consumers. She said that the leaders across the globe have begun realizing this fact as the global economic weight has been gradually shifting to Asia and Asia Pacific. She said that ultimately, all the countries in this region would be responsible for shaping the strategic reality of the region.
On the issue of the sale of Uranium to India, Ms. Gillard said that it would take time for both the countries to negotiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. She also added that her party’s decision to sell Uranium to India, reversing a 40 year old policy, was not based on any strategic calculations.
Replying to a query on how women in both the countries can be a part of mainstream political dialogue, Ms, Gillard replied that both the countries were at the midpoint of change in politics for women. She said that she was optimistic about this change and that she was sure that soon it would be routine for the people in both the countries to see half the parliament occupied by women members, the election of a female Prime Minister and the increased induction of women ministers in the cabinet. She expressed hope that soon both the countries would get to a stage where their political dialogues were gender blind.
Upon being asked about the United State’s increasing role in the region and the advantages and risks associated with it, the visiting Prime Minister replied Australia had a long term alliance with the United States. She said that the United States has been engaged in the region and that it was a “force of stability“. She added that her government was of the view that it was important for countries in the region to develop and nurture a relationship of peace and accumulate habits of cooperation.
Ms. Gillard was also asked about Australia’s relationship with China and how was her government looking forward to balance that relationship in the context of its relations with India, to which she replied that Australia had a strong and deep engagement with China. She said that her country wanted to see the rise of China optimistically and that relationship between different countries was not a blind sum game. She opined that China’s growth did not translate into the contraction of India’s market and that the region was emerging into the age where there will exist a dominance of multiple nations. She added that it was important for both India and China to build a mutually beneficial relationship for peaceful co-existence in the region.
On the issue of maritime security, Ms. Gillard repeated that it was important for countries across the region to foster a habit of cooperation and that issue regarding maritime security and conduct needed to be governed by the rule of the international law.
Answering a query on the Millennium Development Goals and their effectiveness and impact, Ms. Gillard said that the MDGs have been remarkable catalysers to world’s efforts in eradicating global poverty, lowering maternal mortality etc. She said that it was important for the nations to not lose hope after 2015 and push for achieving these goals even after their time frame has ended.
Concluding the session by elaborating on her relationship with Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Government of India, she said that it was not her mandate to lecture other countries on their domestic politics. She said that it was important that in order to maintain economic growth, a country also ushers in economic reforms. She added that it was a difficult task for politicians around the world to implement economic reforms and change the status quo.
Post Script: After the formal interaction, I had a chance to interact one on one with the premier where I briefed her about the work of Youth Ki Awaaz. She congratulated the entire team on their efforts saying that Youth Organizations like ours were needed in order to spread awareness and increase advocacy of critical issues. I also asked her about the efficacy of mechanisms which reserve a given number of seats for women in the country’s Parliament by referring to the practice in her own country, where, instead of bringing about a law to this effect, her party has been internally reserving 35% of “winnable seats” for the women candidates. She answered by saying that different countries had their own different way of functioning. Drawing my attention to Papua New Guinea where a vote to this effect had recently failed, she said that it was for the countries themselves to find out which way would work the best in increasing female participation in mainstream political discourse of their respective countries.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Anshul Kumar Pandey is the Editor at Large at Youth Ki Awaaz. He also blogs atÂ anshulkumarpandey.