Julia Gillard on the law, politics and changing the world
Rob Hulls speaks to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard about her early days as a law student, breaking the glass ceiling and how to use the law and politics to change the world.
JULIA GILLARD AND ROB HULLS INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
VISUAL: Former Prime Minsiter Julia Gillard and Centre for Innovative Justice Director Rob Hulls sit across from each other in a traditional interview setting. The camera cuts back and forth between them as each person speaks.
Rob Hulls: Well, students, it's a thrill for me to have as my very special guest Julia Gillard, former prime minister. It's great that you're here, Julia. Thanks for joining me.
Julia Gillard: Great to be here, [Hullsy 00:00:17].
Rob Hulls: You certainly have had an extraordinary career. It really started with you completing a bachelor of arts and law. Was it always a passion of yours as a young kid to be a lawyer?
Julia Gillard: I feel like, talking to law students, I should be answering yes to that question, but it wouldn't be anywhere near true. I spent most of my childhood thinking I'd like to be a teacher. I really did like school a lot, my teachers. I guess I was a good kid, and so I thought I'd like to be a teacher.
Julia Gillard: A friend's mother said to me, "You're in the debating society. You're good at logical argument. You should be a lawyer. You should thinking about being a lawyer." My dad, meanwhile, was really pressing me to choose medicine. I knew I wouldn't like that. Blood, guts, it's not for me. So, I settled on doing law, but I wanted to take a bet in case I didn't like it, so I put the arts degree with it, majoring in economics, thinking, "If I don't get into the law bit, then I could follow the economics bit." Once I got through the compulsory subjects at the start, which were pretty boringly taught, and got into some of the more interesting electives, I did like the study of law.
Rob Hulls: Do you reckon the law course you undertook prepared you for the real world of work out there?
Julia Gillard: No. I mean, I'm about 100 years old, so I was studying my law at Adelaide University and then at Melbourne University. My first year at university was 1979 or something disturbingly a long time ago, and finished it in the '80s. I took two years off entirely to be vice president and then national president of the Australian Union of Students.
Julia Gillard: The study of law back then was really big lectures, some tutorials, but a real focus on the big lectures, which you had to attend in person. There was no online. "Let's start in 1200 and something, and painstakingly work our way through, giving no more real emphasis to the modern law than to the old law." It really didn't equip you in a good way. What I did find helped was I went to Leo Cussen's. I did the legal workshop, and that brought it all down and made it more real.
Rob Hulls: When you were doing law, and still to a large degree now, it's largely a male-dominated profession. Not so much now, but it certainly would have been in those days. Did you come up against the glass ceiling as a young lawyer?
Julia Gillard: Yes, I did. In the firm I worked, for Slater & Gordon, a progressive firm, but it was still an all-male partnership when I was there. When I first started, it was a sole owner, Jonathan Rothfield. The firm had had some financial problems. He'd taken it over to steady the ship, and then the first partners were all men. There had only been one woman in Slater & Gordon's partnership history, and it was a very knock-about, boysy environment.
Julia Gillard: I didn't feel that particularly as an alienating environment. I'd been in student politics. That was pretty boysy and knock-about, too, but looking back on it now, I can see how it would have been very confronting for a number of women, and made it feel like it wasn't their place. There was certainly a culture, where you were an instructing solicitor working with barristers, that the female solicitors were much more viewed as the personal assistant, helpmate. You know, "Can you help get the coffee?" rather than the legal mind in partnership with the barrister. You didn't really see that happening.
Rob Hulls: Did you see law, and undertaking your law course, and then practising as a lawyer, did you see that as a natural progression into politics?
Julia Gillard: I didn't put it together that way, because of the eccentric way in which I ended up doing law. I didn't think about being in politics until I was post my student politics experience, but fortunately for me, they did come together, because at the end of the day, parliaments make laws. That doesn't mean that you can't come into parliament from every walk of life and bring your personal experiences and values, but it is helpful to get the basics of the system, a bill, amendments, how it's going to go through the parliament, and to have a familiarity with reading legal language and not being completely perplexed by that. The skills from law did come into their own then.
Rob Hulls: What do you reckon, easier to change the world as a lawyer or as a politician?
Julia Gillard: I would say as a politician. I think you can change the world from almost any position if you believe in something, you're passionate about it, you mobilise, you get others to join you. So you can change the world as a lawyer, but you'll never have more power in your hands and more ability to flip the levers of change then you will through politics. I'm a big believer in encouraging young people to think about politics as a career, men and women, Labour and Conservative. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. This is our nation. This is our world, and if it's not you who's going to step forward, then who is it going to be?
Rob Hulls: Okay, last question. We've got many, many students watching this. They're not sure where their legal career path is going to go. They're not even sure they've done the right thing in undertaking a law course. If you had one or two bits of advice for our students, what would those bits of advice be?
Julia Gillard: I think firstly, I'd be open to new opportunities. I think a lot of law students, and this is pushed on you in some ways, mechanically see, "I finish my law course. I get articles. I do a legal workshop. I burrow away in a firm. I'm an associate, then I get to be a partner." Life's mapped out. Some of the most interesting things that will come your way will be just from the periphery of your eyesight, something you wouldn't have thought about before, but it'll be a great opportunity. So don't get stuck in the rut.
Julia Gillard: Then the second thing, particularly in this pressurised world we live in now, I worked a million hours a week when I was a young lawyer. I just can't imagine what it's like now for young lawyers. Remember to take care of yourself, your personal health, your mental health. It might seem like it's do or die, and if you don't stay until midnight, the world's going to fall apart. But you know what, really? Mostly the sun comes up the next day if you go home at a decent hour, get to see your family and friends, treat yourself a bit more gently.
Rob Hulls: Great advice. Fantastic career, Julia. Congratulations on that, and thanks for joining me and giving some fantastic advice to our students.
Julia Gillard: Thank you.
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