There have been some great speeches by politicians over the years. It was before my time, but Chifley’s “light on the hill” speech at a 1949 Labor Conference in Sydney, is often cited. “We have a great objective”, Prime Minister Chifley declared, “the light on the hill, which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind [sic.] not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.” The Labor party has referenced this speech regularly in the ensuing decades.
So too, also before my time, but also regularly referenced in the decades that followed, was a 1941 speech by Prime Minister Menzies, identifying “the forgotten class — the middle class — those people who are constantly in danger of being ground between the upper and the nether millstones of the false war; the middle class who, properly regarded represent the backbone of this country.”
Alongside them, who could forget other Prime Ministerial offerings? One of huge significance was Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations: “we say, sorry; to the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry; and for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”
Another, also filled with rhetorical power and cultural significance, was Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech in 1997: “we committed the murders, we took the children from their mothers, we practised discrimination and exclusion; it was our ignorance and our prejudice.”
And, of course, there is Gough Whitlam, a master wordsmith, whose quick wit and rhetorical prowess was evident on the steps of Old Parliament House, immediately after the treachery of The Dismissal in November 1975; “well may we say God Save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General.”
All memorable speeches, on (mostly) memorable occasions, eliciting words which live on in Australian culture and memory. They point to the best in Australian society, the most worthy aspects of our developing national culture.
There have been other signal speeches with a very different perspective—speeches that I won’t quote from, such as Pauline Hanson’s 1996 inaugural speech making outrageously discriminatory racist claims; John Howard, opportunistically picking up and running with this xenophobic streak with his declaration, in 2001, that “we will decide who comes to this country”; and Fraser Anning’s terrible reference to “the final solution” in his 2018 speech. These speeches live on in infamy. They reflect the worst of who some of us are.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the most recent memorable, and utterly praiseworthy, speech by a federal political leader: a speech by Julia Gillard that has come to be known as the Misogyny Speech. This speech was delivered on 9 October 2012, with the penetrating declaration, “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not—not now, not ever ”, searing the air in the House of Representatives chamber, as Prime Minister Gillard spoke directly and forcefully to the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.
Katherine Murphy has written a fine analysis of the moment, and how the speech was a turning point in the cultural change that focussed the nation’s attention on male privilege, misogynistic practices, and sexist words and actions, especially in the federal political arena. From that speech to the Enough is Enough! rallies on 15 March 2020, a significant shift has taken place. There is momentum for deep-seated cultural change, despite the troglodyte resistance of the pathetic remnant of conservative members currently in the post-Morrison federal parliament.
The transcript of the speech, given by the Prime Minister without notes or briefing notes, can be read at
Julia Gillard’s potent impromptu speech is well worth reading once again on this anniversary—and worth remembering each day as a pointer to what is of fundamental importance in our society, if we really do want to commit to a fully equitable society. We remember this fine political speech, with gratitude. We anticipate ongoing cultural change, with hope. And so may it be.