More Gillard please! An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton wasted its chance at greatness

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Hillary Clinton on stage in Melbourne last night. 


An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton had every chance to be amazing.

This one-night-only talk, hosted by the Growth Faculty, saw 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton being interviewed by the woman who was the first female prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard.

Here you have two such high-profile and influential womenin a room together – no longer constrained by the shackles of elections or need for public approval – discussing misogyny, China’s influence in Australia and Donald Trump. That is an event worth going to. 

Except maybe it wasn’t.

Tickets for last night’s event in Melbourne were priced from $200 to $500 but, to be honest, if this event was the two of them sitting down for a candid, genuine talk about the barrage of gendered attacks both suffered while in politics, then I would have paid triple. However that’s not what it was.

It was a largely scripted, clinical affair, without any of the raw honesty its advertising promised.

The evening almost felt like a very subdued campaign rally, just without anything for Ms Clinton to campaign for.

There were about 5000 people in the audience, and the vast majority appeared to be white women in their 30s. (Ms Clinton’s key demographic seems to remain constant even across the Pacific.)

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A choir sung, a campaign video was played, and Ms Clinton was introduced to thunderous applause. She began by speaking about her life straight after the 2016 elections, filled with mystery novels, grandchildren and Australian chardonnay.

Blatant audience pandering aside, Ms Clinton seemed relaxed and charismatic. There was nothing of the stilted, robotic persona that plagued her throughout her campaign.

Her speech lasted about 20 minutes and there was lots of the same old, same old: we need to come together, not move apart; people cared too much about my emails; Bill Clinton was a flirt in college; etc.

There were two points that seemed to resonate with the crowd. The first was Ms Clinton’s warning that fake news and international interference was going to come to Australian shores too.

“I would hope that Australia would stand up against efforts, under the radar as we say, to influence Australian politics and policy,” she said.

She called for Australia to stand up to China, and hoped that the US would be in a position to help resist their domination in the Pacific.

The second was a discussion on how women are still punished by the public for being in positions of power.

“For men, likeability and professional success go hand in hand,” Ms Clinton said. “But with women, it’s the exact opposite.”

She spoke about her approval ratings plummeting the moment she stepped out of a supporting role or secretary of state and “started advocating for [herself]” as a US presidential candidate.


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Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard  with Hillary Clinton last night.

These topics were discussed at length in the second, more disappointing section of the event – Ms Gillard’s interview.

I bought my ticket long before I knew she would even be in attendance, so I probably don’t have any right to be upset she didn’t speak more. 

But in truth Ms Gillard could have been anyone. She read three or four clearly prepared questions, which Ms Clinton had 10-minute long, well-formed answers to.

References to Ms Gillard’s own battles with sexsim were few and far between. She briefly touched on the media’s obsession with her looks and the chants “ditch the witch” that reverberated around Canberra during her years as prime minister, but that was far as her contribution went. She was very clearly “The Interviewer”.

More time was spent discussing Bill Clinton’s love of Arkansas than the two women relating and playing off each others shared experiences.

At the end of the day this was An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton and on that front it delivered. However, the organisers of this event had the chance to make it so much more, and I couldn’t help but feel like the evening had been a bit of a wasted opportunity, and a very expensive one at that.