GLENDA Warnock clutched the snapshot proudly, an image that marked what was to her one of the most important days for North East workers.
It was mid-winter, 2006, when more than 2000 people flooded Wodonga’s High Street and marched to Woodland Grove in protest of the Howard government’s WorkChoices laws.
Ms Warnock, a former disability worker, had found herself side-by-side with a certain flame-haired politician; the photograph of her and then-shadow minister Julia Gillard a memento of what she believes that rally achieved.
Last night, Ms Warnock was among the 400-plus sell-out crowd that filled The Cube in Wodonga to hear from the woman who would not only go on to play a lead role in repealing WorkChoices, but become Australia’s 27th prime minister.
“A lot of people benefited from that fight against WorkChoices,” Ms Warnock said, after managing to get her picture signed.
“She worked hard for us ... you could say I’m a fan.”
Strength in numbers was just one theme Ms Gillard touched on, in response to myriad questions.
“Voices at critical mass do make a difference,” she said, in reference to community campaigns.
“Democracy is about the voices of the many, so if you can marshall those voices then it does get down to the politicians.”
But, she added frankly, being heard did not always mean you would get your desired outcome — politicians have party policies to consider, after all.
And Ms Gillard, it became clear last night, is still very much a Labor woman.
Asked if she would consider returning to politics as an independent, the answer was a very quick and firm “No”.
“The nature of our democracy is once you’re done, you’re done,” she said.
The talk, organised by Dymocks Booksellers Albury, was part of Ms Gillard’s tour promoting her autobiography.
Among those in the audience were a who’s who of North East Labor including Benambra Labor candidate Jennifer Podesta.
She found herself at odds with the former PM when raising the issue of Labor’s cuts to Newstart for single parents — an issue Ms Podesta spoke passionately against as an independent in last year’s federal election.
Ms Gillard said it wasn’t the economic decision Ms Podesta believed, but a social one, to encourage parents to get back to work sooner instead of “setting themselves up on the path of never getting work again”.
“I’d be quite happy to debate her on that one,” Ms Podesta said wryly afterward.
Interestingly her question was on juggling one’s conscience with a party’s concrete policies, to which Ms Gillard again spoke of in defence of the strength of collectivism, this time in party politics.
Also present were Labor identity Zuvele Leschen, Wodonga councillor Eric Kerr, and Indigo deputy mayor Barbara Murdoch, who was delighted to learn she and Ms Gillard shared a common inspiration in former Victorian premier Joan Kirner.
Voices 4 Indi president Alana Johnson asked Ms Gillard what she thought of politicians’ behaviour in Parliament and politics generally.
“I’m not going to claim any special virtue and given the history, I can’t,” Ms Gillard said, “but Question Time is a place to have a red-hot go and if you’re passionate about your values you should go in hard.”
On tertiary education policy she said: “If you change education in a way that could impair people’s access, you’re toying with people’s lives and prospects.”