JULIA Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, has caused a furore after appearing in the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine, knitting a toy kangaroo for the British royal baby.
The photoshoot sees the prime minister in an armchair, surrounded by balls of wool, with her dog, Reuben, at her feet.
Opposition frontbench MP Christopher Pyne derided the image, and many Australian newspapers were quick to criticise, because Ms Gillard is a known republican.
“The Prime Minister has added to the general carnival atmosphere in this parliament with this photograph,” Mr Pyne said. “We know the prime minister is good at spinning a yarn and now we have the photographic proof of it.”
However, Ms Gillard defended the project yesterday, saying: “I just thought it would be cute. It was a cute project to work on.”
It has been revealed that the concept of a cosy PM knitting a toy kangaroo in the company of her pet dog came from the prime minister’s Scottish chief press officer, John McTernan.
After the magazine approached Ms Gillard’s office in April for an interview, Mr McTernan said the PM wanted to pose for shots as she knitted the toy for the baby of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“It was a no-brainer,” Mr McTernan told the magazine.
The photograph provides a dramatic contrast to Ms Gillard’s current political circumstances.
Following revelations this week that her party’s secret research tipped its massive loss in last September’s federal election, Ms Gillard faces renewed pressure on her leadership.
With only a few days left of parliamentary sitting time, senior Labour figures have been fighting over whether to support Ms Gillard as leader
or to back her long-term party foe, former prime minister Kevin Rudd.
A poll this week revealed that Labour’s electoral support under Ms Gillard’s leadership had once again fallen below 30 per cent – a figure that would leave the party with as few as 35 seats in the next national parliament.
Influential newspaper the Age, based in Melbourne, took the unusual step on Saturday of printing a front-page editorial calling for Ms Gillard to stand aside as Labour’s leader.
“The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labour Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate,” the editorial said.
As the knitting photo storm broke, Ms Gillard’s office complained to the magazine that they were promised front-cover treatment, with the long interview to include a wide-ranging platform for Ms Gillard’s views and achievements. Instead, they got just two pages inside.
In the interview, Ms Gillard said she has no regrets about calling the election so far in advance and believes Labour can still win, despite repeated polls showing the party is set for an historic defeat.
But fellow knitter Robin Hughes, at a seniors’ group in Blacktown, west Sydney, said yesterday that women were looking for more than a leader who could knit a jumper.
She said: “Women are more interested in someone that will help them with the families. We’ve got people living in streets and children living in cars. That’s what she should be looking at.”