Protests erupted in Australia when Gillard propsed a carbon tax
Protests erupted in Australia when Gillard propsed a carbon tax | Phillip Minnis, Shutterstock

Former Australian prime minister says Asia's rise is 'story of this century'

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke to a crowd of more than 4,000 at Richmond, Virginia's Altria Theater about political leadership in a "continuous, quarrelsome, difficult world," suggesting four strategic policy trends she says "will shape our age."

Gillard, who held Australia's top job from 2010 to 2013 and was the nation's first female prime minister, identified Asia's rise, new technology, security issues and climate change as the four items demanding world leaders' attention.

"There's no mathematical formula; there's no guide" for how to address these issues, she said. But solving them requires "deep thinking, hopefully nourished by democratic discourse, to enable good ideas to come forward."

Gillard said "Asia's rise is the story of this century." From a relatively small base, Asia's economies, particularly China's, are industrializing "at warp speed."

"China is a giant. It is a story that is repeated across my part of the world," she said, adding that there is upside to Asia's growth for nation's like Australia and the United States to serve those markets.

But Gillard warned that these rapid economic changes demand "the deepest possible engagement by the U.S. in our region."

On technology, Gillard said advances in computing power will necessarily bring "changes in our workforce."

"Jobs are going to be done by machine," she said, noting "the next wave will not be limited to repetitive tasks," but will include "repetitive analytical tasks," like financial services.

Not all jobs will be lost to automation. "The safest of all will be the creative tasks," Gillard said. "You need a human being to be creative," she said, and urged that education focus on how to promote creativity in the workforce.

On the back of these strategic shifts, Gillard pointed to the mass migration of people from war-torn and failed states in the Middle East and elsewhere as an immediate challenge to world security.

"The world is splintering into regions of order, and regions of disorder," Gillard said. "We have some hard new thinking and hard new choices ahead," she added, including on the fourth issue, climate change.

"We need to walk more lightly on this Earth we share."

Gillard also offered a bit of soft commentary on the U.S. presidential race, noting that it's also election season in Australia.

Gillard said it wasn't her "intention to talk about your [presidential] election, but Australians are following it, and are absolutely fascinated. Thank you for providing that kind of entertainment."

She also made a veiled reference to the allegations and lawsuits swirling around Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's citizenship and his legal right to seek the presidency.

"I was born in Wales, in the United Kingdom," Gillard said. "You might say it is possible to end up the national leader in Australian and not be born there. It's a system that saves a lot of time and a lot of debate."