Gladys Berejiklian – the First Woman Serving as a Prime Minister in the Oldest State of Australia
«I know that I am always supported by the Armenian community, know that they wish me success and that strength gives me an advantage, especially compared to other members of the Parliament who have no such a strength».
Gladys Berejiklian’s name became known among Armenians when the young woman started holding high-ranking positions in the government of New South Wales in Australia, and in January last year became the head of the state government. It’s worth mentioning that the states have complete autonomy in Australia.
Gladys Berejiklian got involved in politics from an early age and was actively engaged in the activities of different organizations. As a student, she became a member of the Liberal Party and in a couple of years was chosen as a president of Girl Guides movement (the third female president through the history of the movement).
Before becoming the Prime Minister of the oldest and the most densely-populated state of Australia, she acquired a great wealth of experience in Management and Politics. She was appointed the chief Treasurer of New South Wales (the first female treasurer in the history of New Wales who was controlling the state budget of 70 billion Australian dollars), the Minister for Industrial relations and the Minister for Transport.
Gladys’s friends mention that everything she has achieved is a result of her hard work. In her first speech as a Prime Minister, she declared: “The most important values on which my government will be based on are respect and hard work”. Her policy is aimed at three main objectives: improved infrastructure, housing affordability and strong economy. Gladys often talks about how proud she is that New South Wales’s economy is the most developed in the country.
The first female Treasurer and the first female Prime Minister of New South Wales was born in 1970 in Sydney, the eldest of three daughters born to Armenian immigrant parents who had migrated to Sydney in the 1960s.
«I was born in Sydney, but my parents were migrants, that’s why we were speaking Armenian at home. When I started going to school, I knew no English word, but my mother used to tell me: “Even if you don’t understand what the teacher is speaking, raise your hand”. That’s what was the motivation for me to move forward and to make progress throughout my life».
Her grandparents were orphaned in the Armenian Genocide and migrated to the Middle East. Gladys’s father – Grigor – moved to Australia from Jerusalem, mother – Arsha – moved there from Syria. They met and got married in Sydney. In the family (Gladys has two sisters – Rita and Mary) everybody was speaking Armenian, that’s why Gladys speaks it perfectly so far.
The surname Berejiklian – difficult for pronunciation – was always a matter of pride for Gladys: even though her friends and the representatives of her party often advise her to be simply Gladys, she refuses, noting that her surname awakens in her a sense of justice and reminds of her origin.
Gladys mentioned in one of her speeches, that as a person and as a prime minister, she owes much to her parents, who had a great influence on her.
«I haven’t talked about this much previously, but my father was a boilermaker, a welder, and one of the first jobs he did in Sydney was working on the Sydney Opera House, which is a great sense of pride for my family. My mum left school at 15 to help support her family, and became a nurse. And during her career as a nurse, I’ve watched her take care of those most vulnerable and those most in need. (…) And they made us believe that we could be anything we aspired to be. And that’s certainly what I bring to the job today. In our household, there was no room for complaining or making excuses. You just got on with the job and did it».
Gladys Berejiklian devoted her entire life to social-political activities, and was always joking about being married to work.
«If twenty years ago I was asked how I imagined my life, I would probably describe it differently, but I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had».
Gladys was always engaged in the life of the Armenian community of Australia and was a member of the Armenian National Committee, supporting the Armenian issue at different platforms. Thanks to her intensive political activities, in 1997 the Parliament of the state adopted a resolution recognizing and condemning the Armenian genocide. In a year, in 1998, a memorial in the form of khachqar was placed near the Parliament building.
As a supporter of liberal ideas and as a representative of the Armenian people, Gladys was always concerned about the problem of Artsakh. From various platforms, she raised the issue of the importance of the principle of self-determination and freedom of Artsakh people’s popular will. Thanks to it, in 2012 the state Parliament recognized the independence of Artsakh.
Gladys Berejiklian tries to serve as an example to others, lives a completely ordinary life and goes to work by public transport. This fragile, but at the same time strong woman is an example of a successful Armenian woman and influential representative of the Armenian diaspora, of whom we can be proud.
Translated by Manan Ajamyan