Daily Media Quotation
Public Life Takes A Heavy Toll On High-Profile Partnerships
February 22, 2007
by John Warhurst - Canberra Times
There are a number of high-profile couples like Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein in public life. If the definition of public life is politics itself then the obvious example is Bill and Hillary Clinton in the United States, former president and presidential candidate respectively.
Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Hughes-Turnbull, federal minister and former Sydney lord mayor respectively, and Carmel Tebbutt and Anthony Albanese, NSW minister and federal shadow minister respectively are Australian examples.
High-profile couples enjoy extensive advantages but suffer disadvantages too. They must live hectic lives full of stress and strain. Despite paid helpers, they live their lives in a way many people would regard as superhuman.
How do they do it? They are far from being ordinary people, and jointly are remarkably well remunerated. Public response to them can be a mixture of admiration, pity and envy at their hard work and their good fortune.
There have been some cases in Australia but often the two public lives have not overlapped. The Bjelke-Petersens, Queensland premier and Queensland senator respectively, were one rare example that did. Prime minister Joseph Lyons and Dame Enid Lyons were a different case because Enid only entered federal politics after the death of her husband.
A broader definition of public life, including business, the judiciary and the public service expands the list.
Other high-profile couples in the recent past have included Nick and Kathryn Greiner, NSW premier and Sydney city councillor respectively at different times; Michael and Linda Lavarch, federal and state minister respectively, also in different eras; Jeannette and Michael McHugh, federal minister and High Court judge respectively; and Ros Kelly, federal minister and her husband Dr David Morgan, senior public servant.
Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein still make an unusual couple in Australian public life, even given the above
examples. There has never been one quite like them.
Rein announced some time ago that she was cutting back her commitments prior to the election in order to support her husband.
This step recognises the fact that political life, especially campaigning, is a two-for-the-price-of-one type of life.
It is difficult to do it alone, without the active support of your partner if you are lucky enough to have one.
Many partners resist taking such a role, though, as an unwelcome intrusion into their own lives. But there is more to the Rudd and Rein partnership than this. It is for that reason that Rudd recently broached the arrangements that should surround their affairs should he be elected prime minister.
He suggested that he would clear the arrangements with senior public servants and the leader of the
Opposition at the time and that they would involve total transparency to avoid both the perception and the reality of conflict of interest.
Therese Rein owns and runs Ingeus, a very large company in the national and international employment
services field that, through a subsidiary WorkDirections, has extensive contracts with the Federal Government's Job Network program.
The business is very successful and evidently profitable. Last week's Bulletin magazine headlined its cover story about Therese Rein: "How John Howard helped make her a Millionaire".
Rudd and Rein demonstrate both the advantages and disadvantages of high-profile couples. The advantages include the individual and collective success of the two partners and the good publicity that naturally follows such attractive, successful people. Having a successful and popular partner is a plus in politics with most voters.
The disadvantages include the dilemmas that follow when the conflicting demands of the two professional careers clash through no fault of their own.
There are two broad responses to such dilemmas, based on quite different premises. The first response is that there is no problem here that transparency cannot resolve. The premise of this type of response is that the couple should be treated as two individuals. The junior or non-political partner should not be adversely affected at all. As the bulk of political partners so far are women, there is often an undeniable gender component underlying this type of response.
The second response is that the problems are more deep-seated. The premise is that even in modern society a couple's affairs may be intertwined in a way that can create a conflict of interest. Ingeus may have to be treated, because Rudd and Rein are married, as if Rudd himself owned the company.
After all he benefits financially from its success. Transparency alone would not be enough if it was Rudd himself not Rein who owned the company.
If Rudd becomes prime minister, he and his wife may have to go further than the sensible steps he has already announced. The perception as well as the reality of due process demands it.
Employment services is such an important public policy area that the prime minister must participate in decision-making about it. He cannot absent himself from relevant cabinet discussions like he has apparently been doing in Opposition. This means not just decisions about individual contracts, but decisions about the size and scope of the program itself, including whether or not the program should exist at all.
Unfortunately there may be considerable pain involved for the couple because, assuming Rudd would not stand aside as prime minister, Rein may have to make a very large personal sacrifice. Either the focus of her company may have to switch from dealing with the Federal Government (perhaps by selling that part of the business) or she herself may have to withdraw altogether from the company. That would be a sad outcome but one that may be necessary.
John Warhurst is Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts at the Australian National University.