May 282007

So, Kevin Rudd’s other half has acquiesced to the doubtless unspoken but none the less ardent demands of her husband. Or has she?

Therese Rein didn’t seem to take a whole lot of time in the decision-making process, but I suppose nearly thirty hours on planes coming back from the UK does give one a lot of time for thought. Clearly, she can see the light on her hill as being Australia’s number one lady of the moment should her hubby be successful later this year in ousting Howard from his Kirribilli mansion, and having the cleaners move into The Lodge for a good spruce up before she takes residence. There seems to be an enormous hooplah over this issue which really isn’t anyone’s business other than the woman herself. Her husband isn’t PM, and may not be PM despite all the opinion polls trumpeting his coming as Australia’s new political messiah.

Eighteen years she’d spent building up WorkDirections, and from scratch it seems. Yet the decision to sell took less than 48 hours? Granted, the company would be a nicely grossed up asset to realise upon, but as with most endeavours one builds from one’s own stress and strain, selling on a whim is probably the last consideration. Still, it’s her decision and hers alone, yet the entire feminine business class seems vowed and declared to pass judgement on whether Therese Rein should have deigned to accede to hubby’s needs.

Take, for example, ABC Radio National ’Breakfast’ this morning.

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein, announced that she will sell the Australian arm of her job placement business. The decision came after revelations, embarrassing for Labor, that her company had underpaid some workers. Therese Rein says she’s sad at having to sell her business. It wasn’t an easy decision, but she thinks it’s the right one.

Well was it the right decision? Should a wife have to sacrifice her business to protect her husband’s career ambitions, even when that spouse is a possible future prime minister? The conflict of dual careers is faced by many Australian families, although without quite the same publicity.

We were joined by our panel to discuss these issues.

Senator Amanda Vanstone has been one of the most high-profile female politicians in Australian politics. Most recently she has been the Minister for Immigration, and is to leave the Senate to become Australia’s next ambassador to Rome.

Former premier of Victoria Joan Kirner was minister for education when this dilemma first occurred for her. Her husband was a teacher, and an active teachers union member. Joan Kirner joins us from Melbourne.

Heather Ridout is the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, representing Australian manufacturing. A representative of business, she has long argued for employment arrangements that allow women to achieve their full potential in the workforce.

Amanda Vanstone – give me strength! The woman has been, by her own admission, a retailer, a picture frame and print salesperson, a wholesale cheese seller and a solicitor. No evidence of conflict between those occupations and her political career and as for husband Tony…..he’s a solicitor and director of a couple of piggery companies. So, yes indeed, she’s very qualified to speak. Not.

Joan Kirner – now here’s a woman who actually had some form of conflict between her career position and her husband’s at one time. The program preamble says just about all there is to say. Education minister in the Cain government of Victoria and her husband-teacher-union activist. I’d call ’conflict of interest’ there. So, did either surrender their positions? No and neither they should have. Personal choice holds priority in issues such as these, and I was so very pleased to hear Joan Kirner espouse exactly that as her position this morning. In addition, she is the only one of the three women who actually knows Therese Rein personally.

Heather Ridout – CEO of the Australian Industry Group. Judging by the results of an extensive Google, a very private individual. Also a woman who has vested interests constantly bordering on the politically conservative. Even on an issue such as this one, she couldn’t help herself this morning but slip in at least two snide barbs at what she perceives to be her ideological anti-thesis in the Labor movement. This woman seriously needs to enter politics and satisfy not only her own driving urges, but those of people like Andrew Bolt and his entourage. A bit hard to judge Mrs Ridout’s qualification to critique Therese Rein’s decision, but given the way she approached the subject this morning, I’d rule her out as an authority.

The program host, Fran Kelly, made a point of noting on yesterday’s Insiders as well as this mornings brekky panel gab-fest that she’d received a ’lot of mail’ castigating the Rein decision. Why should women have to, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Kelly herself seems to be in the staunch feminist camp in regard to damning the torpedos of the husband’s career. Unmarried? Unattached? It seems so judging by her bio on the ABC RN site, but that’s being a tad cavalier.

At the end of the day, reader, surely the decision to sell or not sell an asset, whether or not a conflict of interest exists or otherwise, belongs entirely to the individual who has to make it. This entire issue is one of perceptions, not conflicts. Perceptions are powerful things and can lose politicians elections. I would posit that Therese Rein opted to sell the Australian division of WorkDirections to nullify any adverse perceptions reflecting on hubby, not to negate any conflicts of interest.

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