By MIA FREEDMAN
One of the best things about having Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister again is that we get to reclaim Therese Rein as First Lady.
Because she is one excellent lady. Warm, kind, funny, smart and successful. An epic role model in her own right. And easily the most interesting, dynamic and inspiring first partner we’ve ever had.
So I had no problem seeing her next to Kevin Rudd yesterday when pictures emerged of their high security trip to visit troops in Afghanistan. In fact, it didn’t even register to me that it was unusual – let alone controversial – for Therese to accompany the PM until I started reading some of the outraged commentary, criticising her – and Kevin and professing shock that a Prime Minister’s spouse would visit troops.
How very dare she.
Having had the experience of meeting Therese Rein once myself, I think the soldiers who met her got very lucky. I bet they were beaming during and after. The First Lady is one of the warmest, kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. She radiates an extraordinary motherly vibe and who wouldn’t relish a bit of that when you’re far from home, desperately missing your family and doing an incredibly difficult, dangerous, frightening job.
Is there a downside here?
Apparently, there is. The negative media and political snark questioning Rein’s reason for being there was immediate (why does any political leader ever visit serving troops? As a moral booster! And a show of respect and appreciation on behalf of the country! Simple!). Her choice of outfit even came under fire. Yes, we’ve sunk that low already.
Today I see it’s gone further. In several newspapers, petty, mean-spirited commentary derides the prospect of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd’s families appearing on the campaign trail and being used to influence voters. Oh no! Because what if a vote is cast on the basis that Tony has three daughters he clearly adores or that Kevin is a proud new grandfather? Hold me.
Disclaimer: Jessica Rudd is my friend. We met three years ago, soon after her father was replaced as PM, when she wrote her first book, Campaign Ruby. I interviewed her on the floor of her hotel room (you can watch that interview here) and we hit it off immediately. She’s a lot like her mum; whip-smart, funny, natural and self-deprecating.
But I’m not writing this because of Jess. Or Therese. This is a bi-partisan post.
I think Margie Abbott looks like a pretty formidable, self-made woman too. And the three Abbott daughters look like great fun. It’s wonderfully apparent those girls they have a healthy influence on their dad and the way he sees the world and I’m frankly glad about that. I assume Jess has the same effect on Kevin Rudd.
As a devoted daughter myself, I know how important it is to set your Dad straight about things on occasion. Fathers listen to their daughters in a way they won’t listen to anyone else. Even their wives. We’re able to fly under their radars, circumvent their defences and tell it to them like it is, even when nobody else can. Politics aside, all adult children can be a big part of helping to evolve the social attitudes of their parents.
Every politician needs people around them they trust implicitly and who aren’t paid to piss in their pockets. I reckon that probably describes all the Abbott and Rudd women very accurately.
So what’s the problem here? The fact that politicians – particularly leaders – have strong, smart people in their family is a good thing, surely.
Politics is a lonely, demanding game. I’m glad they have loyal, independent support.
What I don’t understand is the desire to denigrate the families and partners of our politicians. To snipe and snark when they step in front of the media, smirk at their fashion choices, over-analyse the way they interact with one another and pounce on anything they say without acknowledging that they’re not the ones we’re electing. They’re the support crew and in most cases, they’re busy accomplished people in their own right.
Joe Hockey’s wife Melissa Babbage is another awesome woman. As is Malcolm Turnbull’s wife Lucy and his daughter Daisy. Kate Ellis’ husband David Penberthy is another impressive political spouse with stellar accomplishments of his own. The higher you rise in politics, the more demand there is for your family to appear alongside you.
Some of us are curious about our politicians. We like them to be humanised. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And the fact that Therese Rein took time away from her own demanding business, her children and granddaughter and the unpaid responsibilities of being First Lady to go visit our troops in Afghanistan?
Well, I think the word we’re looking for is thank you.