The private work choices behind a public marriage
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: behind every moderately successful man is an incredibly talented woman who has completely buggered her own professional life to accommodate her husband.
I’m thinking here of Therese Rein, who made a remarkable personal sacrifice to make way for her husband’s career, only to watch that career amount to pretty much nought in record time.
In that same space of time, Therese Rein went from being the owner of a highly successful and rapidly expanding employment business, to the former owner of a highly successful and rapidly expanding employment business. She offloaded her domestic interest in the recruitment and placement firm Ingeus because of the potential conflict it created for her husband’s career, and also because of the political embarrassment he suffered through the revelation that she had inadvertently underpaid 58 of her staff, who were employed on non-union contracts.
When that story broke in May 2007, six months before Kevin Rudd was comfortably elected Prime Minister, the then Opposition Leader spoke of his discomfort and distress at the fact that his wife could have to offload the company she built out of nothing to facilitate his political career.
“This is a tough call on a marriage,” Mr Rudd said.
“I love my wife dearly and she’s built this up from scratch and so, do you turn around and say, ‘Well, that’s the end of that sweetheart’?” Or do you do it differently. It’s a hard decision.
“We’ll be having further chats about all that. It’s a tough decision. We’ve chatted about this a lot over the time and when you look at complexities which arise such as we’ve been discussing here today, maybe it makes that discussion a little sharper.
“You have a bloke who’s put his hand up to become Prime Minister on one hand, married to a woman who for the past 20 years has built up a business in her own right… and what do you do about that? We’ll be returning to the subject I imagine.”
They did return to the subject. Within a few days, Therese Rein had decided to sell the business, pocketing $127 million in the process, not one cent of which should be begrudged as it was all the result of her enterprise and toil.
Fast forward three years and Therese Rein and Kevin Rudd suddenly have a lot of time on their hands.
Watching them together with their children at last Thursday’s excruciating final prime ministerial press conference, where the stunned Mr Rudd struggled even to speak, you couldn’t help but feel that Mr Rudd felt an acute sense of embarrassment at how quickly his grasp on power had evaporated after he seemed so unassailable through 2007 and beyond.
And on a personal level, the new professional arrangements which he and his wife reached together in 2007 must have contributed to that sense of embarrassment. It’s a factor which has gone largely unexplored in this past chaotic week in our political history.
When Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein were having the tough conversation he described in the quotes above, they would have done so with a few presumptions in mind.
The first of these would have been that the Howard Government was in serious trouble, probably irreversible trouble, and that there was every chance that Labor under Kevin Rudd could score such an emphatic victory at that year’s election that it could govern well into the future. That assessment would have seemed vindicated in November of that year, with Labor scoring a thumping primary vote in every state, with even John Howard losing his seat.
As a husband Kevin Rudd must have felt a sense of relief that his the decision his wife made, with his support, to sell her beloved business was the right one, as on any measure if he played his cards right he was looking at a probable two or three terms safely ensconced in The Lodge.
The idea that he’d get knocked off by his own party just two-and-a-half years into his first term would have seemed laughable. After all, this was Kevin07 we were talking about, Mr 70 Per Cent, an approval rating you’d need an oxygen tank to climb.
I’m not trying to suggest that Therese Rein would feel any anger or resentment at the fact that she had to relinquish her ownership of a business that had been her life. She probably feels the same sense of anger and resentment that her husband does at the actions of factional leaders in ousting her husband as PM. And she was the very picture of loyalty last week as she stood there with her husband conveying the same sense of bewilderment and grief at what had so suddenly occurred.
But it would weigh heavily on Kevin Rudd as a husband, if only because of the innate and hardwired sense of male pride that comes with the idea of being a breadwinner, not that this family needs too much in the way if bread given that Therese, as the true brains of the gang, had more than taken care of that with her business acumen.
Of course, the put-upon taxpaying public would also sniff disapprovingly at the fact that the former PM is entitled anyway to an annual pension worth $600,000 for the rest of his life, despite the vast wealth his family has accrued through his wife’s business.
The fact that this family was so well-off in the first place was always one of the things that puzzled me about Rudd’s political ambitions. Obviously public service is something which people regard as a calling. Many taxpayers might beg to differ but I doubt whether people go into politics because of some desire to cash in on the perks – especially in light of the strict changes John Howard made to the once-lavish superannuation scheme which Mark Latham had targeted as a rort ahead of the 2004 poll.
But from my way of looking at things, if I was married to someone who had built a business which was worth $170 million, and could accrue $127 million with its partial domestic sale, I wouldn’t be running for public office. I wouldn’t be running anywhere at all. I’d be at home on the couch with the world’s largest plasma television, and making a delicious dinner every night so I could just concentrate on staying married.
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NSW Nationals and independent Tony Windsor among many saddened by the passing of former state MP Gerry Peacocke. A great character.
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