No doubt we’re in for a raucous Question Time, but opposition leader Kevin Rudd appears to have weathered the storm over his wife Therese Rein’s business interests.
It looks as if Lady Luck has left the Prime Minister for the Labor leader; because a very big question over Rudd’s political judgement stemming from this affair just isn’t being asked.
On Friday Crikey wrote:
The Rudd-Rein business issue is not new at all. It had been identified before he challenged Kim Beazley as a sleeping dog that would wake up one day – and need tethering … Rudd failed to act an issue that should never have been available to use against him … Rudd should not only be embarrassed by the situation with his wife’s business, but because once again doubt has been raised about his judgement on how to manage political issues and his failure to seek advice – or, perhaps, his failure to act appropriately on the advice he has been given.
Why didn’t Rudd act earlier? There’s a nasty echo of the Victorian state election where the financial interests of Liberal leader Ted Baillieu became an issue. Baillieu didn’t bother to do anything about them because he knew he was on a hiding to nothing: he was never going to beat Steve Bracks. Have we only seen action now because Rudd believes he can win?
There’s an argument that Rein could have just told everyone – her husband included – to get lost. It’s her business. She should be free to run it accordingly. Apparent conflicts of interest can be — and are — managed. Think of that old perennial of Coalition ministers and MPs who continue to stay in the farming business.
Democrat Andrew Murray’s comments are worth noting: “I’m appalled at the precedent set here,” he says. “Right now women portfolioholders in all political parties in the federal parliament have husbands and partners with extensive business interests. The same goes for the male portfolioholders, in all political parties, whose wives and partners have businesses. In the recent past we’ve had Deputy Prime Ministers with farming businesses. These are not bad things, they are good things.
“The last thing we should discourage is politicians being connected into the business world,” says Murray. “Conflicts of interest can be managed. The important thing is that conflicts of interest are openly ethically and transparently managed under proper processes.”
Whatever the case, Rein’s decision to sell the Australian arm of her business shows why she’s been so successful.
Rein’s actions may well have ensured her job placement business’ future prosperity.
If Rein had continued her involvement and if Labor won the election, the business may have suffered. Instead of benefiting from “inside knowledge”, Rein may have found her business shut out by cautious public servants – state and federal – concerned about any perceptions of preferential treatment.
Rather than winning contracts, Rein may have found her business regularly coming in as the runner up.
Issues of interests remain for Rudd and Rein to navigate. For starters, they will have to be politically wary about how they invest the proceeds of the sale of Rein’s Australian business. The Register of Pecuniary Interests is always closely watched, even if MPs from both sides of the House can be tardy about updating it.
Politics drove the timing of Rudd’s and Rein’s decision, as it was probably always going to do.
The judgement question remains, but that’s probably just a matter for the wonks.
At the moment it appears as if this episode has only served to increase Rudd’s standing with voters.
There appears to have been sexism involved, a sense that if Rein were the candidate and Rudd the business owner there would not have been the same pressure to divest.
The episode has given Rudd and Rein enormous exposure. As the Sydney Morning Herald gushes today “Old journalistic hands say the Canberra press gallery has never before had the opportunity to grill the wife of a prime minister or opposition leader.”
The episode has done much to humanise and increase the recognition of a relatively new opposition leader. He has had the opportunity to display an enormous range of emotions – under pressure – to the voting public in the past few days.
The publicity has been priceless. It probably will be positive for Rudd.