The surprise inclusion of Janine Lacy, Latham’s first lady, in Labor’s policy launch has received serious media snaps. She performed well, spoke clearly and directly, much like her husband when he is at his best. Her involvement was calculated to familiarise the public with Latham the man, the father, the husband. At a time when the voting public is still relatively unfamiliar with Latham the would-be PM.
Janine Lacy’s debut on the political scene comes during a week when I (like all the other women of Wentworth) received a letter from Liberal candidate Malcolm Turnbull’s wife Lucy. In this letter, Lucy Turnbull tries very hard to paint a benevolent picture of her husband. In her eyes, Malcolm is a working class boy made good, a dedicated family man with a deep commitment to Australian public life. Not the arrogant and ambitious corporate smarm we all suppose him to be.
It seems that both sides of politics have always ‘used’ political spouses in this way. The first clear case of this in modern Australian politics was in the 1983 federal election, where Hazel Hawke and Tammy Fraser battled it out on the hustings with their husbands and got heavy media coverage for their pains. Hazel made the front pages when she wore a pair of ‘No Dam’ earrings, a fashionable statement about the Franklin River. Tammy made the mistake of saying she thought Bob Hawke was sexy. That couldn’t have helped Malcolm in the eyes of women voters.
The fact that political wives (and they still outnumber political husbands) are now generally more educated and more accomplished in their own right hasn’t changed things. They get more media spotlight in the campaign than those women who actively choose a political life, the ministers and shadows and backbenchers who also happen to be women.
Using Janine Lacy was a smart idea. Janette Howard has been used to maximum effect by the Prime Minister in his time. And some female faces in a campaign are better than none. But we will have achieved something when the woman who married the top man isn’t the only woman on the political podium, or the one who gets the most attention.
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