Australia may have moved on from many traditions, but having a likeable wife still seems to be a winning formula.
Step up Bill Shorten, who appears to be married to the platonic ideal of a prime minister’s wife, and whose strategic appearances may help swing him the election.
Chloe Shorten has so far been used sparingly by the campaign, which seems to maximise her effect when she does take part. There is a tangible injection of excitement every time Ms Shorten joins her husband on the campaign trail. The cameras inevitably start flashing, and more passers-by stop for a sneaky look.
That happened when the couple met up for a visit to the Royal Easter Show on Saturday afternoon, strolling through a petting zoo where they met a trio of ducklings and cuddled a (human) baby. Ms Shorten fed a lamb a bottle of milk in an appearance that lasted no more than half an hour and created a definite buzz.
The next day, she joined her husband at a rally for Labor volunteers in the key Sydney electorate Reid. The pair got a standing ovation from the friendly crowd.
Of course, Labor campaign workers don’t need much encouragement to cheer their leader. But on the streets, voters who react with indifference to Mr Shorten’s presence tend to suddenly perk up when his wife is there too.
WHO IS HER FAMILY?
Ms Shorten comes from an established political family. She is the daughter of Dame Quentin Bryce, the nation’s first female governor-general and previous governor of Queensland. The GG caused a stir in 2013 when she made comments apparently backing same-sex marriage and a republic.
Ms Shorten’s father Michael Bryce is a luminary of the architecture and design world, who was the principal design adviser for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. He is patron of the Australian Institute of Architects, trustee of the Queensland Art Gallery, fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London and was a ministerial adviser on the Child Accident Prevention Foundation.
Chloe is one of five children, having a sister and three brothers.
WHAT’S HER PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
After high school, Ms Shorten worked as a journalist at the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, in communications for a software company and as a media consultant for Cement Australia.
She was head of corporate affairs and stakeholder relations at construction company Calibre before resigning to join Mr Shorten on the 2016 campaign trail. She has sat on various boards and became board director at Industry Fund Services in 2017.
Ms Shorten is an ambassador for Our Watch, a non-profit dedicated to preventing violence against women, and a strategic adviser for the Burnet Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program in Papua New Guinea.
She published her first book, Take Heart: A Story for Modern Stepfamilies, in 2017. Her second book, The Secret Ingredient: The Power of the Family Table, was published in 2018.
WHAT ABOUT THE ROMANCE?
The couple met in a professional setting in 2007.
At the time, Ms Shorten was still married to Brisbane architect Roger Parkin, with whom she has two children, Georgette and Rupert. Mr Shorten was married to Deborah Beale, former director of public affairs and government relations at Ernst & Young.
Ms Beale is the daughter of a wealthy Melbourne investor and former Liberal MP, and the pair were something of a political power couple themselves.
In November 2007, Mr Shorten was elected to the seat of Maribyrnong in Victoria, and he thanked his then-wife in his maiden speech in February 2008.
“The most important thing is family. Got to keep the wife happy,” one voter tells Shorten. “Happy wife, happy life,” he replies #auspol
— Sam Clench (@SamClench) April 11, 2019
“Above all others — and I can say this on Valentine’s Day — I thank my wife, Deb Beale, an endlessly intelligent, supportive and loving woman,” Mr Shorten said. “I knew this instantly from (our) first outing, when she agreed to visit a picket line with me.”
In August 2008, it was reported Mr Shorten had begun a relationship with the governor-general’s daughter. The future Ms Shorten moved to Melbourne and the couple were married in a low-key ceremony at their home in November 2009, with daughter Clementine arriving in January 2010.
Ms Shorten’s son, Rupert, 17, and daughter Georgette, 16, also spend most of their time living with the couple and nine-year-old Clemmie. Their devoted mother was open about her determination to get her “new marriage right” for her kids, telling The Australian Women’s Weekly she started by arranging fortnightly visits to a family counsellor.
“We put a lot of store in eating together whenever we can, even if sometimes we have to change hours or times for Bill, who often works at night,” she said. “So he will come home to have dinner and then go back out and work again after that.”
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Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I love you.
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I am very lucky to have these people in my life.
HOW WILL SHE HELP HER HUBBY?
Ms Shorten has often appeared on the campaign trail and at rallies with her adoring husband, who bought her a bunch of roses as she accompanied him around a shopping centre during the 2016 election. This time, the couple will be hoping to seal the deal.
While Labor remains comfortably ahead of the Coalition in the polls, voters have consistently expressed reservations about Mr Shorten as a leader. His intelligent, attractive and devoted wife is thought to be one of his greatest selling points.
She demonstrated her public relations nous in February, after a photo of a burn mark on her kitchen wall went viral, and she used it as an opportunity to speak out about child safety.
She even inspired a joke “Vote for Chloe Shorten’s husband” campaign in a February sketch for The Feed.
When cabinet minister Michaelia Cash threatened to reveal “rumours” involving Mr Shorten’s female staffers, his wife remained dignified. “I’ve heard so many things that I just don’t go there,” she said. “I don’t let myself go there, I don’t let the kids go there, and if they do, we handle it, we knock it on the head, and that’s it.”
Mr Shorten set the tone in his first tweet of the election, sharing a photo with his wife and saying having his “best friend” beside him on the campaign trail was “essential”.
Like any politician, Scott Morrison will also be attempting to improve his image with the help of his two daughters and wife Jenny — who made a pavlova for Prince Harry and Meghan on last year’s royal tour.
But judging from her popularity, Ms Shorten is the political wife to watch.