Order in the house
A demanding job as one of the country’s leading politicians, a family of five at home and a determination to reach gender equality. Is it any wonder Tanya Plibersek just wants a few minutes to enjoy a good book?
After 20 years as a Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek’s star continues to rise – Stellar pays her and her family a visit at home to talk sexism and work-life balance.
Tanya Plibersek admits she’s never more motivated to clean than just before guests are due to arrive. And on a recent Saturday at lunch hour, when the Stellar team rings the doorbell of her Sydney home, she all but proves it.
“To be really honest with you, I started madly tidying the house at 6.30am,” says the 48-year-old deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party.
Indeed, by the time Plibersek gets a chance to sit down for our talk, she has already completed a round of pancake making, a trip to the gym for a family boxing session, a visit to the shops for groceries and, on top of that, whipped up some Bircher muesli for the Stellar crew.
The fact that she has squeezed a rare photo shoot and interview into her limited time home from Canberra isn’t unheard of. She tries to set aside a few weekends a year in her schedule that are sacrosanct, but as she tells Stellar, “Sometimes they get chewed up as well… there’s not many when there’s not something on.”
Plibersek is used to the fast pace and full plate. She’s one of the most powerful women in the country, helping to helm the opposition in the lead-up to an election next year, while managing the high-profile education portfolio – and, at home, helping to raise daughter Anna, 17, and sons Joe, 13, and Louis, eight.
Plibersek sees more than a bit of herself in her daughter, who’s now undertaking the HSC. “[She’s] a bit of a perfectionist, a bit hard on herself, very self-motivated,” she says. “Yeah, I used to get up at 4.30am to study for a couple of hours before school.”
Not much appears to have changed. By the time she turned 14, Plibersek, who was raised in Sydney’s working-class south to Slovenian immigrant parents, was organising friends to go to peace rallies; a year later she had joined Labor.
Despite her early preoccupation with politics, her first choice of career was journalism. after being knocked back for an ABC cadetship, she took a research job in the domestic violence unit of the NSW Ministry for the Status and Advancement of Women. then, in 1998, she was elected to Federal Parliament with 15 other women including Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and Julie Bishop.two decades on, many of her alumni have been moved on, yet her seat in Sydney is still considered extremely safe.
“I really like [the juggle],” Plibersek says. “This morning I had a whole list of things that I needed to get done in a certain time period and I just see it as a challenge; I actually find it quite fun. If you’re organised and plan ahead, I think you can reduce the stress levels a little bit. I like the feeling of managing to get lots of things done.”
She credits her husband of 18 years, Michael Coutts-Trotter, for helping her to maintain the intense demands of her career and stay in touch with their family’s needs without worry.
“I could not do my job if Michael wasn’t so fantastic at being a parent and a partner,” she says. “I’m away a lot and I don’t feel like I need to tell him what to do for the children when I’m not there. He knows what he has to do. He well and truly does his share and does it without any resentment, which is really amazing. I don’t know if I’d be so great if he was away half the year doing his job. It means that I can go to work when I need to without guilt or worry about the kids.”
The couple met in 1991. On their first date, Coutts-trotter told his future wife that he’d spent three years in jail for dealing drugs, but was at that point on parole and off drugs. Plibersek has said she never doubted he was on the straight and narrow; today, Coutts-trotter is the director-general of the NSW Department of Family & Community Services.
At home, the pair is big on gender equality. “We share the work very equally and the kids see that,” Plibersek says.
TANYA WEARS Sportscraft jacket, shirt, and pants, as before; her own jewellery and watch (worn throughout)