A candid, revealing chat with Chloe Shorten. Family, life and Bill’s worst habit.

Leader of the Labor party Bill Shorten (right) and his wife Chloe pose for photographs at Parliament House in Canberra, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. The Labor party announced Bill Shorten as the newly elected leader. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Two weeks ago, the ALP posted a video of Bill Shorten being interviewed by his wife Chloe on their Facebook page.

That’s the video above.

Cynical media outlets described the interview as “bizarre” and “peculiar”. It’s unusual, for sure. Political spouses don’t usually interview their candidate partners and then post the video on social media, nationwide.

But the thing that you see more clearly than anything else in the video is the love and affection that Bill clearly has for his wife. The ALP posted it with the caption “#RelationshipGoals” with good reason. Bill tells Chloe that he wants to try and make her happy.

Perhaps the cynical response it garnered points to a knowledge gap in the electorate – we don’t often see the spouses of politicians in such an intimate way. Does the electorate need to get to know the people behind the politicians a little better?

In another video on the ALP’s Facebook page, Chloe Shorten is interviewed herself, by a staffer at Labor’s Campaign Headquarters in Melbourne.

She says, “when Mummy’s okay, the whole world’s okay,” a mantra she repeats often.

Chloe, who immediately scoffed at being addressed as ‘Ms Shorten’, tells Mamamia, “I use that as a sort of frame for just about everything I do in my life. Friendships, corporate roles. It’s a great way to look at life.”
And it’s also what prompts her to gravitate towards the mothers and the grandmothers that she says are some of her favourite people to spend time with on the campaign.

“I tend to gravitate towards comparing notes and getting good advice from the mums and grandmothers I’ve met.

“I had a lovely conversation with a woman I met in her eighties. She said to me she had just lost her granddaughter, an adult granddaughter who has suddenly died. She was so moving and she reminded me of that need to be conscious of how precious our families and our children are.

“It was really special.

“In Gladstone I met a group of indigenous mothers and grandmothers. The grandmas talking about their granddaughters, worried about them getting a good education and chance.

“It was such a reality check about how so many of us live with great opportunity. We need to make sure the access [that great opportunity] is extended to every single child.”

Chloe says meetings like that do two things. They reinforce her support of Bill, and they remind her how precious her family life is.

Chloe isn’t full time on the campaign trail with Bill. She drops in and out when she can find the time to take a break from managing the well being and busy schedules of three children.

Since the start of the campaign, Chloe says, “Bill’s maybe been home six nights.”
How is that working? “I have to admit that it’s probably working at about 60 percent. I’ve lowered the bar of expectations of managing my family world.” Which is more than fair enough, three children including Bill and Chloe’s five-year-old daughter, Clementine, a Federal Election campaign and a parent barely able to be at home, 60 per cent seems remarkable.

“I reflected on this recently with some women whose husbands were serving overseas. They have to deal with this stuff all the time. It’s a given for them.

“Sometimes we try to get the kids to come to things, but only the things they want to.”

Chloe says that Clementine misses Bill a lot, “She just wants to be sitting on his lap at every moment, getting his attention.

“I was like that as a kid. Not so public. But being around my parents meant being around them in their workplaces.”

Chloe is the daughter of Dame Quentin and Michael Bryce, the fourth of five children. While Michael was a highly accomplished architect, and graphic and industrial designer, Dame Quentin is the widely celebrated first female Governor-General of Australia.

Chloe grew up in Brisbane. In her early career she worked as a copy girl for the Sunday Mail newspaper, and then as a journalist and writer for ACP magazines, including Cleo. She spent time in the early 80s in Port Moresby.

She had two children in 2001 and 2002 with her first husband. She met Bill shortly after he was elected in 2007.

They married in 2009 and live in suburban Melbourne. By all accounts, they live a remarkably normal life. Bill drives the kids to soccer and ballet on the weekends. Chloe says Bill’s worst habit is that he’s always on the phone. She gives a derisive, “yep” as she describes it, but laughs at it too. She shares some intimate details of their lives together, but not much.

Bill’s favourite food is weetbix. They binge watch television shows together, when they get the time – something they haven’t had much of recently. There aren’t any podcasts, but right now there are shared books with kids – Chloe’s older daughter is reading I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and her son is reading the ‘Theodore Boon Kid Lawyer’ series by John Grisham.

Chloe has had a strong career in marketing and corporate affairs and has for her whole adult life, a strong focus on gender equality. She resigned earlier this year in order to focus on her family and on her campaign.

But with a background like hers, and the career that she’s had, you’d be forgiven for wondering if previously being the daughter of a Governor-General and now being publicly known as the wife of a man who wishes to be Prime Minister she’s struggling to carve out her own space separate to the prominent people in her life.

“Not really,” Chloe says.

“I think it’s given me an opportunity to experience things that have added to my core beliefs and my views of the world, and the passions that drive me.

“They’ve enhanced the opportunity for me to get to know people and participate in some of the discussions about things like equality and advocacy for women and girls.”

Chloe points to her recent meeting with Julia Gillard just a week or two ago. “She’s been such an advocate for women and girls and [meeting her has] been a wonderful opportunity to have.”

Chloe’s passion for gender equality is undeniable.

“I certainly think that gender equality relies on constant improvement in all sorts aspects of our social lives.

“I applaud Bill for calling out that the burden on child care falls on women. He was definitely saying that it shouldn’t be and that it’s unfair that it does.”

Chloe points to Bill’s personal commitment here, “We take turns in our relationship, speaking personally.”

As for what else we can do for gender equality?

“I think the targets the ALP have set [for women in parliament], I’m really proud of that. We set targets for financial goals. Why wouldn’t we set targets in politics?

“I get really concerned about the messages young girls get about who they are and what they should look like. We need to make sure our girls are not constantly bombarded.”

And, if Bill is elected, what then for Chloe?

You get the impression she has been concentrating more on the campaign, the lead up to Saturday rather than thinking about what might happen after that.

But she’s writing a book on Australian family life in the 21st century, an ongoing project for her.

As for Sunday morning, July 3? While we might wish Chloe a sleep in and a lazy Melbourne brunch, it sounds like family life will, as it ever does, plough relentlessly but joyfully on.

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