In which Joe Hockey loves it when you call him Big Poppa

At the HeraldPeter Hartcher looks at Joe Hockey’s probable rise to the Liberal leadership next week:

If Joe Hockey wants to be the next leader of the Liberal Party the job is his – for a price. It’s very expensive. He will spend this weekend agonising over whether he wants to pay it.

It has three instalments. First, he has to be prepared to sacrifice his family life. This is standard for any political leader, but Hockey’s circumstances are particularly delicate.

He has three children under the age of five, one of them a newborn. Xavier is 4, Adelaide 2, and the new arrival, Ignatius, is just five weeks old.

And Hockey’s wife, Melissa Babbage, is committed to a demanding job of her own. As the head of foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank in Sydney, she is responsible for an $800-million-a-year business.

It’s not an ideal moment to move to an all-consuming, travel-heavy, sleep-destroying job with towering expectations and minimal resources.

That this is a consideration at all for a male politician is a small but fairly significant step. In the old days, it would have been a no-brainer for Hockey to place his career over his family and take the top job. (Disregarding the other factors Hartcher mentions: that it would require sacrificing his support for an ETS, and place him in the leadership at a time he’s unlikely to succeed.) A man in Hockey’s position would once have assumed he could leave the child-raising to his wife, while he got on with the serious man-business of politics.

It’s to Hockey’s credit that he considers the business of raising his family to be, at least in part, his responsibility, and that he’s willing to share the burden of doing so with his partner, Melissa Babbage. The challenge women face of balancing a career and a family can’t be easy for Babbage, particularly considering the size of her career and the size and youth of her family. That challenge is eased if it’s a challenge that belongs to her husband as well. That Australia appears to accept this is a reasonable consideration for a prospective leader to make is an undoubted good thing.

Of course, I suspect Hockey would have an easier time deciding to go for the leadership than if the roles were reversed and Babbage was weighing whether to sacrifice her family life for her career, she would have a slightly tougher time convincing the public that this was OK. Though we should be, I’m not sure we would be as comfortable with a mother of young children tilting at the leadership as we are with a father in the same position.

Then again, perhaps not. In the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, Sarah Palin ran for Vice-President with five children, including a new-born. Despite all manner of other criticism directed at her, there was a little in the way of discussion as to whether it was appropriate for her to take on a position of such responsibility while acting as mother to a large family. And nor should there have been; as with Hockey, that was a decision for her and her partner.