In all my years, a Liberal politician has never voluntarily called me to talk about women’s business. They might phone to respond to a request for an interview or to berate me for not understanding their values. It gets particularly shouty around, for example, former Liberal staffer, now at Australian National University, Brittany Higgins. Apparently, I do not understand how much the Liberal Party merits the contribution of women.
So when Matt Kean, the NSW treasurer, called on the Sunday of a long weekend, my first response was bewilderment. I couldn’t recall writing anything about NSW politics in recent memory. But no, he wanted to talk about the childcare policy he planned to launch this week. He was astonishingly charming, knowledgeable, gregarious.
A few minutes in, I interrupted. How come you aren’t in the Labor Party? Aren’t you a “real teal”?
The Liberal Party, he replied, was all about creating opportunities. The new package of measures was designed to increase women’s economic participation. Not as good as free universal childcare, but quite good. Private childcare operators will be paid to expand or build new centres (uncoupling childcare from the private sector would be gold but a step too far for the Liberals). An extra 47,000 places across the state, particularly in childcare deserts (one spot for every seven kids). Employer financial support for workforce retention, university scholarships for early childhood teachers.
You know those politicians who use the expression “as a father” when describing their understanding of the complex idea of sexual assault? Let me double whammy here. As a mother, I found it near impossible to get the childcare I needed at a cost I could manage, more than 30 years ago. As a grandmother, it’s bloody lucky I no longer work full-time because even in the inner city, where supply is not terrible, it is not possible for my glorious grandsons to get the days they need. Witness the Grandy-Care army on the prams any workday.
So how did the NSW treasurer have his conscience raised?
Matt Kean is 40. Single for most of his life, with a successful career. “I had a series of relationships that didn’t work out for whatever reason.” There were also some hiccups along the way including a messy break-up in 2017, details of which became public.
Then five years ago, he ran into his first teenage love, Wendy Quinn. Now he’s the father of Tom, three next January. Classic late bloomer. Turns out lived experience is essential to understanding the challenges of family life and Kean is living that experience. It amuses me, in the two conversations we had over the weekend, he was at least as attentive to his partner’s messages as he was to me. “I’ll call you back. Wendy’s trying to get a hold of me.”