First lady joins PM on Afghanistan visit
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his wife, Therese Rein, visit Australian troops in Afghanistan.PT0M0S 620 349
It was clearly an emotional moment. ''I'm really, really proud to have been able to shake the hands of some of these amazing people,'' said Therese Rein, mingling with Australian soldiers at Tarin Kowt military base in southern Afghanistan's Oruzgan province at the weekend.
Her cheeks even had a sheen to them. Was it a first lady's tears or a matter of shine that a make-up artist could easily have fixed with a brush and a little powder?
If the Prime Minister's wife was emotional, others were puzzled that Ms Rein had joined her husband on the trip.
A day at the races: Tony Abbott and daughters. Photo: Helen Nezdropa
''I must admit, when I did see it I did think it was a bit odd,'' said Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association. ''I suppose it asks the question, why take her? What's the gain for the troops on the ground and what's the gain for the country? And what's the risk she was exposed to?''
The Prime Minister's office was hardly enlightening.
''She wanted to go and show support for the troops and the amazing work that they're doing there basically and just thank them,'' said Mr Rudd's director of communications, Fiona Sugden.
Kevin and Jessica Rudd arrive at the Midwinter Ball. Photo: Andrew Meares
Neither Ms Sugden nor a Department of Defence spokeswoman were forthcoming with information about any special arrangements for Ms Rein's safety. Security, secrecy, sensitivity and all of that, of course.
For many commentators, the fact that it appeared to be the first time a prime ministerial spouse had ever visited a war zone was the major point of interest. (It was later confirmed that John Gorton's wife Bettina visited Australian troops in 1968 during the war in Vietnam.)
''She probably helps humanise his visit,'' Mr James said.
Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein visit Australian troops in Afghanistan
The Prime Minister and his wife made a surprise three-hour pre-election visit to Australian troops serving in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, in southern Afghanistan. Photo: Gary Ramage/pool
Some on social media were quick with unkind comments on the day's fashion choices, using words including ''parachute'' and ''tent''. Ms Rein might have pointed out that a ride in a Hercules' belly, Afghan dust, 45 degree heat and a flak jacket hardly allow for sartorial splendour. Her husband, meanwhile, after five visits to the base, carries off Tarin Kowt style with flair: a crisp white shirt and khaki pants for the slightly bandied prime ministerial legs.
There'll be more of the same in the days ahead. Daughter Jessica Rudd has already staked her claim as cheerleader number one: there she was as her father's date at the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery's Midwinter Ball in June, wearing a fetching black off-one-shoulder frock. A little over a week later she was at Government House in Canberra for her father's swearing-in as PM, for the second time, this time with her cute-as-a-button baby Josephine for added photogenic punch. And who better to show off Australia's gift to the new royal baby (and publicly snub Julia Gillard's hand-knitted kangaroo) but Jessica and Josephine?
Barely a month after grandpa had moved back into the Lodge, they posed cutely with grandma Therese on the family's Brisbane veranda with a copy of Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes by Australian children's author Mem Fox.
Poor Tony Abbott: he must be wondering if his showman's luck will ever return. There he was in Longreach at the weekend, in a nice white cowboy hat, the ambitious oppositional backside planted firmly in a saddle on a white horse, upstaged again by his flak jacket-wearing rival.
Indeed, you could forgive Mr Abbott for playing mental dress-ups with his wife and daughters; for kicking himself that he didn't put Margie, Frances and Bridget on horses to ride with him in Longreach. His girls have, after all, refined the art of accessorising the Opposition Leader's visits to racetracks across the land.
Some spangles in a Dolly Parton-esque sort of a fashion, a cowgirl whoop or two, whips in their hands and the weekend's political games might have been far more interesting.
Clarification: The story has been amended to clarify that John Gorton's wife Bettina was the first prime minister's wife to visit a war zone with her husband.