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Chris Uhlmann and Gai Brodtmann a very Canberra couple

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Gai Brodtmann and Chris Uhlmann take political conflict in their stride.

Powering down: Federal Labor MP Gai Brodtmann and her husband, broadcaster Chris Uhlmann, inside their Yarralumla home.

Powering down: Federal Labor MP Gai Brodtmann and her husband, broadcaster Chris Uhlmann, inside their Yarralumla home. Photo: Graham Tidy

Gai Brodtmann and Chris Uhlmann have always been one of Canberra's most intriguing couples. Not just because of their jobs (she is a federal politician, he a nationally recognised journalist charged with keeping those politicians in check). Not just because of their politics (she in the right faction of Labor, he is somewhat ''more conservative''. Uhlmann, a former trainee priest, once stood on the ticket of conservative Christian independent Paul Osborne in the ACT Legislative Assembly election of 1998 and later worked as his senior adviser.

And not just because of the way they must balance their personal and professional lives (he never attends Labor functions with her; she says there is a clear line she won't overstep in what work matters are discussed at home). But they are also fascinating because they seem to be still so in love after nearly 23 years together.

When Uhlmann was earlier this year approached to host ABC Radio's venerable current affairs program AM, he told his management he could not be considered a candidate if it meant moving to Sydney from the national capital, where Brodtmann is ensconced as the Member for Canberra.

Same road, different lanes: On their wedding day in 1997.

Same road, different lanes: On their wedding day in 1997. Photo: Supplied

He told The Canberra Times then that he and his wife were close and he did not want to be away from her. It was an extraordinarily heartfelt declaration in what is often a cynical industry. And the ABC ended up accommodating Uhlmann, letting him broadcast from a studio at Parliament House in Canberra while the production team remained in Sydney.

Each say they are the other's best friend.

''She's simply the best person I've ever met,'' Uhlmann, who turns 54 on Tuesday, says. ''And early on, the thing I adored about her was her joy for life. She has this extraordinary verve about her.''

Brodtmann, 50, a former public servant and communications specialist, is as effusive. ''I think the thing I love about Chris is that he's a really decent human being. He's got a very strong moral compass and a very strong sense of social justice. I think he's incredibly wise because of that time he spent in the seminary. He's incredibly smart, he's very funny - he has my family in stitches most of the time. He's a hopeless romantic and he's just a good man. He's a feminist.''

The open fire is warming the couple's elegant Yarralumla home as they sit together on the couch, agreeing to their first joint interview about their relationship, how it works, their careers and their acceptance that they are never going to have children despite a decade of trying to conceive.

But suggest that they might be one of the national capital's power couples and they just laugh.

''Hardly!'' Brodtmann says. ''I just find that hilarious. And so do our family and friends, especially our old friends who have known us for a very, very long time and know what dags we are.''

Uhlmann adds: ''I never, ever think about it in those terms.''

He says: ''We've been blessed with the jobs we're in. It's been good luck as much as good management.''

''For you!'' Brodtmann counters. ''But we do it because Chris has a strong interest in journalism and I have a strong interest in improving the lives of Canberrans and shaping public policy. It's not for the glory or for being in the limelight.''

The couple can live with each other's differing political views without taking it personally.

Forget who puts out the garbage - a long-running bone of contention is the proposal to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, probably something only a Canberra couple could really ever argue over. Brodtmann is for retaining the section that makes it unlawful for someone to act in a way that could offend someone based on their race or ethnicity (''I think we need to ensure those protections are in place''). Uhlmann thinks the section should be dumped (''It's an insidious, creeping assault on free speech. Unfortunately, the people doing the job of advocating the rollback are doing such a shocking job, it's unlikely to happen.'')

The tension between their professional lives - and the inference each might benefit from pillow talk - has been there from the start.

They met at a press conference at the ACT Legislative Assembly in September 1991, when Uhlmann was the assembly reporter for The Canberra Times and Brodtmann was on her very first day as a media adviser to chief minister Rosemary Follett.

''I remember vividly she came through the door and she was gorgeous,'' Uhlmann recalls. ''Certainly I started spending a lot more time up at the chief minister's office than I had at that stage. Rosemary Follett never liked me, so I didn't go up there very often [before].''

Uhlmann and Brodtmann started going out in early 1992, an election year, and cleared the relationship with their superiors - Uhlmann with editor Jack Waterford and Brodtmann with local ALP secretary Ian Henderson.

''We've been acutely conscious of the perceived conflict of interest from day one, and so that's how it's continued,'' Brodtmann says. ''We don't do much together. There's clear delineation in what we do, and he's never involved in any campaigning, of course. And no ALP functions and not many other functions, either. I do most of it on my own.''

Uhlmann has earned a reputation as a forensic, doesn't-suffer-fools kind of interviewer, not only at AM but on 7.30, where he was the host and political editor, and as the breakfast co-host on 666 ABC Canberra. He says he sometimes has to take the hard line when politicians, particularly, repeat rote lines or try to talk down the clock.

''If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Labor supporter, there is nothing I can say to Tony Abbott which would be going hard enough. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Coalition supporter, there is nothing I can do to the Labor Party that is going hard enough. So, in the end, my attitude has always been trying to argue things on their merits and take the opposite view of whomever I am talking to and trying to see what the logical holes are in their argument. Sometimes I've been too aggressive, sometimes I've been too soft.''

There have been whispers Brodtmann missed out on a parliamentary secretary's job when Labor was in power because of the perception Ulhmann is biased towards the Coalition. She dismisses the talk and says their marriage has not hindered her career.

''In terms of my colleagues, it's not an issue,'' she says. ''They understand he had a role to perform, I have a role to perform. They joke about the fact they probably see more of him that I do. But that's about the extent of it.''

Uhlmann says he does not get any Labor scoops from his wife, who was elected in 2010 after sensationally being preselected for Canberra, beating the Right's preferred candidate in what was seen as a blow to the Labor factions.

''When she first got in, I said something like, 'What time is caucus on tomorrow?' And she said, 'I'm not going to tell you.' And I said, 'It's not a state secret.' She said, 'I'm not going to tell you.' I said, 'I can find out in 30 seconds from somebody else.' So I stood there in front of her and texted someone, 'What time is caucus on tomorrow?' And came back to her, 'It's 10'. And she said, 'You didn't hear that from me'.''

Uhlmann says he stood for the Osborne Independent Group at the 1998 ACT election, mostly because of its strong stance on law and order issues. (''Every single decision that was being made in the ACT was so soft and wet compared to other jurisdictions.'') He did not win, but worked for former footballer Paul Osborne, who did get in. Uhlmann left the role seven months later, when Osborne introduced an anti-abortion bill.

''He's still a friend of mine,'' Uhlmann says of Osborne. ''But I thought [the bill] was misguided. I always thought it would fail and do enormous damage, and all of those things came to pass.''

What has undoubtedly brought the couple together, when there was every chance it could tear them apart, was their struggle to have children. They started trying for a family as soon as they were married, in 1997, and continued unsuccessfully for a decade, enduring multiple procedures.

''We tried for a long time and I just kept miscarrying,'' she says. ''There was a lot of intervention trying to keep the babies. And it just got to the point where we kept trying and nothing was happening. I mean we both acknowledge it is one of our great regrets. We would have loved to have had a family. But we've got lots of godchildren and we've got lots of fabulous nieces and nephews and we spoil them mercilessly.''

Some might assume they do not have children by choice, putting their careers first, but they say this was never so.

''We'd always intended to have a family,'' Uhlmann says. ''The thing is too, once upon a time, back before medical intervention in these things, you got to a certain age and people simply stopped asking, because it simply wasn't polite to do so. Now there are so many ways that people can get pregnant later in life.

''I get on pretty well with [Liberal] senator Bill Heffernan and I was having breakfast with him one morning at Aussies [a cafe at Parliament House] and he was joking about the fact that he had called Julia Gillard a barren woman. And I said, 'Well, Bill, I'm a barren man'. It actually takes two to make a family. Or it used to. I think it caused him to reconsider just a little.

''I ultimately believe that you can't have everything you want in life. That's life and you have to make do with what you're given and what you've got. And I wouldn't give up what we've got for anything. It would have been greatly enhanced by having children, but we don't have them, so we'll make the most of what we've got.''

What they have are busy professional lives with treasured private moments. Uhlmann is at his desk by 4.30am on workdays and Brodtmann often attends evening functions. During the week, they snatch a few moments together before Uhlmann heads to bed about nine. Sunday is their day together to cook, read, listen to music, go for long walks or be at home in ''our tracksuit pants''.

''It's the luxury of an unstructured day,'' she says. ''Then, it's a quiet life.''

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