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When walking away is strictly a matter of the heart, in many more ways than one

Opinion

With politics all around us, it’s good to know that the most important issues of the week took a very human form, writes Madonna King

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Who would have thought a single politician, not vying for office, could deliver so many lessons in just a few words?

But that’s what happened this week when Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner quit his job.

And that resignation carried a swag of lessons; the principal one pointing to how far we still are from true gender equality.

That will remain the case until we no longer express surprise at men exiting their big jobs to spend more time as husbands and fathers.

Former Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein did the same in April, saying there was “nothing left in the tank to give’’ and he was simply “drained’’.

Similarly, Gunner said his head and his heart were “no longer in the job’’, singling out the birth of his second child as the moment he knew he needed to pen his resignation.

“I have grappled with this decision for some weeks and welcoming little Nash into the world sealed the deal,’’ Gunner.’’ Nash was born only two weeks ago. His big brother Hudson is only 2. And he wanted to swap places and walk in the shadow of his wife Kristy O’Brien too.

“Forty-six is young for a pollie, but it is pretty old for a father of a newborn and a toddler and that’s who I want to spend more of my time with now for as long as I can,’’ he said.

When decisions like that, and the reasons for them, are commonplace, we’ll know the gender debate is moving towards equality.

And we should celebrate each time it happens.

But that’s only the first lesson Michael Gunner delivered during an election campaign remarkably devoid of them.

His second related to his own gender, and the focus he put on the heart attack he suffered two years ago.

“I don’t need another near-death experience to know that life is unpredictable and can be cut short,” he said.

He had no warning signs, he said, on that morning when at home with his wife, he knew something wasn’t right.

And that was a timely reminder that one Australian – twice as many men as women – is admitted into a hospital with a heart attack every nine minutes.

My husband, like Gunner, triumphed. Many don’t. And if you stop reading here, please just consider a check up.

The third lesson is how we should see work. Gunner said he could “no longer look Territorians in the eye” and say he would give “100 per cent” to the role of Chief Minister. “Anything less is short-changing the people who sent me here … if I can’t do that then I shouldn’t be in the chair.” Peter Gutwein made a similar comment, on his resignation.

That is a telling indictment of how we see the workplace and how urgent reform is needed. If a father – or mother – of young children can’t do their job and spend time with their children, it’s the workplace that requires change.

Gunner and Gutwein are two of four state and territory leaders to leave their job in less than a year.

But their reasons for doing it single them out. And yet in an election campaign those issues – gender equality, health prevention and workplace reform – have rarely rated a mention.

And that’s probably at the centre of the divide between those vying for a political job, and those of us who vote for them.

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