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Australian opposition leader calls women 'appendages of middle-aged men'

Australia's main opposition leader has been accused of insulting housewives after saying his successful business-owner wife showed that modern women are no longer "appendages of middle-aged men."

Labor Party Leader Kevin Rudd said Thursday his wife, Therese Rein - a self-made multimillionaire and mother of three - was entitled to continue her successful business career if he wins in an election later this year.

"Part of the reality we are dealing with here is this is the age of professional women who run their own companies, who have their own lives, and are not simply the appendages of middle-aged men," Rudd told reporters Thursday.

Government minister Peter Dutton said Friday that Rudd's remark demonstrated he does not respect women who stay at home to raise children.

"That's an offense to all stay-at-home moms," Dutton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "My wife is tertiary-educated, she's a professional woman, and she has taken a decision to stay at home and look after our children as tens of thousands of mothers do across the nation."

Kevin Rudd with his wife (Theaustralian)
Kevin Rudd with his wife (Theaustralian)
Some media interpreted Rudd's remark as a slight against Prime Minister John Howard's wife, Janette Howard, who was a schoolteacher before she married and raised their three children.

Howard said Friday he did not believe the remark was aimed at his family, but added that Rudd "should have used a different expression."

"I don't criticize any choices that are made by women" regarding family and career, Howard told Melbourne Radio 3AW.

Sarah Maddison, a University of New South Wales expert on gender issues, said wives who do not work should not take offense because Rudd was "stating a reality of modern life."

Rudd said if he becomes prime minister, his wife will have to sell at least part of her business to avoid conflicts of interest, because some income comes from government contracts.

She would also become the first Australian prime minister's wife to be the family's primary breadwinner.

The center-left Labour Party, which promises fairer labor laws if it wins government, has been embarrassed by revelations that Rein's job-placement company is under investigation for allegedly underpaying staff. Rudd said he did not know about the allegation until shortly before it was revealed in newspapers Thursday.