The Labor frontbencher said her decision was about how “I felt about the distribution of my time across my work and my family”.
“Seven days a week on the road is just not something that I wanted for my kids,” she added.
In the direct aftermath of Labor’s shock election loss, Ms Plibersek initially indicated she would put her hat in the ring for the party’s leadership and was backed by Ms Gillard to do so. But within 48 hours of the election result, Ms Plibersek declared she would not run, saying “now is not my time”.
At the time, some of Mr Albanese supporters suggested Ms Plibsersek pulled out because she did not have the factional support needed to win.
The former deputy Labor leader told Ms Gillard she did think about the impact of her decision on other women.
“To other women, I say, ‘you are not responsible for the life and fate and opportunities of every woman. You need to make the decision that is best for you’… But when it came to the decision I was making, I thought, ‘I hope there aren’t people out there who take this as a sign that politics is incompatible with family life or that women can’t have three children and operate at the highest level of their organisation.'”
Ms Plibersek added, “you really can’t win, can you?”
“If you’ve got no kids you get criticised for not understanding what families are going through. If you’ve got kids, you get criticised for neglecting them. There’s basically no right answer. And so, what can you do but please yourself. You have to do the thing that’s best for you in your life and for your family.”
Ms Gillard said she had the “reverse experience” as she was criticised for not having children during her political career.
“I do remember a day in Melbourne’s west where I then lived. I was walking down the street and a women screamed to a stop in a car, wound down the window, two kids in the back and yelled out the window: ‘if you need to have kids, you can take mine'”.
Ms Plibersek, who had all of her children while in Parliament, has been the federal member for Sydney since 1998. She has been a cabinet minister, health minister and was deputy leader to Bill Shorten for six years. She is currently Labor’s spokesperson for education.
When asked by Ms Gillard – who is a former colleague and good friend – how she managed her busy political career with a family, Ms Plibersek said “a lot of organisation” was key.
“I cook in batches and freeze food. I get my clothes out each night that I’m going to wear the next day, because I don’t want to be making decisions under pressure at five o’clock in the morning in the dark as I’m rushing off to work,” she said.
Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House