I know what the headline says, but bear with me. Some background: with a federal election looming Down Under, and the once upon a time way too cunning Aussie PM John Winston Howard lagging so far behind in the polls they’re now holding a lantern out for him, the man who would be king is Labor leader Kevin Rudd: a bookish, nerdy-looking bloke who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tin-Tin character from the famous French comic strip of the same name (indeed, so close is it, political cartoonist Bill Leak of The Australian newspaper never draws Rudd as anything but).
Howard’s Liberal Party (that’s a misnomer and would be a gross underestimation of political leanings that are marginally to the right of Genghis Khan if you were to use American liberalism as the yardstick) appears a lost cause after a decade in power.
So with the electorate facing a choice between a rock and a hard place with Rudd and Howard – who despite being hilariously called “The man of steel” by George W.Bush for sending troops to Iraq actually more closely resembles one of those plaster garden gnome characters with protruding teeth and a single facial expression – the poll (now tipped for November 6) was in grave danger of turning into the political equivalent of Mogadon and was widely regarded until this week as something approaching a snore-a-thon.
The concensus among voters — and in compulsory-voting Australia, that means everyone — is that it’s time for Howard to go, in no small part the result of his killing off in one fell swoop Australia’s generous and popular industrial relations and workplace laws at a time of great economic prosperity, and returning most of the cards to employers with his Orwellian-sounding “WorkChoices” — lampooned in Australia as “no choices”.
Australians have also had enough of the general arrogance of the Government and the litany of lies, half-truths (the best and most original of which were Howard’s breaking of previous election promises because they were “non-core”) and just too-far-to-the-right views in relation to human issues like immigrants and refugees. Howard now faces the prospect of being only the second sitting Australian PM to lose his own seat in an election, and the fact that the seemingly equally boring Rudd, who trades on his Christian, family values, is tipped as the next PM, is probably a mark of how frustrated Aussies are with Howard.
Previous Aussie PMs have included men like Labor’s Paul Keating, who turned the art of political insult into a living masterpiece on the blood-soaked floor of Parliament House, once famously suggesting that an attack by the Libs was akin to being flogged with a piece of warm lettuce. He also suggested Howard was a carcass swinging in the breeze, and that no one had the guts to cut him down. We like our PMs to strut the world stage, but without losing their Aussie larrikinism. Problem: Howard and Rudd weren’t larrikins in the first place, and certainly couldn’t hold their own in the public bar of a bush pub if push came to shove. Howard’s regarded as the sort of bloke that in the real world, you wouldn’t speak to at a party even if the beer had run out and you knew he was holding a few sly cans. Rudd, meanwhile, who loves to tell the story of how he was forced to sleep in the family car as a kid, has been regarded a thin-skinned intellectual bore with a glass jaw who can’t take the heat that comes with the tough turf of brawling Aussie politics.
Still with us? Good. Well, at least that’s what we all thought about boring Rudd until last weekend. That was when Australians woke up to newspaper headlines (Sunday’s RUDD’S STRIP CLUB NIGHT and yesterday’s cracker, POLL DANCER) informing them, gleefully, that Rudd had been booted out of the New York “gentleman’s” club Scores in 2003 while on a trip to NYC representing Australia as an observer at the UN.
The story, roughly, goes something like this: Rudd and a Northern Territory Labor MP, Warren Snowdon, had dinner with New York Post editor Col Allan, a former editor of Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, at a Manhattan restaurant.
At the dinner, Rudd and Snowdon had a bit too much to drink (no one mentioned whether this was also the case with Allan, no slouch on the high stool himself and who presumably would have matched them glass for glass). Then as you do, Allan suggested they go out for a drink after their meal, and somehow — like at least 40 million other men since Adam — the trio ended up at a strip club. If my own experience is anything to go by, it probably only happened by osmosis and can be blamed entirely on the cab driver.
Still, Scores, hardly one of New York’s top cultural attractions, is said to be a pretty wild joint. According to those who’ve been there, you can discreetly and without leaving your comfy lap-dancing seat tip by credit card using “Diamond Dollars”, and it’s probably a good thing Rudd is claiming he has little memory of the night as Diamond Dollars are certain to be discussed in Parliament at some point during debate on Australia’s economy.
Allan, for his part, freely admitted the trio had ended up at a “gentlemen’s club” and that Rudd had behaved like a … well, like, “a gentleman”. Snowdon, meanwhile, whose electorate encompasses a part of Australia’s rugged outback better known for big guns and crocodiles than metrosexual leanings and reconstructed males, managed to maintain a dignified silence until yesterday, when he said he wasn’t as under the weather on the night as Rudd, felt intimidated at the club and that nothing untoward had taken place in the short time they’d been there. Right …
That runs counter to the good version being touted around the traps: that Rudd, who claims to have been goat-faced drunk on only one other occasion (a knees-up on the night of his 35th birthday), was also asked to leave the club allegedly for misbehaving, and the tittering suggestion is that this might have involved a laying on of hands, although that remains unsubstantiated. Still, even if it were more than a wink, wink, nod, nod suggestion, you wouldn’t think it was much of a reason for being hoiked out of a club that would seem to encourage such niceties for a price. Perhaps that was the problem: at the time, the exchange rate on the Aussie dollar was way down on the green back.
Somehow, the drama was swept under the carpet and managed to stay there for four years, only to be produced — lo and behold — a few months out from a federal election the Government seemingly can’t win. But if it WAS leaked by Howard’s insiders, it’s running the risk of seriously backfiring as online comment to newspapers seems to be giving the Labor leader a big thumbs up. Everyone seems to be looking at Kev with different eyes.
Indeed, most people I spoke to over the weekend thought that whilst hilarious, it made Rudd, with his “it seemed like a good idea at the time” defence, for once look more human. A few even said he’d gone up in their estimation.
And therein lies the rub: for what might be regarded as political suicide elsewhere, and in the US in particular, seems to have had the opposite effect on Rudd’s chances Down Under (and if people think that’s bad, they should consider the antics of Britain’s Conservative Party, where such things as being busted nude and alone with a tennis ball in your mouth and a whip tied around your neck is regarded as a normal night out).
When it comes to Aussie politics, it’s worth noting here that former Labor PM Bob Hawke was renowned for being a knockabout man-about-town and is said to have once asked feminist author Germaine Greer to hand him a beer while he was showering; that former Liberal leader Billy Snedden died in a highly compromising situation with his much-younger lover in a Sydney hotel room in the mid ’80s, and that former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser, who was once regarded as a prim and proper conservative toff but remains a loved character in Australia because of his work for genuine humanitarian causes around the world, once turned up allegedly wrapped in a towel at the front desk of the run-down Admiral Benbow motel in Memphis, Tennessee (where he’d somehow found himself), complaining that his money, pants and particulars had been stolen. And those are only a few of the ones we know about.
As for Rudd, it’s doubtful it will have much of an impact on his chances despite his having puckered up to the evangelical happyclappers of the Christian Right in Australia – mainly because Australians still think the alternative is no longer the answer. That was brought home last week after an uproar over Howard’s promise at the last election that he would keep mortgage interest rates low because he was the only one with the economic credentials. That found its way into the rubbish bin of political history as a red-faced PM watched them rise for the fifth time since 2004.
Perhaps the last word on this affair should go to a women’s lobby group, the National Foundation for Australian Women, whose spokeswoman Marie Coleman told The Daily Telegraph: “If we hanged every bloke who was stupid, there wouldn’t be many left.” It’s a sentiment apparently shared by Rudd’s multimillionaire wife Therese Rein, who is said to have forgiven him — although you’d have loved to have been a fy on the wall when the Sunday papers lobbed on the kitchen table at brekkie.
The one other bizarre thing about this story is that it was written by respected Canberra political correspondent Glenn Milne. Milne got into a bit of strife himself last year for getting totally maggotted at Australian journalism’s prestigious Walkley Awards ceremony and leaping onto the stage to clobber another journalist after giving him a drunken gobful of ripe Aussie invective. That escapade, captured on national TV, lives on, now immortalised on YouTube, and tellingly, Milne – who blamed a combination of booze and medication – is still well liked and perhaps more importantly (for Milne at least), still gainfully employed.
But it’s out there and probably the best story in Australia this year, and we’ve all had a really good giggle over our cornflakes right across this big continent. Which means we can all get back to what’s important: deciding who’ll run the country and the economy the way we – the people of Australia – would like to see it run, unfortunate nights out at lap-dancing clubs and Diamond Dollars notwithstanding.
Perhaps the real reason for all this and why it’s not likely to affect Rudd’s election hopes is that the apple, as they say, never falls far from the tree – bearing in mind that Australia was settled by the party people of the British Empire: thieves, drunks, rogues, forgers, prostitutes, women of ill repute, and Irishmen.
A hell of a lot different from Puritan America, although — digressing a bit — what excuse Britain’s politicians have for their own kinky excesses and their sniggering acceptance by the Poms is anyone’s bloody guess. Good job they never sent those buggers out here, though.Powered by Sidelines