August Kleinzahler in Melbourne
The Australian Labor Party, and Australia itself, scored an own goal recently with an inconclusive general election and the imminent threat of a hung Parliament. Or so one might reasonably surmise, but the locals don't seem too terribly agitated about it, at least the Aussies I run across. The country is prospering, in a way that Britain and the US clearly are not: building cranes sweep across the skylines, shops and restaurants are jumping. The most recent economic forecast is bright. This could all change in a hurry should Chinese real estate go bust and/or there's a double-dip recession in the West, but at the moment the situation is looking ripper.
If anything, the Australians seem rather bemused and a bit embarrassed by the election. Neither Labor's Julia Gillard nor the Liberal leader Tony Abbott threw a punch during the campaign, much less landed one, keeping well shy of the key issues – immigration, the environment, mining tax – and instead regurgitating talking points while still managing to make a testy, odious affair of it that left the voting public discouraged and affronted.
The country at large wasn't too thrilled about having the man they elected into office to lead them only three years ago, Kevin Rudd, deposed by Labor insiders in a behind-the-scenes coup. And in Brisbane especially, but Queensland in general, where Rudd managed to hold onto his seat, they really didn't like watching their boy rolled, and punished Labor accordingly.
Rudd and his ministers steered the country through the downturn and no one but commended Labor and the prime minister for their performance. The inexhaustible Chinese appetite for iron ore, along with a manageable debt and sensibly controlled banking sector, rather like Canada's, certainly helped the situation, but Rudd's numbers shot up on the heels of the economy's performance. It was only later, and quite recently, that Rudd was badly wounded. He was unable to pass a carbon emissions trading bill, which infuriated his base. He was also seriously bloodied in a dust-up with the mining companies over further taxes. His poll numbers had already collapsed by the time his former deputy, Gillard, with the Labor mucky-mucks behind her, stuck in the knife.
Gillard is a barracuda, as these sorts of characters inevitably are, but she is bright, tough, good on her feet in Parliament and, allegedly, a brilliant negotiator. Rudd was never well liked inside Labor. He has the manner of a priggish university provost. He is a pious Christian and, apparently, authoritarian, fussy, indecisive and lacking in any real political gift apart from persistence.
He is also not very fit, which doesn't go down well with male Australians. Tony Abbott, best as I can tell, is a thug and clever fool. He is tirelessly matey and fit, a tri-athelete, who, with no apparent provocation, and much to the distress of his handlers, is ever in a hurry to strip down to his tight bathing trunks and show off his physique for whatever photographer may be at hand.
The current fate of Australia's government as I write this in Melbourne may reside in a somewhat unpredictable independent MP from rural Queensland called Bob Ketter, a.k.a. 'Ten-Gallon Bob', who favours a very broad-brimmed cowboy hat. Ten-Gallon Bob's price is a ban on Filipino banana exports, so that the banana plantation owners and workers in his district might better prosper. Ketter is famous for his sometimes extreme pronouncements, on one occasion proclaiming, unbidden, that there were no homosexuals in North Queensland, and should one be determined to exist, Ten-Gallon Bob promised to 'walk backward from Bourie'. To where, I'm not exactly sure, but I feel certain it's a very long way.