Wake in Malvolio Towers and the radio is silent. Seek further batteries in briefcase but there is only one. Seek to make tea with lemon. Have brought a hot water jug, tea bags and lemons from Sydney but no knife exists in the building to cut the lemons. For fear, I guess, that I will go berserk and murder everyone. There is, however a teaspoon with which I am able to gouge the lemon, provoking juice. I drink green tea with lemon, get RN on the computer, put pillows on it because it is too loud and endure The Goon Show. It is bearable, as always, until the arrival of Bluebottle.
Stirton has Labor on 29 with Gillard, 35 with Rudd, and 50-50 two party preferred with Rudd; ‘a hung parliament at best’, Stirton says, meaning eighty days of a Rudd Prime Ministership would attract no votes. Does he take us for fools?
He does, and he is right.
The Goon Show is very loud in spite of the piled pillows and murmurations in the other rooms suggest it is penetrating the dreams of old men more soiled and sour of soul than I.
I get back to sleep and at 7.10 precisely, as before, the jackhammers wake me.
I shower and go by cab to the Manuka newsagency. Realise I have left behind my bag of books. Go back to Malvolio Towers and collect it.
I wait at the Reps’ entrance twenty minutes for Viv. Bronwyn Bishop enters and fails to greet me. Viv signs me in and I go to Aussie’s, greet Craig and Tony Windsor, buy yoghurt, coffee and two bananas and study the Stirton. To my amazement it is a total fraud, by its own admission. There are ‘margins of error’ in each of the states from 3.5 percent to 9 percent, and a margin of error for the 18-24-year-olds of 7.5 percent, for the 25-39s of 5.4 percent and of the 40-54s of 4.9 percent. This means a margin of error for half of Australia of 400,000 votes, enough to change everything. And that is just the landlines.
I am told by Tony Windsor he saw me on television last night. I find this hypothesis mysterious until he informs me I was in a film about the death and resurrection of my wayward wild friend Paul Cox, fixed up with a new liver one Christmas Eve and, under sedation, believing he was living in Venice in 1598 and amazed to be back in mere Melbourne among mere mortals, one of whom, who also had a new liver, he then married. I explain this to the attentive smiling Member For New England, who does not flinch and says, ‘Interesting man.’
David Cox arrives, and sits down at the next table, he has a baleful double-agent begoggled face like a Smiley villain and is the man who ruined the Labor Party twice and I am surprised he has not been murdered. He persuaded Ralph Willis to read out the forged letter in 1996. This did not cost us the election, but it cost us the three or four seats Beazley would have won with in 1998.
He later became a PM and changed his vote from Beazley to Latham in 2003, thus impelling the fool McClelland to abandon Beazley too. Beazley would have won in 2004 and be now retiring, after nine years, at sixty-five as our greatest PM.
Or indeed in 1998, and be now retiring after fifteen years as our extremely greatest PM.
He doesn’t look any older. Is it him? Yes, it has to be. Should I walk up and break his nose? It might be taken amiss.
John Whelan arrives and I give him my book. Baldshaven, extremely tall, a dedicated spin bowler for twenty-five years during which his knees were ruined, he co-authored with me a book, or the start of a book, called A User’s Guide To Sledging, and then went to Ireland in search of a milkmaid to marry. I composed and recited a poem farewelling him. He came back after a while and worked for Carr again, and then, in 2008, for Julia and is with her still. He wrote the dread line, ‘a good party that has lost its way’, in her initial speech as PM from which much misery descended. If it’s lost its way, why keep all its Ministers? Why go immediately, withoit significant change, to election?
I give him some lines about Abbott, but he seems uninterested, walking swiftly away.
Wedderburn appears, still Cary-Grant-handsome but greyer suddenly after a year with Carr, his unconsecutive eleventh, probably, since they first worked together in 1988, every day of which he has in a diary. I give him my book, and we talk.
Rudd failed in office, he says, for want of a Chief-of-Staff (like him) who would have stood up to him, sorted his schedule, given him time to sleep. He speaks, intriguingly, of the moment when, in March, the Rudd challenge was clearly on and Carr, in New York, was urged to fly back but did not do so lest it be seen as him throwing his hat into the ring. I ask why he does not do so now: even eighty days as Prime Minister would crown, surely, a fine career, and it might be longer, eight years, perhaps. Wedderburn thinks about this. ‘It’s not so much timidity,’ he says, ‘as not wanting to look a goose.’ Or words to that effect.
Question Time is dreary and I am rung by 5AA and interviewed. In the middle of it Craig Thomson appears on the lawn and signals he wants to talk. I signal back I will be with him soon, but the interview goes on for another twelve minutes and he waits patiently.
We talk then inside over coffee of Labor’s woes in securing a candidate to stand against him in Dobell. Only one such sluggard exists, and he was a Liberal eighteen months ago, and Young Laborpeople are slyly assisting Craig now. It may be possible, I suggest, for Labor to not run a candidate, as occurred when I ran against Bronwyn Bishop in Mackellar in 1993. We talk of his Benefit, and I suggest as compere Paul Murphy, and he eagerly agrees to this.
I ring Paul, and he is too sick to do it, or too proud, perhaps, to appear on a walking frame doing funny voices. He agrees that Craig is innocent, and wavers, then suggests Mike Carlton who, he alleges, ‘loves the limelight’ and would come to the opening of a wound.
I go with Carl Green and the irrepressible politics-buff Don Dwyer to a Canberra Branch meeting in the Caucus Room which Carr will be addressing. On the way I put the thesis that, like Carr and Carl and me, who all lost a sibling or a parent at a tender age, Rudd has been in a kind of humorous, joshing denial ever since, unable, lile me, to face the reality of a family death. You become, I propose, a spectator of life at that point of loss , and life becomes a kind of Muppet Show.
And Rudd, therefore, is not now, and has never been, a truly serious candidate. He is like a stanf-up comedian, with a tragic past he draws on for his jokey sessions on Sunrise. He is not, in fact, entirely there. Carl says, ‘Well, it’s a theory.’ He confesses to having been co-author of the ‘blue ties’ speech, but not the notorious paragraph.
Carr is very impressive, talking with ease and energy and authority of Australia’s big reputation in Africa and the Arab world, which will be endangered now by Abbo tt’s reversion to the ‘Anglosphere’. He speaks with ardent acuity of the boat people and hiw many arriving Sri Lankans are fugitive Tamils — almost none — and how many are economic migrants, and about how almost no boat-bourne Iranians are minority groups; but, once here, will not be taken back to their home country. And how the people smugglers include this in their salespitch, ‘they will not send you back’.
With some force he curses the time spent on this wounding issue, and the damage it has done for twelve years now to Labor, which has greater things to offer the world than some detention cells fo dodgy sea-washed con-men and their relatively innicent families. It is ruining us, he says, and it isn’t fair.
As always his personality is bigger than his lean, long frame and his large voice a channelling of divine authority. We follow him down the hall afterwards, and I call out, ‘Co,e down from Rush ore and be Prime Minister’ and he laughs without relish and walks on.
I get my stuff out if Shorten’s office and walk to the exit by a different route. I see Swanny in a room awaiting with a glum face caucus friends, and Craig Emerdon approaching down the hall. I make him aware of the 7 and 9 percent margins of error in the Niesen, and he says ‘I’m aware of your views in landlines.’
Then Albo approaches down the same hall, looking grim. His expression softens slightly when he sees me, and I say, ‘Good luck’. ‘Thanks,’ he says, and walks on.
I go through security, shedding my pass, call a cab, saying ‘yes’ and ‘agent’ to the apologetic machine which twice does not hear me, and see as I wait Kevin Rudd, grey head high, going past me. He seems both resolute and downcast. He gets into a Commonwealth Car with a young man and is gone.
Craig Thomson immediately appears and offers me a lift. We talk with warmth on the way to the Kingston Hotel. At the end of the journey I say, ‘Whatever happens, we should play some pool together.’ He is touched by this, and I go on in and cook my own steak.
Oakeshott goes past me with a tray of glasses saying he is reading the book and liking it. I cook the steak twice and, eating it with lots of beetroot and three pints of cider, begin reading my book too. It is very good indeed. Three literals deeply upset me, one the misplaced adjective ‘famed’ for ‘feigned’.
I walk back to Malvolio Towers and find, to my surprise, it has an upstairs television room and a number of intelligentnfellow guests are watching Q&A. I watch it, doze off, am impressed by Fiona Stanley and Kate Lundy (she too would have made a good Prime Minister), go downstairs, brew a hot water bottle, read The Ancient World by Robin Fox Lane, and sleep