Canberra Diary, Monday

7.50 am

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.

9.50 am

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.

10.20 am

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.’

10.55 am

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 an MP 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.

But for David Cox. Twice.

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.

11.20 am

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, failed to turn uo at tge lunch with the publisher, 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 government 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, without significant change, to election?

I give him some lines about Abbott, but he seems uninterested, walking swiftly away.

11.50 am

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 recorded 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.

3.40 pm

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 Labor people 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.

5.50 pm

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 each lost a sibling or a parent at a tender age, Rudd has been in a kind of humorous, joshing denial ever since, unable, like 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 in which you are one of the elderly, gumpy, opinionated clowns.

And Rudd, therefore, is not now, and has never been, a truly serious candidate. He is like a stand-up comedian, with a tragic past he draws on for his jokey sessions on Sunrise. He is not, in fact, all there, or not 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.

7.00 pm

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 Abbott’s reversion to the ‘Anglosphere’. He speaks with ardent acuity of the boat people and how many arriving Sri Lankans are fugitive Tamils — almost none — and how many are economic migrants, almost all, 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 for dodgy sea-washed con-men and their relatively innocent 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, ‘Come down from Rush ore and be Prime Minister’ and he laughs without relish and walks on.

7.40 pm

I get my stuff out of 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 Emersonk 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.

9.10 pm

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, fluffed 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.

11.40 pm

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 intelligent fellow guests are watching Q&A. I watch it, doze off, am impressed by Fiona Stanley and Kate Lundy (both would have made a good Prime Minister), go downstairs, brew a hot water bottle, read The Ancient World by Robin Fox Lane, and sleep

Leave a comment ?


  1. Bob, I know politics is one of your passions, but Malvolio Towers has become one of mine. I never tuned into Downton Abbey but I would buy the boxed set of Malvolio Towers.

  2. Bob, how much water passed under the Sydney harbour bridge yesterday? It won’t change anything, the Gillard die is cast. You were looking for a knife to cut your lemons? Canberra is bristling with them, Kevin’s got a few in his back, he might even loan you one.

  3. Gee, this is entertaining, teabags from home, piercing lemons with a flimsy teaspoons, were they plastic…?

    “… it is penetrating the dreams of old men more soiled and sour of soul than I.”

    Malvolio Towers, comedies are to made of this.

  4. Helvi goes to Canberra. Bob could write the script.

    • chris h, all those round-abouts in Canbrra make me dizzy, I must not leave my GPS in the glove-box, or I’ll end up in the Snowy Mountains, instead of heading home to Highlands.

      • Garrett will come to your rescue, he badly needs a cause.

        • I’m indifferent to Garret as a politician, I prefer him as a singer..

          • b4 he had a muzzle put on him by Julia? She writes his lines now. After the election, if she leads, he’ll be a Canberra roundabout, to extend this evenings metaphor…

            • Peter Garrett has had his lines written for him in the past from memory (a bit like the Bill Shorten response with a “whatever the PM says I agree with’) comment. Maybe it was because he was new to the ALP (2004 campaign) and not used to the ALP message but I remember a good one when he was going on about something until a media member said that Mark Latham had said the opposite. His response was, literally, “Oh, Mark said that. Well that’s what we will do”.

              I don’t know how interested he is really. He is in for a hard fight to win his seat (never lost to Labor in the past) because he has the same opponent this year as last time, when Kingsford Smith went to preferences for probably the first time. A professor and head of cardiology at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. If there is an average swing on he’s gone I suspect but he seems quite adamant that Rudd isn’t for him.

          • “How do we sleep
            When our beds are burning”

  5. Bob,
    Next time in Canberra,
    Get a small Swiss army knife. For a tasty snack-dinner; boil some asparagus in you water kettle. Retrieve the iron from the cupboard. Switch it on maximum (no steam) turn upside down, and when hot enough, put on some salmon cutlets and cook both sides for a couple of minutes. Garnish the lot with some of your lemon juice.
    Hope this helps.

    • I’m gonna try it. Love yer work.

      • Thanks for your kind words.

        • A pleasure, you would have been a valuable man in a prisoner of war camp. A think outside the square bloke, with a great sense of humour. Left field: Some years ago I met a released lifer (1st degree murder) who showed me a few survival tricks of his own, A jug cord attached to a wire coat hanger fashioned into a tiny element. He made one for me, I still have it. Put in a tin cup to boil an egg in his cell. Fascinating… he’d served his time.

  6. Bron doesn’t greet you? I thought she’d be more likely to get down on all fours and bite your ankle


    Some improvement for Labor on the back of misongynist attacks on prime minister according to Morgan.

  8. Morgan Poll; some preliminary figures

    Last weekend’s Morgan Poll shows support for the L-NP at 53.5%, down 2.5% in a week (since June 7-10, 2013) cf. ALP 46.5% (up 2.5%) on a two-party preferred basis according to the multi-mode weekly Morgan Poll.

    Multi mode 3323 participants.
    The L-NP primary vote is 44.5% (down 1.5%) still well ahead of the ALP 33% (up 2%). Among the minor parties Greens support is 9% (down 0.5%) and support for Independents/ Others is 13.5% (unchanged) including the Palmer United Party (3%) and Katter’s Australian Party (1%).

    Gary Morgan has also said;

    Today’s Morgan Poll result shows that voting intentions can swing on what may seem minor matters and that despite the L-NP enjoying a sizeable two-party preferred lead this year’s Federal Election result is still ‘up for grabs’.”

    • PUP on 3%! Wow.

      Is that because of his assylum seaker policy, essentally open door?

      • the election is ‘up for grabs’

      • Have you read the asylum seeker policy of PUP?
        It is not an open door policy at all. But it does take into consideration that such people are in fact humans.
        What it does say is lets stop wasting billions by doing what is done know. If they pay to arrive by plane for a set figure and are processed and either granted entry as legitimate or refused and returned there is no people smuggling,no drownings- stop the boats is what it would do.

        • Sounds like a step in the right direction to me. I have heard Palmer on this subject and he also knows we have a legal obligation. That is much more than you can say about the Libs who keep on using the illegal word, when there is nothing illegal about seeking assylum.

          • BTW Palmers assylum seeker policy is the only policy of his that I heard clearly articulated. No other policies of his are clear to me. My first coment above is hence tongue in cheek. :)

  9. Perhaps the leadership question could be resolved by Kevin being expelled from the Party.

    He could start up his own cult or maybe become a tv game show host like on Deal or No Deal or Blankety Blanks.

    Circumstances should have been put in place whereby he could have been expelled long ago.

    • Good idea. Kick him out. Let him start his own party. Then the rudd party and labor can swap preferences. :)

    • Or the party rules could have prevented a discourteous blood letting mid term merely to sate the ambition of the power crazies.

  10. blankety blanks - things have loosened up since Graham Kennedy’s time, so the crow imitations should go over great

  11. If Kevin ran as an Independent, he wouldn’t have to have any colleague underlings to pester him for an audience and waste his time. He might even get to hold the balance of power and therefore become the defacto Most Important Person. Gillard would have to be nice to him and he could insist on her doing some policy gymnastics for his amusement. He could demand meetings with her at whim. Everybody could be happy.

    • That’s making the assumption that Gillard would be in a position to have any influence. As short term opposition leader, post election, after sacrificing the party at the altar of personal stubbornness she wont of course

  12. The Kingston Hotel where you love to stay is where the original Faceless Men debuted in 63. It is truly haunted.

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