This is a very exciting weekend for all of us in Australia.

Wait, did I say exciting weekend?

I meant, ‘carnival of idiocy’.

I wish I could say this is because the jetpack I ordered from the internet has finally arrived, and hasn’t, as I feared (and ruefully suspected), turned out to be nothing more than a box of candles sent from an untraceable address in Russia (although, after my recent mail order bride debacle, could the same lightning really strike twice? All that matters is that my box of candles and I are very happy together in our trans-Adriatic wedded bliss). Because, believe me, when that jetpack finally does get here, I plan on playing host to a carnival of idiocy such as the world has never seen.

I wish I could say this is because I have won Italy’s Super EnaLotto, a jackpot that currently stands at US$165,000,000.00. Because the idiocy I would unleash in the wake of that development would make Two and a Half Men look like Einstein’s finest work; the material he released on his own underground label before he went commercial.

I wish I could say this is because I have finally gotten my hands on a US visa. Because as soon as I have carte blanche to zoom out of this country (maybe via jetpack, giant bags of money in both my hands – who’s to say?) and away from the thought – the promise –  of consequences… my God. The sheer level of idiocy I plan on inflicting on an unsuspecting populace makes my mouth go dry.

But, no. This is the much less fun version of a carnival of idiocy.

This weekend sees (at least, we hope – Jesus Christ, we hope – it sees) the final culmination of Australia’s federal political saga, in an ending that, no matter what, will please nobody.

To get to grips with what’s happening, you have to turn the clock back to 2007, which was a good year for Australian federal politics.

In 2007, John Howard had been Prime Minister for 11 years – since 1996, he had lead the Coalition of the  Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia to election victory after election victory in the House of Representatives. The Coalition is one of the two major parties in Australia – the modern Liberals are a conservative, right-leaning party that trade on their economic strengths, their abilities to keep illegal immigration in check, and a lasting appeal to Baby Boomers. The modern Nationals are much the same as the traditional Nationals – they appeal to, and support, the rural, bush, and farm populace of Australia. In Howard, the Coalition had a political streetfighter as canny as Australia had ever seen as a leader, and the Opposition, the Australian Labor Party (historically leftist, working-class and union-supported, but growing steadily more progressive over the last decade) simply could not find traction.

Howard had faced down and beaten three Labor leaders – Paul Keating, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, and, once again, Kim Beazley. It was after Beazley’s second defeat Labor turned to the rising star and media darling Kevin Rudd, electing him leader and placing him squarely into a showdown with Howard.

And in 2007, Labor, under Rudd, was in no mood to fuck around.

(this photo was taken shortly before the time-honoured Australian political tradition of opposing leaders fighting each other with a Bowie knife in one hand and a rattlesnake in the other)

After years spent languishing in the political wilderness, Labor launched the US-inspired Kevin 07 campaign, and no one was under any illusions. The ALP had come back with all guns blazing – determined not only to win, but to take the Coalition’s mother on a date afterwards.

Rather than fall prey to the wedge politics (a favourite ploy of Howard’s) that had so often divided (and defeated) them in the past when they found themselves on dangerous policy grounds, this time… Labor simply agreed with the Coalition. On issues of progressive politics, they outlined bold new objectives, making the Coalition – and Howard in particular – look like a group of tired old white men. They recruited celebrities and star candidates to challenge the Coalition’s sitting MPs – dotcom millionaires, rock stars, newsreaders. And Rudd himself was everywhere – on daytime TV shows dancing and making chocolate cake, in the paper insisting on televised debates, on the world stage showing up Howard by addressing Hu Jintao in flawless Mandarin in a speech to the assembled political powers of China, right after Howard had done the same… in English.

When the election came, the ALP, as expected, mopped the floor with the Coalition. The final twist of the knife was that, after losing the country, John Howard lost his own electorate to one of the ALP’s star recruits, ex-journalist Maxine McKew.

We, the populace of Australia, voted the ALP into office, and we were promised great things. Rudd seemed superhuman – a man who apologised for the Stolen Generation, who forged new understandings with other nations, who made bold claims about the salvation of the environment, the stewardship of the economy, the certainty of employment for future generations.

When Obama was elected, Rudd was right there on our screens congratulating him, reaffirming the ties between Australia and the USA.

When the GFC hit, Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Treasurer Wayne Swan pumped cash into the economy, steering Australia past the recession that engulfed so much of the rest of the world.

When the Cophenhagen forum opened to discuss global emissions targets, Rudd threw himself into an attempt to secure a binding agreement between the countries of the world.

On water, on health, on education… Rudd was there. And his popularity surged and surged again.

Until it became apparent Rudd was there a little too often. After the first few years in office, a wavering picture began to emerge of a man who slept few hours a night, who refused to delegate even the smallest decisions, who burned out staffers with demands for ever-more work to be done, who threw tantrums and who became increasingly isolated in the corridors of power.

In the meantime, the Liberals churned out and discarded new leadership candidates in the hopes of finding a new messiah. Brendan Nelson succeeded John Howard. Malcolm Turnbull succeeded Brendan Nelson. Finally, Tony Abbott, a man regarded as unelectable due to his religious beliefs, his lack of belief in climate change, his statements on women and his perceived arch-conservative position on just about everything, came to lead the Liberal Party.

As it turned out, Abbott, a political brawler and favoured son of the previous Coalition government, was just the man to unite the shattered Opposition. And, just as his star rose, Kevin Rudd’s, spectacularly, imploded.

Rudd’s failures began to stack up in the headlines, and, subsequently, the polls. A government-backed home insulation scheme that had tragically lead to house fires and deaths. A failure to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme after declaring climate change ‘the greatest moral challenge of our generation’ (more than a failure, a capitulation). A proposed new resources tax that proved hugely unpopular and brought the Government into direct conflict with Australia’s powerful mining industry. These disasters gnawed at Rudd’s popularity until, finally, his own party conspired to bring him down. The Labor Party is known for its factionalism – one such faction, the New South Wales Right, found the inter-party numbers to cut Rudd from office and install his Deputy, Julia Gillard, as Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Gillard called an election, and the race began.

And then when it came to the election itself… both parties lost.

As Chris Kennett has pointed out.

Neither the Labor Party nor the Coalition gained the necessary number of seats to form government in their own right. And it became clear that in order to become the next Federal Government of Australia, either party would need to enter into a power-sharing agreement with the few independent candidates who had won office.

Which has left us with the situation of the past two weeks.

Adam Bandt, the first elected MP representing the Greens party in the House of Representatives, has thrown his lot in with Julia Gillard.

Andrew Wilkie, ex-spy, Independent Member for the seat of Denison, Tasmania, has done likewise. In doing so, he has turned down the promise of one billion dollars in funding for his electorate from Tony Abbott.

Now, Gillard and Abbott are falling over themselves to throw money at the three undecided candidates who will form a minority government with either party and become the next government of this country. Gillard only needs the support of two of them; Abbott, all three.

Or, of course, we could go back to the polls and vote once more.

Because now three men control the fate of the country.

Three men. From one electorate each.

One of whom is this man.

Did I say jetpack?

Shit. I’d swim.

The populace of Australia has roundly rejected both options in the two-party system. Because they’re both awful. However, the Westminster Parliamentary System has no option for what to do after this happens. And so no one has any idea what’s going to happen next.

Apart from one thing.

Whoever loses (more so than they already have)… the bloodletting will be ferocious. Already, knives are being sharpened in Labor Party back rooms on both sides – from those who believe the backstabbing of Kevin Rudd played so badly (and it did, especially in his home state) that the public turned against Labor, and from those who believe that the disastrous leaks that exploded through the Labor campaign in the early weeks were Rudd stabbing at Gillard from hell’s heart via the media.

Australian politicians will always be ready to devour each other if they think it will bring them even slightly closer to the Prime Ministership of the country. This week, which the independents have flagged as being when they make their decision… dinner is served.


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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

58 responses to “Knives Out”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Man, I hate politics.

    This just proves it.

    It’s not just American politics or politicians that I hate, it’s all of them. Contemptible.

    I wish I could take the engaged spectator approach that some people do. You, Listi. But at the end of the day, the maggot-infested weeping wounds of politics’ crusty underbelly just make my blood curdle. Or boil. Just fills me with all kinds of loathing.

    What’s interesting, though, which I noted as I was reading this, is that you, as an Australian, are still coming from a position in which you cite the people, the voters, as having been the deciding force in this stalemate, even if the parties’ behaviors are what engendered the reaction. I mean, it may, in part, stem from some of the differences in the democratic processes between the two countries.

    But in America, virtually all belief that the people are–or sometimes even SHOULD be–the primary arbiters of political goings-on is dissipated. And we are totally confused–usually contradicting ourselves–about whose fault election results are. Half the time, we are sure its corporations’ or organizations’ or pundits’ fault. That the people–the votes–don’t even count anymore. Then the other half of the time, maybe even in the same breath, we blame the stupidity, ignorance, or maleficence of fully half the population, often concluding that it is all their fault and they shouldn’t even be allowed to vote in the first place. I mean, seriously ill will. Contempt. Depressing, bad, hateful shit.

    It’s fucked up. And talking to a person who is totally committed to these contradictory ideas about the inherently fucked-up nature of them is a lot like talking to an addict about the problematic nature of their drug use.

    Totally futile. Nothing but excuses and finger-pointing.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I actually really believed in Labor in 2007. They surged out of the gate and then stumbled, only to start taking bites out of the horses next to them.

      This has been a really interesting election, precisely because it has shown that the voters didn’t engage with either party in an election that was so boring and stage-managed in the lead-up to the actual polls.

      What’s horrible is contemplating the effect the mining industry has on Rudd’s axing…

  2. Judy Prince says:

    Do you know who John Howard would have backed in the recent contest, Simon?

  3. dwoz says:

    I love it that the left party is the conservatives and the liberals are the more-conservatives.

    It’s the same way here in the USA.

  4. Gloria says:

    Politics would be a lot more interesting to me if, during a debate, leaders really did have to fight each other with a Bowie knife in one hand and a rattlesnake in the other – in a choreographed dance to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

    Julia Gillard looks a bit like Tilda Swinton. Only, this would all be more interesting if Tilda Swinton were the PM of Australia (especially since it would meant that she got there by winning a knife/rattlesnake dance off.)

    Finally, I would like to say that whatever Becky said goes for me, too. Because, when it comes to politics, she generally says what I’d like to say if I were capable of forming an intelligent opinion about such matters, and I usually can find no reason to disagree with her.

  5. Thanks for keeping me abreast of the current political situation in Australia, Simon… My antipodean ignorance had thus far led me to believe it was about the only non-shitty place on earth. I guess I can scratch it off my list of places to settle down and fight someone with a a Bowie knife and a rattlesnake… Oh wait, that’s ok? Sweet. Sounds like Australia’s just fine and dandy.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      No problem, amigo. How is it in Scotland?

      The rattlesnake is a tricky one. You need to grab it by the middle and swing it so it can bite your opponent and rattle at the same time.

  6. When the bloodletting begins, try to stay good and clear of those knives, Simon. We here in the U.S. need you alive, brother.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Thanks, brother. I’m actually working on a manuscript right now with a character named
      Richerson in it. He carries three kukri knives strapped to his chest. And he kills people who dis Rush.

      I can’t imagine where I got the character from…

  7. Matt says:

    “Bob’s on the job,” eh? If he ever decided to become an American citizen, he could certainly run for office in Texas with that video. And that hat.

    That photo of Howard looking like he’s about to cry into his breakfast cereal is pretty damn great.

    As Becky points out, as messy as this seems, it’s still a lot clearer (though by no means opaque) than much of what goes on the American system of elections. I tried explaining the Electoral College to Zara over the phone the other night–difficult thing to do when you don’t even understand it yourself!

    So what then for you is the best outcome from all this? Other than zooming northeast over the Pacific, bound for San Francisco, of course.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I love that photo of Howard. No one looks like a sad old man quite like John Howard looks like a sad old man.

      Oh, God, Bob Katter. I can’t believe he’s got the power he’s got.

      Australian voting gets tricky when you start to bring in the concept of preferential voting, but even that isn’t too bad.

      The best outcome would probably be back to the polls and the Greens getting a larger slice of the HoR. But seriously, that north east zoom? By far and away, the best.

  8. sheree says:

    “determined not only to win, but to take the Coalition’s mother on a date afterwards.”
    Oh man, you made me howl with laughter….. Thanks!

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Man, you Australians need to catch up. We’ve been doing this for years.

    In fact, (apart from the last election) we have had stalemate governments since we introduced MMP. Theoretically, I agree with proportional representation but practically it often means that you end up with a situation like you have here – where independents or minor parties can hold the government (and county) to ransom.

    It once took us about three months to form a government after a particularly vexatious man held out for more ‘baubles of office.’

    Here’s the thing (ha!). A situation like this is easily solved. You have half the voting constituency voting for the right or the left (in reality, both are closer to being centrist) then all is needed is a grand coalition of the two major parties. If they could actually get their shit together and work together then the greater public would be served. But of course it doesn’t work that way.

    Having said that – In New Zealand we seem to have a much better grip on how this stuff works after decades of making a hash of it – and now we have a situation where our right-leaning government is forging strong ties with left of centre parties and in some cases almost radical parties. It’s good. It means they have to work together. It’s inclusive. But it takes time.

    Oh, and K-Rudd fucked himself when he threw the tantrum about the hairdryer. And Julia fucked herself when she knifed K-Rudd in the back. Both acts were very un-australian.

    • Matt says:

      I dunno. Going on both the thesis of this essay and the Australian films that make it to America, knifing people seems a very Australian thing to do indeed.

      • Zara Potts says:

        Not in the back, Matt. Not in the back.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Actually, Rob Oakeshott, one of the three independents, suggested a grand coalition. The response was a polite ‘Tell him he’s dreaming.’


          Now it looks like a reform that may be introduced would be an independent Speaker, with a deputy from each major party, which would be a start.

          Yep. You can’t go being un-Australian. It’s the one sin the electorate will never forgive.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    Simon, you’ve suddenly gone all exotic and shit. Australia? Never heard of the place. I seem to recall a movie with Nicole Kidman with a title that sounded eerily similar to “Australia,” but I never saw the movie. The trailer suggested that Nicole Kidman was involved with a song-and-dance man, though he didn’t seem to be singing and dancing all that much. I didn’t dream this, did I?

    (Seriously, I’m glad to read this post, though the Bob Klatter clip freaked me out a bit.)

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, how I wish Australia could have all been a dream. That’s the movie, not me repeating the name of the country with special emphasis. Although, according to our indigenous population, the whole thing is a dream anyway.

      Which Hugh Jackman probably wished that time he accidentally voided his bladder on stage.

      True story!

      (thanks amigo. Bob scares everyone)

  11. Erika Rae says:

    I can’t tell if Bob Katler is a Dr. Seuss hopeful or the next greatest thing since Eminem.

  12. Wait. Isn’t Bob Katter, Katler, Klatter (?) the sheriff Rosco from “Dukes of Hazard”? At the very least, he’s Texas governor Rick Perry’s cousin down-under. He looks like a guy who goes jogging with a hollow-point-bullet-loaded, laser-site pistol to shoot snakes with.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Bob Katter…


      He’s been described as ‘A man who doesn’t change his mind easily, and usually has his mind made up before entering into discussions’.


      That’s awesome.

  13. Don’t take this the wrong way, Simon, but I actually find it heartening to hear how other countries are as utterly corrupt, hopeless, and bloodily internecine as the US. Your rise and fall of Rudd could well be The Obama Story, with the Hat/Rapper guy playing Dick Cheney. My feeling is that by the time television had more than three channels, it became impossible to govern, regardless of your politics.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      None taken, Sean.

      Seriously, it’s at times like this I start to think fondly about dictatorships.

      The good kind of dictatorships, obviously.

      At least they don’t try to hide anything.

  14. J.M. Blaine says:

    Politics are scripted.
    This must be the era of the
    hot chick politician.

    Bout time.

    Joan Collins for Shah!

  15. Joe Daly says:

    Brother, this is an essential primer on politics that needs to find a great many readers. First, my experience has shown me that while many Americans believe our system of government to be (insert superlative here) in the world, many cannot articulate what the three branches are or how they work. Beyond that, I have been in hundreds of conversations with other Americans who cannot describe the system of government of powerful allies such as the UK, Australia, Germany, etc.

    This isn’t to condemn my fellow Americans as low-brow provincials, but my experience has simply revealed to me that there’s a great unawareness of how other countries do business.

    I love your description of the politicians above and how they found their place of prominence. I also enjoyed your build up to the insanity that is now overtaking your glorious nation. These are strange times, indeed.

    If you do get the jetpack, I have some cool stickers I’d like to give you to put on the tanks. A couple surfing stickers, some music ones, and a couple other random ones that I think would really pimp out your ride. And if you do hit the Italian lotto, I hereby submit my candidacy for your Personal Assistant/Right Hand Man job. References available upon request.

    Pimp on, brother. Thanks for the brain food.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Thanks, brother!

      We’ve got a somewhat cobbled-together approach, especially in the Senate, which borrows a few elements from the American system.

      I couldn’t tell you how just about any other system of government works. I’m sure there are mammoth gaps in my understanding of the Australian political system – the kind of gaps that you don’t even realise are there until someone from another country says ‘But… what kind of rattlesnake?’ and I suddenly realise I don’t know.

      At which point I tell a lie and hope to God no one else knows and can correct me.

      Right Hand Man? Check.

  16. JSBreukelaar says:

    Simon, orders of magnitude more coherence in your summary than in the actual events. Like you, I’m so outa here it’s not funny… but your spin was. Thanks.

  17. Marni Grossman says:

    “…or a cow’s gone astray/Your property rights are being stripped away.”

    The catchiest political ad ever. Pure genius.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      My other favourite little bit of politicism this time around is how Julia Gillard starting running together Tony Abbot’s prefix and name, so it sounded like she was calling him ‘Mr. Rabbit.’


  18. Richard Cox says:

    While expertly written, this post depresses me. That even the supposedly laid back and enlightened folks from Oz can’t get their governmental shit together any better than the bloated American populace makes me want to buy a yacht and load it with Kraken and pizza and set out on the high seas. And when I run out of food or rum, I’ll just pretend like there was an engine reactor leak and scuttle the ship and defect to the Heavens.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      We’re so apathetic. In France, there would have been rioting on the streets. Not that I’m in favour of rioting, unless it’s a quiet riot, but seriously? Nothing? There must be some meeting place on the spectrum.

      Oh! Snap! International waters! Or, as misiniformed college kids call it, ‘Partytown, USA’.

  19. Richard Cox says:

    John Howard looks like Dick Cheney, by the by.

  20. Jessica Blau says:

    Oh Simon, will YOU please just run! You have fabulous looks, intelligence, humor and a jet-pack coming to you in the mail! I’ll rush over there, marry someone quick quick, become one of you and vote like hell for TOI!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      My platform will be ‘Face the Future: The Future is the Face.’


      Jesus, this overcompensation is really getting out of hand.

  21. Oh my, that’s quite the political mess. But it’s not any better over here, Han Solo. Didn’t you just come visit? Did you not stop to listen to the blood letting happening in our own political situation over here? Is-a-no-good. Mr. Obama in veeeerrrrry big trouble over here. And no health care either. Although we elected him because we wanted it, the republicans were right. Health care for all is over-rated, even if most people can afford it otherwise. Didn’t you hear? Obama wants to kill the old people! Death panels! Look ’em up. (Why, oh why are we stupid?)

    Not that I don’t want you to defect, of COURSE I do. I’d love for you and Zara both to come sparkle up our sad nation of political nit wits. I’m just warning you, it ain’t better.

    Love the ad. Just love it! And yes, Richard, he does look like Cheney. Ahhhhh!

  22. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is really interesting. Someone else posted a piece not terribly long ago about Australian politics and I was captivated by that piece as well. Unfortunately, I’m a moron. That’s how I feel when I read about world politics, because it is such a vast and differentiated process among nations — and yet there is that base human nature, for better or worse depending on when and where you are, that is always a bottom line.

    For example, when you say this: Because what’s happened is that the populace of Australia has roundly rejected both options in the two-party system. Because they’re both awful.

    It inspires desire for a deeper understanding of the Australian political process, because as an American, we’d ultimately be forced to choose between horseshit and cowshit and that would be that for the next four years. You seem to have the ability to negotiate shittiness in a way we do not.

    I enjoyed reading you on a political topic. You make it entertaining and clear. Nicely done.

    PS: Your manuscript arrived via email. Thank you! Looking forward to it.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I think everyone feels like a moron when it comes to world politics. Except Henry Kissinger, who chuckles and rubs his hands and thinks Everyone’s morons but me.

      I think South Park really nailed it with their turd sandwich/giant douche episode. There should be some sort of law against two-party systems. Some sort, of, I don’t know, big brother who watched over us all like a beloved family.

      PS – Oh, cool! Looking forward to critique!

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