James Allan

Counting down the election from half a world away

It is an odd thing to be watching an election campaign from 10,000 miles away. My wife and I are up in the wilds of Ontario, Canada, after five wonderful months in San Diego. In a fortnight we head down to Toronto, where I will be taking up a visiting position at the Osgoode Hall law school till Christmas. But for the past couple of months I’ve been lucky enough to have the time and quiet to finish a book I’ve been working on and get it off to the publisher, and to do some other writing and reading as well.

So the comparative isolation has been great, save that both my wife and I feel cut off from the important Australian election soon to be held. Last week we called the consulate in Toronto to find out how we could vote, and the answer did not include having to bring any identification with us at all – which strikes me as bonkers, but there you have it.

As an aside, were it the case that I lived in one of the two electorates of those two rural socialist independents who propped up what I consider to be the worst government in Australia’s history, and had either of them had the courage or indeed decency to put that awful legacy to the voters in this election, and were there no overseas voting, then I would have paid for a flight back to Oz to vote. It would have been money well spent. But enough ranting and raving.

One of the amazing things we’ve noticed in Canada this past couple of months is what a favourable press Julia Gillard received here. She was painted as the helpless victim of an all-men’s club who robbed her of the Prime Ministership solely because of her sex. And smart, otherwise well-informed Canadians bought this tosh. You had to explain to them her government’s legacy, how she had herself come to office, and how it was the men (and women) in her own party who eventually knifed her back, and what the majority of Australian women thought of her leadership, before they started to doubt the picture painted by the most of, nay virtually all, of the media here.

A campaign highlight for me so far was to wake up and read that Mr. Rudd had brought notes into the first election debate, against the rules. It is unlikely that anything could happen during an election campaign that could better encapsulate my sense of the man, Mr. Rudd, than that. Which leads on to some musings about Mr. Rudd and Ms. Gillard. You see, I’ve always felt that I would much, much, much prefer to have a beer and a meal with Ms. Gillard than Mr Fair Shake of the Sauce Bottle.

Gillard probably outdid Rudd in running the worst Australian government ever, and she might not be the person you would want protecting your back in the political trenches, but there wasn’t the palpable phoniness about her. She’d be fun to have a few drinks with, leave aside the necessary ruthlessness that all top politicians need to have. By contrast, I can think of very, very, very few people I’d less like to have a beer and meal with than Mr. Rudd.

I go further than that. I suspect that if Ms Gillard had won in her own right in 2010 and been able to run a majority government she’d have been a noticeably better PM than Mr Rudd was or is now. Her downfall, her fatal weakness, had to do with leading a minority government dependent on a handful of limelight-loving independents and the Greens. She was so used to making deals that she dealt with the Greens when she didn’t have to, when they had nowhere else to go and would never have supported Mr. Abbott anyway. So she didn’t need to break her promise to the electorate and promise the Greens the carbon tax they demanded, a tax that she would never have brought in if she had a majority.

Indeed most of the awfulness of this past Gillard regime can be traced directly to minority government. It was an unmitigated disaster. No one for a generation, no one with a brain, will vote for an independent in any but the most bizarre and unusual circumstances.

All of which led me to wonder if the sizeable poll jump Labor received when Mr Rudd took back the reins could last. Would he change, or mask, his style of leadership and decision-making for an entire election campaign? Could he get on board over that entire period those who wouldn’t support Gillard, but might return to the Labor fold and vote for him? The latest polls, especially in outer suburban marginal seats, suggest the Rudd re-ascension was always a false and forlorn hope.

But let me finish on something other than politics. Here in the cottage and lake country of Ontario, a few hours drive north of Toronto, we are staying on a lake that is connected to two other lakes, with dozens of others all around. Many Australians will have no idea of the size and scope of these lakes. On ours we can get into a powerboat, a biggish power boat, and drive south (with a few twists and turns) for 80 minutes in one basic direction. The lakes are huge by anyone’s reckoning, and enormously, humungously huge by Australian standards. And that’s without mentioning that a 30-minute twisting car drive from our lodgings takes us to Georgian Bay, which is a part of Lake Huron – one of the lakes that make up the five Great Lakes and that form (four of them, at any rate) part of the US-Canada border. These Great Lakes are amongst the biggest in the world. Indeed the biggest of the five, Lake Superior, is the either first- or second-biggest body of fresh water lake in the world, depending on who is doing the measuring.

So this part of Ontario is overloaded with lakes, wonderful fresh-water lakes, where swimming in summer sees you are less buoyant than in the ocean, but where you get out feeling very clean. The water is so clean you can drink it.

In fact every Australian ought to get to this part of the world in summer and discover how wonderful a time at a cottage on a real, Canadian lake can be. And of course, if you are over in these parts, then the big, longed-for day comes early, on September 6 because of the International dateline, not September 7.

That’s when we’ll finally say adieu to the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd monstrosity.

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland (and for 2013, on sabbatical in the US and Canada)

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