Grown-Up Government: Bindi Irwin for Prime Minister! (Or President!)

August 11, 2010
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Last week I called the Australian federal campaign the Inception election. As we lurch toward voting day on August 21, reality has tried to kick in, but to little avail.

The two leaders, Prime Minister Julia Gillard (Labor) and challenger Tony Abbott (Liberal), both of whom recently toppled their predecessors in party-room coups, are now frantically searching for their own identity. And that’s what the election itself is increasingly about. Even though both have substantial track records as ministers, they are untried as national leaders. The real conundrum of the campaign – for them, if not for voters – is: Who the heck are these people?

left: the real Kevin Rudd (former PM) -- minus gall bladder -- on the comeback trail; right: the "real Gillard" has been unleashed. So who has been running the campaign up to now? (graphic: Liam Phillips)

Is their identity authentic (“real”) or produced by campaign strategists (“fake”)? Can voters trust what they see? The phrase of the week has been: “Will the real [insert name of opponent] stand up?” There has been persistent doubt about whether Tony Abbott is real. Now Julia Gillard has personally unleashed her own real self, in an attempt to halt a catastrophic slide in the polls. But was the “real Julia” a campaign ploy?

If the prospective Prime Ministers don’t know who they are, there are plenty of old ones around to teach them. Ousted PM Kevin Rudd popped up (after his understandably bilious gall bladder was removed at the weekend), as did former PMs John Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser, topped by former Labor leader (never PM) Mark Latham, posing as a 60 Minutesreporter.” All of them seemed to do most damage to their own side of politics, some willfully.

Former Labor leader Mark Latham confronts Gillard during a street walk (source: AAP)

Tony Abbott likened the Labor Party to a soap opera. One paper likened the entire spectacle to Days of Our Lives.  The Liberals tried to cash in, calling for “grown-up government,” as if they weren’t part of what one of them dubbed the “Vain and Ruthless” script. Said Gillard: “I’m the Prime Minister of this country, I’m not a human interest story.” Since when were these different things? Maybe it’s a generational divide, but if so the usual polarities are inverted. Middle-aged politicians are having adolescent agonies, trying out different personae and fixating on gender issues (watch ‘The Sunday papers’ here).

Meanwhile the kids are becoming more alert to the risks involved in appearing in public with more than one identity: “You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg caused blogosphere consternation for saying this – but wannabe PMs might want to think it through.

So is there anyone left in Australia who harbours political ambitions, personal integrity, a strong stance on environmental issues, and a unified and universal identity?

Crikey, yes! There’s Bindi Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter heiress, wildlife crusader and media celebrity, who’s got her own TV show (Bindi the Jungle Girl), fitness video, Bindi Wear clothing and a Hollywood movie (Free Willy #4 with Beau Bridges), which was reviewed on IMDb thus: “Australia should consider Bindi Irwin to be a national treasure.”

What Americans think Australians look like (photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Although she’s the star of a magazine called Crikey, Bindi doesn’t – yet – own the eponymous website, whose mission for its brand of independent journalism is: “to bring its readers the inside word on what’s really going on in politics, government, media, business, the arts, sport and other aspects of public life in Australia. Crikey reveals how the powerful operate behind the scenes, and it tackles the stories insiders are talking about but other media can’t or won’t cover.”

Bindi’s Crikey! sticks close to the Irwin family business and wildlife appreciation, but this doesn’t mean she is uninterested in politics. She’s given us all fair warning. Months ago, aged 11, she made her announcement where it matters, in the 2m-circulation Australian Women’s Weekly: “I really am about making the world a better place. And, who knows, you may one day see me as prime minister or president.” American readers may wish to note that she leaves open the question of whether to rule Dad’s Australia (Prime Minister), or Mum’s USA (President) – making what could be called ‘Obama’s choice’ about nationality.

Either way, she repeated her ambition at her 12th birthday bash at Australia Zoo (of which she is heiress) on July 24: “As kids we are the next voters, the next decision makers and the next generation making a difference on our planet.” The pollies (that’s politicians, not parrots) have nothing to fear until at least 2016, when Bindi is old enough to vote and to take office. By that time we might look forward to “grown-up government” at last.

right: looking forward to grown-up government: the hopeful candidate celebrates her 12th birthday


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