Sunday, 18 September 2011


Prince Charles famously fantasized about being reincarnated as one of Camilla Parker-Bowles' tampons. For my part, I wouldn't mind coming back as one of Kevin Rudd's tea-bags.

Last night on the ABC's Lateline, Tony Jones dangled before our eyes the tantalizing vision of Tea with Malcolm and Kevin. His guest, none other than former Liberal leader and current touchy-feely heart-throb Malcolm Turnbull, smiled with amused self-satisfaction when asked “is it true as reported that you and Kevin Rudd occasionally get together to talk about politics?” With a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a self-deprecating shrug Malcolm informed us somewhat primly that “Well we - not - you know, we've got together a couple of times and had a chat, had a cup of tea.”

A cup of tea? Somewhat taken aback, Tony failed to ask any of the follow-up killer questions such a response demanded and that he must surely now be kicking himself over. No wry "who poured?", no witty "did he bring the Iced Vovo's?" And even worse, the demon inquisitor of Q&A failed to ask the obvious glaring headline-begging scoop of the year: "So what on earth did you two talk about?"

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall! Or even better, a soggy tea-bag on the side of the saucer; for surely whatever Mal and Kev discussed of any import would have been done in hushed tones and barely audible whispers in between carefully measured sips of tea.

Enjoying their Earl Grey together were the two men who by all rights - at least in their minds - should currently be Her Majesty's Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Leader of the Opposition. The two men who have the most enviable opinion poll numbers by miles of any politicians in the country, state or federal. The two men who between them command the loyal affections of a vast swag of Australian voters. And the two men who are probably the most ruthlessly ambitious politicians of our era.

The two men who as we speak nonetheless wield virtually no political power whatsoever, sitting calmly having tea together. Uppermost in their minds, apart from the burning sense of injustice and impotent rage that fuels them both, would be the inescapable mathematics of minority government. In Australia, we are still only just coming to terms with what the Europeans have long taken for granted, and what the motley crew of independents instinctively took advantage of: hung parliaments are there to be exploited. No principle is so sacred that it can't be ditched or used as a bargaining chip. Power resides with he or she who is prepared to get off his or her arse and cross the floor.

Because Tony Jones so miserably failed in his duty to find out for us, I'm going to have to imagine how Canberra’s very own Tea Party conversation went.

Kevin: Strange, isn't it? How similar you and I are, mate. And how entwined our fates.

Malcolm: Indeed.

Kevin: Has it ever occurred to you, hypothetically of course, what you and I could achieve if we worked together, in terms of logistical political specificity?

Malcolm: Absolutely.

For several long, drawn out seconds all we hear are the gentle sound of spoons tinkling against porcelain.

Malcolm: In fact, dare I say it we damn well did work well together! We nearly had that whole CPRS thing done and dusted. In the bag.

Kevin: Indeed.

Slow slurping sounds.

Kevin: As I said, hypothetically speaking, off the cuff as it were, the question is this: were I to wrestle back the leadership, would you think about coming over? I could offer you whatever you wanted. Treasury? Foreign affairs? Climate change?

Malcolm: All three, perhaps?

They both laugh.

Kevin: The bottom line is this, to be fair dinkum about it. Would you and I make a formidable team? Yes, of course we would. And let's face it, there's no one else on my side of the fence I could trust! Haha.

Malcolm: Funny you should ask. Because I was pretty much thinking the same thing myself.

Kevin: Australia’s Dream Team.

Malcolm: Tony’s nightmare!

Alexander Downer and Graham Richardson have both already called on Julia Gillard to stand down. Kevin Rudd, it appears, is the only possible replacement if Labor is to avoid a NSW style implosion. He is the only one with the faintest hope of winning back Labor supporters, and of implementing the carbon tax with any credibility. With Malcolm by his side, it would be a walk in the park. Bob Ellis has pointed out Malcolm’s long-standing suitability for membership of the Labor Party, including his spell chairing the Republican movement. He remains extremely popular not only with certain disillusioned Liberals, but with disheartened Labor supporters, too. Having Malcolm on Kevin’s team would give them added economic clout, allow Labor to dispense with the tortuous relationship with the Independents, in particular Andrew Wilkie and his pokies’ ticking time bomb, and would turn Rudd’s possibility of winning in 2013 into an absolute certainty.

Could it be that Australia might soon see a major realignment of the political landscape? If only we could read the tea leaves.

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