/ 23 October 2007

Australian PM takes walks on the wild side

A looming election has turned Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s traditional morning stroll into a walk on the wild side.

Television satirists have popped up in his path dressed as rabbits and worms — both well-known political creatures here — while ordinary passers-by have taken to hurling insults at him.

The latest ambush, on Tuesday morning, came as Howard (68) was enjoying his regular early morning walk on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in the capital, Canberra.

It was launched by a middle-aged man rowing past and was blunt and to the point in classic Aussie style: “Bloody arsehole,” the rower yelled at the prime minister.

The day before, beside the same lake, another walker shouted at Howard: “You’re a disgrace John. You’re such a bad economic manager.”

Howard ignored him, but a fellow walker sprang to his defence, yelling back: “Shut up you idiot.”

The early morning peskiness dogging the prime minister is not confined to rambles in Canberra.

Last Friday, as he walked near his harbourside residence in Sydney, three members of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s satirical revue, The Chaser’s War on Everything, hopped into view dressed as white rabbits.

“We know you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat, so here’s a few,” they said — a reference to Howard’s famed ability to find a last-minute election-winning tactic even when trailing in the polls, as he is now.

An unamused premier strode briskly on, only to be confronted a little later by one of the Chasers dressed as a worm and calling out: “Don’t unfairly dismiss the worm.”

The “worm” is a famous line graph used by a national television channel during live political debates to monitor the reactions of a studio audience, and Howard wanted it banned for a debate with his opponent on Sunday.

But Channel Nine ran the worm — and it showed Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd beating Howard soundly.

A new opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that centre-left Labour leads Howard’s conservative Liberal-National coalition 58% to 42% ahead of the November 24 election.

If the poll results were reflected in the election, Labour would win by a landslide, ending Howard’s 11 years in power — and, perhaps, allowing him to take his morning stroll in peace. — AFP