Australia

First it was Joe Hockey, Australia’s treasurer, who was snapped chomping Cuban cigars as he drafted the country’s harshest budget in 20 years. He was later challenged for dancing to the song “This will be the best day of my life” in his office before delivering a hair-shirt address to parliament.

Now it is the turn of Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, who has been caught winking and smiling during a radio phone-in show as he talked to a grandmother who admitted she has resorted to working on telephone sex lines to make ends meet.

The television footage of Mr Abbott’s cheeky wink went quickly viral on the internet on Wednesday, prompting aides to suggest he was merely signalling to the presenter that he was alright to take the question. But for a leader who has already been accused of being a misogynist by his critics, the damage was done. The Green Party has now added “creep” to the growing list of jibes thrown at Mr Abbott. 

Media wars have regularly made great front page news down under, but Australia’s latest dust-up has been more personal than corporate.

James Packer, son of the late media magnate Kerry, and his old mate and best man David Gyngell on Sunday took their 35-year friendship to a physical level when – in true Aussie fashion – they slugged it out on a Bondi street outside the billionaire’s residence.

Local media have widely quoted tweets from Chris Walker, a Sydney resident who witnessed the brouhaha: 

Gideon Rachman

The first time I met Bob Carr, who was then Australian foreign minister, he struck me as a polite and humble man. That just shows how wrong you can be. For Mr Carr, who lost office when the Labor Party lost power in Australia, has just published a book called Diary of a Foreign Minister, which reveals – with remarkable frankness – his raging egotism. Among other things, the former minister congratulates himself on his membership of the “elite of the flat-stomached” (fellow members, Barack Obama and Prince Charles), his brilliance as a chairman and his taste in ties. He also complains vociferously about the iniquities of business-class travel on an airline. (Apparently the layout of the seats is similar to a slave-ship). He also publishes, in full, an apology sent to him by Singapore Airlines, for sins that include not providing English subtitles on the Wagner opera that the minister had been watching in first-class. 

Drive-in movie shows ‘Marty McFly’ from Back to the Future

Mr Abbott has been dubbed ‘Marty McFly’ for his decision to reinstitute the titles of knights and dames in Australia

By Jamie Smyth

“Welcome to Abbott’s bunyip aristocracy”, screamed the headline on the front page of Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

This was the newspaper’s satirical take on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s surprise decision to reintroduce an honours system Down Under based on the regal titles of knights and dames.

Twitter provided a stream of satirical comments, while the Sydney Morning Herald’s reference to the “bunyip aristocracy” invoked the mythological aboriginal devil creature that was used to ridicule conservatives’ 19th century attempts to develop an aristocracy.

Outgoing Governor General Quentin Bryce and her successor Peter Cosgrove – who takes over as Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Australia on Friday – will be the first to receive the titles. As many as four new awards will be recommended by the prime minister and approved by the Queen each year, with the governor general occupying the position of “principle knight or dame in the Order of Australia”. 

By Richard McGregor

When the US and Australia hold their annual top-level security consultations in Washington on Wednesday, they will doubtless exchange the usual bromides about the enduring value and strength of their alliance.

But the Australia defence and foreign ministers might also want to vent a little as well to their counterparts about the diplomatic mess that the former US intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, has landed them in.

The revelation that the National Security Agency, America’s eavesdropping body, had bugged the mobile phone of German’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, provoked a crisis in Washington’s ties with Berlin. Mr Snowden has given Australia its own “Merkel moment” this week, with the publication of leaked documents detailing how Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate bugged the phones of top Indonesian leaders. 

By Luisa Frey

♦ The Indonesian province of Aceh, devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, has become a model for reconstruction operations and might offer useful lessons for rebuilding the Philippines.

♦ Hairy crabs – delicacies which used to be one of China’s many currencies of corruption – are feeling the impact of new abstemiousness, reports FT’s Patti Waldmeir. After launching an austerity drive last year, Xi Jinping has announced further measures.

♦ China’s President, Xi Jinping, has admitted watching “The Godfather” and seems to have learned a lesson from it: “the art of amassing and applying power in a small, secretive circle of men”, according to The New York Times’ blog, Sinosphere.

♦ The New York Times also reports on the refugees who try to travel from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island, hoping for better living conditions. More than a thousand have already died on the journey.

♦ After attacking immigrants, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen have shifted their focus to the European Union. Both want to form a new Eurosceptic bloc and “fight this monster called Europe”, writes The Economist. 

Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition yesterday won a commanding lower house majority, ending six years of Labor party rule. However, the makeup of the senate is yet to be decided. Senate votes take days, if not weeks, to tally, but early figures from the Australian Electoral commission suggest that several new minority parties might hold the balance of power.

In this case, the Australian senate could look decidedly more colourful in July 2014, when the newly elected senators would take their seats.

Clive Palmer (Getty)

Glenn Lazarus, a Palmer United senate candidate, was nicknamed “the brick with eyes” when he played rugby, and once posed naked with only a brick to promote a brick company.

Clive Palmer, who started the Palmer United party, has himself claimed a seat in the house of representatives. He is the multimillionaire owner of coal, iron ore and nickel assets, with plans to build a working replica of the Titanic and put mechanical dinosaurs on a luxury golf resort

Gideon Rachman

Julia Gillard addresses parliament (Getty)

Just a couple of days ago, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communications chief, tweeted that he had met Julia Gillard and that the then Australian prime minister was an impressive woman. But, Campbell added, the Labor party needed to unite if it was to have a chance of victory in the upcoming Australian election.

The Australian Labor party, however, appears to have its own ideas on the matter. It responded to Gillard’s dramatic “back me or sack me” snap leadership election by ditching her and replacing her with her long time deadly rival, Kevin Rudd. The decision to switch leaders at this late stage testifies to the party’s desperation as it heads to what pundits expect will be a landslide defeat by the conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott.

 

Opposition leader Tony Abbott with his two daughers (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Earlier this year Australia’s prime minister couldn’t catch a break.

From the Australia Day “riot” to the scandal that enveloped the speaker of the House and the nocturnal activities of a backbench MP, Julia Gillard seemed to stumble from one omnishambles to another.

But the tables have turned, and it’s opposition leader Tony Abbott who is under the kosh.

On Tuesday Mr Abbott managed to single-handily undermine his party’s attack on the Labor government’s mid-year budget with some ill-chosen words that reignited Australia’s now infamous misogyny debate.

It all started when Treasurer Wayne Swan attempted to explain the government’s decision to cut the baby bonus from A$5,000 to A$3,000 for the second and each subsequent child.

“We believe that these changes to the baby bonus will bring it more into line with the actual costs of having children. After the first child you’ve already bought the cot, the pram and other items you can use again,” he said.

Enter Mr Abbott, a proud father of three girls. He attacked the move on breakfast TV with the following logic: 

Esther Bintliff

In parliament on Tuesday, Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, launched into a lacerating tirade against the leader of the opposition, accusing him of misogyny and hypocrisy.