Steve Irwin mightn’t have been your conventional naturalist – but he was totally committed to conservation. So much so that he put much of his money into buying up land to protect habitat. No-one could doubt his commitment. It was his life’s work.

So why then did he declare that John Howard was “the greatest leader Australia has ever had”?

Irwin was grilled about his politics by the ABC back in 2003. He was asked if there was a link between his quarantine ads and his praise for the PM. He responded in his own indomitable style:

That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard – absolutely no link. That’s like asking if an eagle can mate with a budgerigar. I think what’s happened. Here’s what’s happened – I love John Howard, and that’s the way I am. So everyone thinks I’m, like, this diehard Liberal supporter. I’m not! I’m not. I’m sitting on the fence, mate, I’m a conservationist. I can’t afford to be one way or the other. I just have to run straight up the middle, mate. I have to get on with whoever’s in power.

And to tell you the truth, the best speech that popped up in Parliament House when George Bush was here was Simon Crean. Here’s a bloke who actually disagreed with Iraq, OK, so he put forward the most eloquent speech, which really boosted his profile in my eyes. By crikey, I thought, Simon did the best one there, which is fantastic. So I appreciate good work when I see it, and that’s all it is.

Irwin was no friend of nanny staters and the eco stasi. But he was no politician, either. He was simply an eccentric enthusiast who politicians knew was good for a photo op.

Like John Howard, Steve Irwin came in under the cultural radar of the cosmopolitan arbiters of culture. Many probably first heard of him when he turned up in the first series of South Park. Yet the ad men and the pollies saw his worth.

The Prime Minister invited him to his 2003 barbie at the Lodge for George W Bush. Irwin shared his views on the visit with Channel Nine’s Today show:

Richard Wilkins: G’day Steve.

Steve Irwin: G’day. How’re you going?

Richard Wilkins: Hey listen, I want to talk about your big day out shortly. What did you think of Bob Brown’s outburst in Parliament?

Steve Irwin: Oh crikey mate, he needs to be taken out the back and given a good belting. (laughs).

The PM would have been delighted. As Peter Beattie must be today. It’s going to be an ask getting any interest in any campaign issues for the next few days in Queensland.

Peter Fray

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