“I am entitled to reside in Kirribilli House because I’m currently Prime Minister of Australia and I’m entitled to invite people and to extend hospitality.” — John Howard, yesterday.

When John Howard was elected PM in 1996 he caused something of a stir when he opted not to live in the Prime Minister’s official residence, The Lodge, a cosy example of interwar ‘two-up-one-down’ in a leafy garden setting on Adelaide Avenue, Canberra. Instead, he took root in Sydney’s harbourside Kirribilli House, a building more like a cuckoo clock with a view. He is the only PM  since the Canberra Parliament opened in 1926 to have done so — with the small exception of Ben Chifley, who took a room in Barton’s Kurrajong Hotel, the better to facilitate late-night exchanges with close personal advisers.

The week’s kerfuffle over canape-gate and the PM’s apparently shameless and unapologetic appropriation of public facilities for party-political gain, leads us to ask again what on earth the ‘First Family’ think they are doing living in Sydney anyway.

Would the British prime minister opt not to live at 10 Downing Street? Would the president of the United States move out of the White House to avoid the rigors of the Washington winter … or to satisfy the social vanities of his wife?

Keeping Mr and Mrs Howard happy on the harbourside is reported to cost the Australian taxpayer $18.4 million above what might be spent if The Lodge was the principal prime ministerial residence. The high price of keeping up appearances.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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