Being totally out of touch unfocuses the mind wonderfully; the day-to-day crises of the political scene fade into insignificance once they cease thrusting themselves upon what passes for one’s attention.

For the past 10 days I have been in the deep north of Australia, insulated from the media like a baby koala in its mother’s pouch. No press, no radio, no phone, no internet.

The blissful seclusion was broken just once, when I chanced across a copy of the Northern Territory News of Tuesday, June 15. From this journal of record I learned that charter flights were bringing asylum seekers from Christmas Island to the mainland, which I had gleaned a month or so previously. This single piece of national news was buried under the comics.

Apart from that, my sole contact with what the political pundits insist on calling the real world has been campsite gossip. In Lawn Hill someone mentioned that the press gallery appeared to have abandoned its febrile pursuit of a leadership change in the Labor party; apparently it had finally dawned on even the ultimatum-threateners of The Australian that you can’t have a challenge without a challenger.

Instead, the gallery had reverted to its other favourite obsession: speculation about an election date. Someone else claimed to have heard an ABC news broadcast of Bob Brown gravely opining that although the election could be as late as April next year, it probably wouldn’t be. Someone else noted that Barnaby Joyce had been reported as suggesting that the coalition could win five, or possibly six, seats in Queensland.

After that the conversation turned to regret that while the nearby fossil beds of Riversleigh had unearthed traces of the ancestry of every mammal presently living in Australia, the origins of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott remained a mystery. Of course, to retrace the ancestry of Barnaby Joyce one would need to go further south, to the dinosaur fields of Richmond and Hughenden.

And that was about it. Hence what follows is written unencumbered by knowledge, information, news, gossip, slander, innuendo, lies and the Murdoch press.

It must be said that in the far north, politics is not the main area of concern; the weather beats it every time. The flood waters are receding, most roads are now open, and the countryside is alive with wattles, grevilleas, turkey bush and flowering gums, not to mention the odd roadside runner of wildflowers and the carpet of water lilies on the lagoons.

On the rare occasions that people can be drawn into debate, they are anything but passionate. OK, so Kevin has been a bit of a disappointment, but aren’t they all? At least most people kept their jobs through the global recession or whatever it was, and you have to give him a few marks for that. And as for all the talk about wasted money — well, we didn’t get too much insulation out in the bush, but a few of the local schools have done all right out of the BER, whatever that is.

And don’t believe the miners are going to go broke; Century and Macarthur are doing very nicely thank you and don’t let anyone tell you different. One incredulous worker said he had heard stories that Gina bloody Rinehart, Lang bloody Hancock’s daughter and the richest woman in the whole bloody country, was leading protests. That’d be a bit of a joke, wouldn’t it? Another noted that the so-called protesters were adapting an old union chant: “The miners, united, will never be defeated.”

Give us a break. If the bosses want to pinch the workers’ songs they could at least make up their own words. A few suggestions: “The miners, tight-fisted, can never be resisted.” “We’re miners, we’re heavy, we will not pay the levy.” “The miners, hell-bent, refuse to pay the rent.” “The miners have practice at dodging paying taxes.” “Hey Kevin, piss off, it’s our right to make huge profits.” And so ad infinitum.

The overall feeling was that no one really understood how the new tax would work, but if the bosses were screaming so loudly about it it couldn’t be such a bad thing. This, of course, was precisely the reaction Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan had been hoping for from the start. The screaming hostility the miners and their allies in the opposition and the media have been trying to whip up is simply not there — well not yet, and not in the backblocks of the far north.

If they have to talk about Rudd (Kevin, that is, not Steele of Dad and Dave fame) there is a definitely a sense of let-down; they don’t think he’s done all that much wrong, but there’s not too much to cheer about either. Rudd the dud perhaps, but what’s the alternative? Even one diehard Liberal voter confessed that although he would continue to toe the party line, the prospect of Abbott filled him with pain and gloom. There was a notable lack of enthusiasm for either option. The conventional wisdom is that apathy favours the incumbent, and that would appear to be the case at present.

There is certainly space for Rudd to make a comeback; if he is able to divide the miners, and reach some kind of agreement with even a few of them, it could be sold as a victory, and in the absence of anything much else would probably be enough to swing the balance. But it will take a mighty effort indeed in his second term if he is ever to recapture that first fine careless rapture of the heady days of Kevin 07. And Tony Abbott will need to mature considerably as a person and a politician if he is to be given a second chance.

In 2010 it appears that we have escaped a double dissolution election, only to be saddled with a double disillusion. Hey, that’s not a bad name for a book.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey