Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When Weiner jokes wear thin, there's Oz

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BRISBANE -- When the country that brought us Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner turns to Oz for laughs, it can't be good. And it isn't.

The Daily Show this week ridiculed a member of parliament who placed his own "member'' in a wine glass and a political candidate who thought Islam was a country.

British comedian John Oliver hosted the eight-minute segment on Jon Stewart's show and no one Down Under could credibly object.

Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, the noble crusader against ethics violations who hired high-priced hookers, set a high benchmark for the satiric mill. But in the past two weeks, Australian politicians also have revealed a talent for the ridiculous.

Queensland politician Peter Dowling, who heads an ethics committee, was found to have texted his mistress a photo of his penis in a glass of red wine. Hardly on the scale of devilry exhibited by Anthony Weiner with that swashbuckling alias Carlos Danger, it was enough to get the mortified Dowling a mention in the Washington Post.

And from there sprang forth a range of truly odd behaviours much like mushrooms after summer rain, rocketing Australia's political landscape into the realms of a YouTube sensation.

Stephanie Bannister, a One Nation candidate in the federal election next month, gave some weight to the argument that bigotry is best nurtured in ignorance when she mistook Islam for a country during an interview .

Then Opposition leader Tony Abbott provided a kissing-the-baby mishap which gave a nod to that Will Ferrell movie The Campaign. The mother holding the infant turned her back at the crucial moment and left Abbott's lips smooching at the back of her head.

On Tuesday, Abbott told a gathering in Melbourne that no matter how well-educated or intelligent a person might be, none could claim to be the "suppository of wisdom.''

Amid the shoe-staring and clearing of throats that followed, the consensus was that Abbott intended to say repository but, alas, the defence was all too little, too late.

The Internet propelled around the globe the novel theory that wisdom might be found in an anal drug-delivery device, prompting millions of musings on the obscure avenues the Opposition leader must have travelled in his own quest for sagacity.

"Know your enema" one observed, while another noted Australia at least now knew how Abbott planned to "plug the holes in his budget.''

Undeterred, Abbott sailed on majestically into Wednesday when he described one of his female candidates in Sydney, Fiona Scott, as having "sex appeal.''

Amid howls of "sexist" and reminders of harassment protocols, former Labor leader Mark Latham turned up on radio to sternly admonish Abbott.

"It showed very bad judgment and it shows he has low standards," Latham said. "I had a good look at Fiona Scott on page eight of The Australian today and she doesn't have sex appeal at all.''

In a world waiting with phone camera in hand for the next political pratfall, we should all prepare ourselves for more from this side show. It's all great fun. Why we ever bothered with the tedious process of debating public policy is a mystery.

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

With an election under way, Australian politicians are playing a potent race card by banning asylum seekers and forcing them to settle in poor, violent Papua New Guinea, Gwynne Dyer writes at wfp.to/comment

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 A13

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