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Australia: who's who in the election

In Australia's election, a "ranga-in chief" fends off a "mad monk"

The "Mad Monk"

Tony Abbott (left) pushes Melanie Battershell in Melbourne on Aug. 13, 2010. (William West/Getty Images)

The Liberal party have also had their own round of political assassinations — Tony Abbott is the third leader in three years having won a challenge against the former leader Malcolm Turnbull, a multi-millionaire stockbroker whose principled stance on climate change and the republic make him an unlikely darling of the left.

Tony Abbott is no such darling. A former Rhodes Scholar, journalist and seminarian nicknamed the Mad Monk, he has been of the hard right, though now he is furiously attempting to reposition himself as a quasi-feminist leader with a paid parental leave scheme so generous that it compares only with socialist Scandinavian countries. Previously he had spoken out against abortion, stem cell research and cervical cancer vaccination.

So much has he alienated women voters that he has had to drag his (rather unwilling-looking) wife and young daughters around on the campaign trail — and continuously make the point that he understands women.

But he is dogged by characteristic bluntness — has said climate change is “crap” and admitted that not everything he says is "gospel truth."

Somewhere along the line, he picked up the persona of "mad monk" — an image earned through his combination of right-wing Catholic views and awkward outbursts.

But so far he has executed an effective campaign, and hasn’t made too many missteps, apart from being unable to explain his party’s broadband policy in a major TV interview and dismissing his lack of knowledge of policy detail with a glib “I’m no techhead.”

He has certainly been "on message" the whole campaign. His slogans (or "action contract" as he calls it) get mentioned with an almost numbing frequency, including his pledge to "stop the boats."

Australia’s illegal boat arrivals are relatively low in number compared to those entering the U.K. and Europe, yet both Abbott and Gillard have made this a central part of their campaign, maybe as a result of focus groups in marginal seats, for whom "boat people" are the favored bogeymen. Being tough on illegals (rather than say being tough on climate change or tough on homelessness) has many on the left despairing — and may provide a boost to the Green party which is tipped to win its first seat in the lower house of parliament this election.

On the topic of personal appeal, he has played the role of macho Aussie male to perfection. Each morning before he hits the gruelling campaign trail, he cycles around 23 miles. He also competes in rigorous Ironman competitions, resulting in no shortage of opportunities for the physically fit 52-year-old to emerge dripping from the surf before a wall of cameras wearing nothing more than a smug smile and a Speedo. But Australians, it turns out, are easily perturbed by overt displays of machismo, especially when it comes to public figures prancing around in their "budgie smugglers."

No doubt on the the advice of his media minders, he promised to refrain — where possible — from showing off about his admirable physique. 

Side-show Mark

A book display of Mark Latham's diaries in Melbourne Sept. 19, 2005. (William West/Getty Images)

According to News Limited opinion site The Punch, "a strange narrative has developed during this federal election campaign: that it is somehow boring."

Enter Mark Latham.

Latham, a former leader of the Labor Party, has been employed as a journalist on current affairs show "60 Minutes" and turned up at a variety of political functions, strong-armed his way through the press pack, and confronted the politicians that he used to work alongside.

He ambushed the prime minister at an event and spoke to her in such aggressive tones that the CEO of the network who hired Latham was forced to apologize.

Latham, in his capacity as a "60 Minutes" reporter, confronted Abbott at a war veteran's policy announcement a few days later. As Latham promised not to break Abbott's arm in a meaty handshake, grumpy veterans booed and told him to "p*** of."

Then when "60 Minutes" aired last Sunday night, Latham expressed his disgust at the election campaign, the policies of both major parties, and urged viewers to return their ballots empty to the box in a form of protest.

Who said the election was boring?