The leaders – INSIDE THE LABOR CAMP – NOTEBOOK
Kim Beazley made his mark on the ballot paper with his wife, Susie, looking over his shoulder. “This is as close as it comes to knowing his intimate thoughts on politics,” she quipped.
Susie Annus kept the quips coming, as is her wont, but yesterday there was a nervy edge to her delivery. Beazley himself looked not so much nervous as weary, his eyes red and his voice a little husky. His daughter Hannah, 22, who had spent the morning handing out how-to-vote cards for her dad, felt no need to hide her feelings: “I’ve got about a dozen swarms of butterflies going around in my stomach.”
The Beazley family had come to Rockingham High School, in his home electorate of Brand, Western Australia, to vote in what might be Beazley’s last election as a candidate, or the one that will take him to the Lodge. He moved across the parquet floor of the school gym like a dancer at the centre of a country set.
The party faithful did manage to touch the hem of his cloak. “Was that a curtsy?” cried Annus, of a little old lady greeting Beazley. The reply was a second curtsy.
Three elderly women who accosted him about how, as pensioners, they deserved a cut in their rates, were congratulated on their tactics. “Well done, ladies,” he said, amused. “You’ve just run a great campaign on national television.”
He had the grace to pass on the photo opportunity with the baby girl who had been waiting for some time in her best pink dress. He decided the pack should get out of her face, which was crumpling at the sight of all the cameras.
But he accepted the two wilted roses, casualties of the Perth heat, offered him by another voter – one was Double Delight and the other Paradise, she said: “And maybe tomorrow morning we’ll all be in paradise.”
He planted himself in the shade of a large gum tree to say his last public words before the defining speech he would probably have to make later. “I’ll tell you what keeps me alive in politics,” he said. “What keeps me alive is the smell of those suburbs in Western Australia near to the beach. It smells like relaxation, and it smells like home, and there is no better way to conclude an election campaign.”
But did he smell victory? “The polls this morning say this is a tight one,” he said. “It’s a miracle we’re in this situation. When we began this election campaign all the polls told us that the Labor Party was facing annihilation.”
He talked again about the domestic issues he had tried so hard to put on the agenda: job security, education, families and aged care. “A nation is judged by how it treats its children and its elderly,” he said. “If a society fails its children and its elderly, it’s a failed society.”
And he said he was angered by newspaper posters that reported the Prime Minister John Howard as blaming the navy for the schemozzle over the asylum seekers video: “When I was defence minister … I accepted responsibility for the services who reported to me,” he said. “That’s the job of the PM. He doesn’t shift the blame to the people who defend this country.”
The campaign trail ended, Beazley’s next stop was hospital. His father, Kim Beazley senior, had gone in for a hip operation on Monday, and Kim junior had not yet had a chance to visit him. Then it was to be back to his electorate office with his family and close colleagues to watch what he expected to be a white-knuckle count.
“I don’t know where your heart is,” called out a Labor supporter in the grounds of the school.
Beazley knew. “In my mouth. In my mouth.”
First published in The Age.