By all accounts, Stephen Harper’s speech to the Australian Parliament this morning (Australia time… last night, Canada time) was warmly received by the assembled MPs and senators.
But it wasn’t without its bumps. When Harper turned the subject to senate reform, contrasting Canada’s appointed upper chamber with Australia’s elected one, the reaction in the room was “deafening silence,” according to one report.
It was an odd digression into Canadian domestic politics for a Prime Minister on a foreign stage.
But Harper’s speech got more attention Down Under for wading into Australia’s domestic politics.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard is in deep political trouble these days. With an election expected this fall, his governing Liberals badly trail Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party in the polls, and Howard faces a palace coup from within his own party, some members of which would like to see him step down as leader in favor of treasurer Peter Costello.
In this context, Harper’s observation that Australia’s economic success “had everything to do with prudent policy choices, far-sighted leadership and careful fiscal management” was described by one Melbourne paper as “an unsubtle intervention into Australian politics.”
A headline in tomorrow’s (today’s, Canada time) Sydney Morning Herald reads: “Canadian counterpart bats for home team”
Not a surprise that Harper would pinch-hit for Howard. The Canadian PM considers his Australian counterpart a mentor, modeled his winning 2006 election campaign on one of Howard’s, and became the first Canadian leader to address the Australian Parliament after bestowing a similar honor on Howard last year in Ottawa.
Not a surprise, maybe, but was it a good idea? Conservatives certainly weren’t happy about this apparent diplomatic breach back in 2000.
If Kevin Rudd becomes Australian PM, perhaps a make-nice invitation to speak on Parliament Hill will be in order…