September 17, 2007
It’s down to fete as contenders take the chocolate wheel
SMOKE from the kebab stall billowed across Tumbalong Park as a small
contingent of federal police, a couple of minders and an older,
balding man without a sun hat crashed the Armenian cultural festival
at Darling Harbour.
There were surprises all round as the 600- to 700-strong crowd
realised they had a celebrity of sorts – the Prime Minister – in their
One grumbled that this was the first time he could remember the
Armenian community being visited by the member for Bennelong, who had
just been whisked from a humble fete at St Charles Catholic primary
school, Gladesville, in a three-limousine entourage.
There he had spun a 44 on the chocolate wheel, a potentially
troublesome polling omen for the somewhat grim-faced PM. But his Labor
rival for the seat, Maxine McKew spun up the same number an hour later
when it was her time to visit the kiddies and their voting
parents. The two did not cross paths. Mr Howard refuses even to
mention the former ABC journalist and presenter by name.
Armenians are a significant force in Bennelong. The national president
of the Armenian National Council, Varant Meguerditchian, said 4000
Bennelong voters with an Armenian background wanted the candidates to
recognise the Armenian genocide – a forced deportation and massacre of
Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in the early 20th century. Ms McKew has
obliged but neither Mr Howard or the Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, has
bought into the issue.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics is a little more modest in its
listing of 2285 people of Armenian ancestry in Bennelong. Whichever is
the figure, in a tight election, the Armenian vote will count big
Mr Howard wasn’t exactly mobbed by his bemused Armenian hosts as he
gladhanded his way across the park. Most were polite, some were
effusive, handing over babies for photos, with Mr Howard looking every
inch the grandfather that he has just become.
Mercifully after 15 minutes a minder fetched one of Mr Howard’s
trademark Akubra hats to perch on his gleaming pate.
In creased pinstripe suit pants and wearing a silverfish-coloured tie,
Mr Howard walked stiffly, and the grin looked a little forced. At an
impromptu media conference after the 35-minute walk-through, it was
The Prime Minister answered four questions uttering a grim "No" when
asked whether he was still considering resigning his beleaguered
leadership of the party and the country. One of the media pack
suggested there had been rumours he was going to announce his
resignation tomorrow. "That’s news to me," he retorted before his
media minder closed it down.
Hagop Srjararian, 74, declaring himself a big fan of the Prime
Minister, dug his Liberal Party membership card out of his wallet. "I
always support him, I’m against Labor," Mr Srjararian said. "I was in
Russia for 30 years and that’s Labor’s home. I like the Liberals, the
Queen and imperialism."
At one point, Mr Howard ambled past a signpost pointing to famous
locations in Armenia, including Mount Ararat – where the biblical tale
says Noah landed his ark after a 40-day flood. With the Government
lagging a resurgent Labor in the polls, a miracle looked like his best
A good thing, too, that only adults, or at least most of them, can
vote. After vigorously shaking hands with 11-year-olds Anita Boyadjian
and Robert Geokjian, the two children struggled a little with Mr
Howard’s political complexion. "He’s Labor, right?"
On Saturday Mr Howard was meeting and greeting citizens at Carlingford
shopping centre. There he came face to face with members of the
controversial Exclusive Brethren sect, who followed him around the
Pity the religion, some of whose members have been accused of funding
the Government’s re-election campaign, doesn’t allow its faithful to