When you get an invitation from the Australian ambassador to party ’til 5 a.m., well, how can you say no to that?
Oh wait: 5 a.m. start time???
Crickets were still chirping in the cool, dark air Saturday as we approached the elegant mansion residence of Ambassador Kim Beazley for his viewing party of the Australian parliamentary election results. Adrienne Arsht, the banking exec-turned-philanthropist, walked up to the door, toting her hosts’ newspaper she had picked up at the end of their driveway, wearing a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.
“Well, you said ‘casual!’ ” she teased Beazley’s wife, Susie Annus. (Under her purple cashmere robe, Arsht was dressed for the day in a yellow twinset and green slacks, the Australian colors.)
Concerned that guests would turn out that early to a party? Not at all, said Annus. “Australians would show up at 10 of 5!” And then good luck getting them to leave.
By 6 a.m., the main party room was filled with about 70 guests balancing breakfast plates in front of three TV screens — familiar images of vote tallies, electoral maps, grinning pundits. Already 8 p.m. in Sydney, it was all over but the speeches, and Beazley caught us up: As expected, his own Labor party had lost its majority, and a new prime minister, Tony Abbott, from the right-leaning Liberal-Nationals, would take over from Labor’s Kevin Rudd, who just months ago overthrew his own party’s Julia Gillard as PM. With an eye on the cast of characters flashing across the screens, Beazley pointed out for us the Liberal member who lost his safe seat because “he had one of those Texas governor moments” (a Rick Perry brainfreeze), and then later “the bloke who will probably be the next be the next ambassador to the U.S.” (Oh, who? Reverting to diplomatic mode, he asked we not write down the name.)
A big man with steely-gray hair and a rakish, easy grin, Beazley may have the highest profile in his home country of all of Washington’s current emissaries — a veteran pol who served as deputy prime minister and came agonizingly close to the top job in a narrow election: the Al Gore of Australia, if you will. And if he seemed wryly detached from his party’s bad night, it wasn’t just the 10,000 miles’ distance. Many of these struggling Laborites were the ones who’d replaced him as party leader in 2007.
“I thought Kevin would have spoken by now,” Beazley joked to his guests as we waited to hear Rudd’s concession. “Think he’s having a row with the makeup girl.”
The ambassador gave his analysis of the night: Where Labor had done better than expected, how pollsters had failed to gauge young voters who don’t have landlines, and the larger lessons for his party. “If you can’t govern yourself, you can’t govern the country.”
Does he miss politics? “Desperately,” he said without hesitation. “Politics is like a drug, and I’ve been in cold turkey for four or five years.”
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