Just the ticket

So Mr Latham thinks he has a problem. If elected Prime Minister this year, he is worried that he will have two houses, one in Sydney and the other in Canberra. He made the point that it is only possible to sleep in one bed at a time. A man with small children should know better. Most children have no trouble sleeping in three beds in the same night: their own, their parents and the spare bed to which the parents have fled in desperation.

Mr Latham seems to have forgotten one extra bed made available to the PM at taxpayers expense. This is the bed in the flatette located in the PM’s office in Parliament House itself, a curious facility given that the Lodge is so handy. Perhaps the architects of the house considered it a risk to stable government to allow a sleepy Prime Minister to walk in on his wife in the middle of the afternoon. Or maybe they thought that the resting place of power would be a tourist attraction when, in due course, the new house becomes too small and has to be superseded by one still further up the hill with more room for security staff. Presumably, Mr Latham intends to make the flatette available to the homeless of Canberra for emergency accommodation.

The real issue for Mr Latham is what to do with Kirribilli House. Unlike Mr Howard, who never wanted to live anywhere else, Mr Latham does not appear to want to reside there. It is rare for Mr Latham to be so out of touch with his constituency. He has done well so far on a list of populist ideas. He should realise that, if he doesn’t want to live in a harbourside mansion, then he is one of the few aspirational voters in Australia who doesn’t.

Yet Kirribilli House holds the key to Mr Latham’s success. The only policy Mr Latham needs to take to the next election is a clear plan for Kirribilli House.

He should raffle it.

The policy goes like this. Labor promises, if elected, to give every citizen a free ticket in the raffle.

There is one prize: Kirribilli House. Winner takes all. Elements within the Labor Party will protest that this is a regressive system, that the rich will have as much chance of winning as the poor. Fair point. Let’s give those on the top marginal tax rate one ticket. Those in the next bracket two tickets. Those with health care cards might get six tickets.

The raffle could be tailored to provide incentive as well. Those paying their HECS fees up-front might get an extra ticket, for example. The same policy can be used to create desirable social outcomes. Those on maternity leave might get extra tickets and families could be offered a ticket for each child. The policy can be further developed to make sure it pushes all the right emotional buttons.

Surviving diggers from World War II can have twenty tickets. Foreigners arriving on leaky boats with tickets purchased illegally overseas will have them publicly confiscated and put in another raffle with no date set for the draw. Parliamentarians get no tickets. This would avoid embarrassment if, by another stroke of the bizarre fortune on which he has built his career, Mr Howard were to win the raffle.

The policy will bring Mr Latham into government in a landslide. First of all, people will trust him. They will support a man who tries to bribe them openly and shamelessly more than if he tries to do it by subtle means. Second, the policy is cheap. It is a while since I bought a harbourside mansion in Sydney, but I believe they are still going for under $50 million. Believe me, this is not a lot of money. You can pay more for a decent haircut in Hollywood. Paid maternity leave has been costed at $200 million, and that is an annual expense. Fixing Medicare will cost even more. A one-off raffle for Kirribilli House is the cheapest way Mr Latham can get into power.

Mr Latham will become a folk hero overnight. In a single stroke of genius, he will have given the people of Australia the two things most of them really want. One is the chance to own a house with great views of all major firework displays. The other is another lottery. We have become accustomed to government services being paid for with gambling revenue. In fact, we seem to like it. It makes abundant sense that not just government services but the government itself should be provided in this way. Of course, Mr Latham may find that there are still voters who care about more than over-priced little pieces of real estate, but they can be told not to spoil the party.

As for winning a second term, Mr Latham might consider raffling Telstra. It wouldn’t be a backflip. He only said he wouldn’t sell it.  

Michael McGirr’s biography of the Hume Highway, Bypass, will be published this year by Picador.



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