Sunday September 15 2013

– Tony Abbott has decided to bunk with Australian Federal Police recruits in a $120-a-night flat while renovations are conducted at the possum-infested prime ministerial residence The Lodge.
The modest and unusual digs, in a red-brick AFP building close to Parliament, will feature a kitchenette and around-the-clock security from his AFP security officers and their junior colleagues.
Perhaps most importantly for the fitness fanatic, the student quarters also boasts an impressive gym.
The AFP recruits have been told they should soon expect a VIP visitor.
The official prime ministerial residence, The Lodge, is preparing for major renovations that could take up to a year to repair dodgy wiring, remove asbestos and replace the roof on the 1927 structure.
The Prime Minister-elect rejected the other options: a $3000-a-week dress circle rental in Canberra.
Providing proper security was the biggest problem in finding a temporary new abode, with many options requiring significant security upgrades if AFP officers were to properly protect the PM. For that reason, hotels were swiftly discounted.
The plan represents one of the most unusual Canberra living arrangements for a politician since former Liberal leader Brendan Nielson camped out in Joe Hockey’s shed to save money after his divorce. When Mr Abbott needs to entertain VIP guests, he will do so in his offices at Parliament House.
In Sydney, Mr Abbott will also be able to use Kirribilli House. But he has not yet said when he will move out of the family home and live there.
Mr Abbott’s unusual choice echoes the habits of his unlikely political hero: Labor’s Ben Chifley. As prime minister, Mr Chifley preferred the Hotel Kurrajong to The Lodge. He died there in 1951 after suffering heart attack.
The historic hotel is near the AFP flat Mr Abbott will live in. “My old man always says that Ben Chifley was a great prime minister, I think probably because he was very down-to-earth and a decent human being,” Mr Abbott said.
The vexed question of where to put the prime minister while The Lodge was renovated has exercised the minds of public servants since Julia Gillard signed off on multi-million-dollar renovations of the residence two years ago.
Ms Gillard was fond of telling stories of possum urine stains in the ceiling, detailing the horror in a 2012 interview with this newspaper.
“We had a celebrated incident where we had a visiting foreign leader,” she said.
“There was much shooing of people out of the dining room because someone spotted wee making its way down the wall to one of the very precious paintings from the National Gallery.
– Samantha Maiden


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