I bumped into Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the train yesterday. I mean, literally bumped. I was lurching towards the last available seat on the 4:45 pm from Central when I tripped and collapsed over the armrest beside her, momentarily dislodging the blonde wig she was wearing as a disguise. The glossy red hair was a giveaway, and there was no hiding that nose.
"Why, you're Julia Gill-" I began. But she cut me off.
"Sshh! National Security!" she hissed.
I settled into my chair, pulled out a book and pretended to read it.
"Why are you on this train?" I whispered. "Where's your security?"
"Haven't you seen my polls?" she replied. "I'm desperate. I thought I'd better slip away and get among the people for a while."
Fair point, I thought. So assuming she really did want to know what people were thinking, I asked her why the government hadn't done more to help Julian Assange.
"It's not as simple as you might think," she groaned. "If I said anything nice about WikiLeaks, the Americans would get rid of me as quickly as they got rid of Kevin."
"But you don't even like WikiLeaks," I protested. "You said so yourself."
"Hah! Just because I said something live on national television doesn't mean I believe it."
"So you DO support WikiLeaks?" I asked in surprise.
"Of course not. But the fact that I've said that doesn't mean you should believe it either. I am a politician, you know."
I stared at my book - "A Fortunate Life" by A.B. Facey - and noticed it was upside down. This was turning into a rather strange trip. Ms Gillard seemed to notice my discomfort.
"Australians always forget what a small and insignificant nation we really are," she explained. "As a Prime Minister, I can only do my best within the existing realities. Politics is the art of the possible, as they say."
"But surely you can speak up?" I insisted. "Surely you can go on TV and - "
"So you're saying Australia is a US Client State, and has been for years?"
"No, you're saying that. I'm saying the new US Marine Base in Darwin is a great boost to regional security. And next month I'll say that a new US nuclear submarine base in Brisbane will further enhance stability across the Pacific."
"But why would you say that, if you don't believe it?"
"That's my job!" she laughed. "It doesn't matter if I believe it or not."
I began to see where she was coming from. This is the morally empty, post-post-Modern world we live in today, an ethical vacuum where careers are pursued solely for fame and fortune. And Julia Gillard is the ultimate realpolitik party apparatchik.
"So what would it take for you to speak out in support of Julian Assange?" I asked. "I mean, some eighty percent of Australians support WikiLeaks, and this is supposed to be a democracy, so surely it's in your own electoral interests to speak up for him. Besides, he's done nothing wrong!"
"True," she nodded. "But Labor would rather lose the next election than upset Washington. Same goes for the Opposition. You see, the problem with WikiLeaks is that it has no real power base. If George Soros were to get behind them, for example, then things might be different."
"So if WikiLeaks had billions of dollars, you would speak up for Assange?"
"No," she confessed. "But Tony Abbott might."
"Well then, I'd vote for him," I said.
That got her attention. She paused and looked me directly in the eye.
"No you wouldn't," she said slowly. "Because you know Tony Abbott is a liar."
She was right. If the Australian Liberal Party ever promised to help Assange return home, I'd assume it was part of a plot to help the CIA assassinate him.
"You'll vote Greens," Ms Gillard continued. "Just like you have at the past four elections."
"Wait a minute! How did you -?"
Gillard put a finger to her lips and motioned with her eyes towards a security camera in the roof of the train. Then she tapped her ear and I noticed a tiny wireless microphone.
"I'm never really alone," she sighed. "But then, neither are you. This is the price we must pay for security.
"Maybe. But that's how it is. The art of the possible, remember? Goodbye now."
The train pulled into a station. As she disembarked, two burly men moved to either side of her.
"Hey!" I cried. "You said you'd slipped away from your bodyguards!"
She gave me a withering smile as she carefully adjusted her wig.
"I'm a politician," she reminded me.
I went home wondering if this had just been a random encounter, or if the Prime Minister had deliberately targeted me for this conversation. My head was swimming. I knew ASIO were monitoring WikiLeaks supporters, but surely the PM wasn't personally involved?
Then I switched on the TV and heard an unmistakeable nasal twang. Julia Gillard was being interviewed live from another state. So whom did I just speak to on the train? Maybe it was all just a bad dream?
I'd certainly like to think so...