In governments, you have these folks called “the opposition party”. Their job is pretty simple: pay close attention to what the people in power are doing, then stand up in assemblies and talk loudly about why those people are doing it wrong. Usually, this ends up sounding something like, “We need more jobs in this country to grow the economy!”
Or, if you’re in Australia it's, “Our government spends too much money on hugging koalas.”
Which seems sort of impossible. I mean, hugging koalas? Priceless, right? But Pat Conroy, who is an opposition minister for Australia’s Labour Party isn’t taking this problem lying down. And no, he doesn’t want to hug it out either.
“This government is obsessed with hugging koalas,” Conroy stated recently. “We’ve had $400,000 [spent] which included (foreign minister) Julie Bishop paying $133,000 to fly four koalas to Singapore Zoo.” Nearly a half-million dollars? That is a lot of cash, so maybe there’s a point to be had here.
Marsupials, which include koalas, kangaroos, and the equally-huggable wombat (this writer’s favourite animal ever), are mammals whose mothers carry their young in pouches on their abdomen. Australia is the native home to most of the world’s marsupials, and these animals are a huge part of the country’s identity and its tourist industry.
Places like the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane make a promise that you can “cuddle a koala anytime”. And it’s a promise that a lot of people around the world take them up on. Much like giant pandas and China, marsupials and getting to interact with them is a part of Australian diplomacy (that’s a fancy term for meetings between world leaders). After all, wouldn’t you be more interested in listening to what I had to say if I let you hug a koala?
So is $400,000 simply the price of good international relations? Tough question. I think I need a good wombat hug while I think this one over.