It was not world recession, nor the global terrorist threat that exercised Australian politicians yesterday. It was claims that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd "threw a wobbly" while visiting Australian troops in Afghanistan because he was unable to blow-dry his hair for a photo-shoot.
Mr Rudd strenuously denied the story, calling it "absolutely ridiculous and absolutely false".
But an opposition MP who was in Afghanistan recently insisted that the hairdryer incident, alleged to have occurred just before Christmas, was still the talk of the barracks.
"I can't remember whether it was because someone forgot to bring one, or because the damn thing did not work, or because he did not have the right connections," John Cobb said. "They [the troops] were having a good giggle about it."
The alleged bad hair day took place when Mr Rudd paid an unannounced visit to the base of Tarin Kowt to boost the morale of his nation's soldiers.
Mr Cobb told The Australian newspaper: "I mean, these people are engaged in pretty serious occupations, and he wanted to blow-dry his hair and couldn't."
The Prime Minister's carefully cultivated image of an easy-going, even-tempered bloke has taken a battering of late. Last month, he was forced to apologise publicly for shouting at a flight attendant, reducing her to tears, because his preferred cabin meal (without red meat) was unavailable.
"Prime ministers make mistakes," he said after that incident. "I've made mistakes. I'm sure that's one of them." Asked whether he had a bad temper, he replied: "All of us are human, I'm human, I'm not perfect."
But while Mr Rudd owned up to haranguing the stewardess, he flatly denied losing his rag in Afghanistan. On Australian radio yesterday, he accused the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, of trying to deflect attention from more serious matters, including problems within his own conservative Liberal Party.
"If you are a Liberal Party without a positive proposal to deal with the economic recession, then obviously such a Liberal Party is likely to engage in personality politics," Mr Rudd said. He added that his time in Afghanistan had been focused entirely on speaking to soldiers and finding out what they were doing on the ground.
The Prime Minister's staff accused the "Liberal Party dirt unit" of spreading stories that were "laughable, ridiculous and untrue", and said Mr Turnbull was denigrating the good name of Australian troops.
However, Mr Cobb maintained: "He chucked a wobbly. I heard from a few people in the forces ... They were going on and on about it."
Another opposition politician who visited Afghanistan recently, David Bushby, said he had heard snippets of the hairdryer story too. He also claimed that Mr Rudd had been invited to launch an unmanned drone, using a hi-tech catapult, but had been too scared to pull the rope, "so someone else had to do it for him".
Mr Turnbull, for his part, said: "I have no interest in Mr Rudd's grooming habits."Reuse content