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Style Leader No. 35

Bowing to the crowd - Australia [JULIA GILLARD]

In April, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard visited Japan in the wake of the tsunami. Back home, much media coverage focused not on what Gillard said or did, but what she wore. While her black suit and overcoat seemed reasonable for a country in mourning and a cold day, the ensemble (and unruly hair) inexplicably aroused the ire of Australian fashion experts.

The clothes choices of female politicians are always subjected to a scrutiny their male colleagues don’t have to endure. In Gillard’s case, this has been magnified by her status as Australia’s first female prime minister and her own apparent disregard for fashion. “She’s not naturally interested in clothes,” says Gillard biographer Jacqueline Kent.

Gillard has not been above courting it to an extent, though. While deputy prime minister she submitted to makeover features in the influential magazine Women’s Weekly. Gillard also recognises that a female leader can serve as a billboard for domestic industry. At the recent wedding of Prince William, she made a point of flaunting the work of Australian designers, including Carla Zampatti, Anthea Crawford, Alan Pinkus and Aurelio Costarella. Given her recent polling numbers, Gillard may just have reckoned this as an opportunity to nail down four badly needed votes.

Aussie rules fashion:

1. Hair: Gillard should have a natural advantage in this respect. She met her partner, Tim Mathieson (now locally known as the “First Bloke”) when she visited the Melbourne hairdressing salon where he worked.

2. Jacket: If Gillard tends towards neutral shades, it’s no wonder. Shortly after taking office, she attempted an audaciously patterned pastel jacket, which prompted Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to shriek “Technicolour Screamcoat”.

3. Dress: Before becoming prime minister, Gillard was known for an almost aggressively unstylish sartorial approach. “Ill-fitting, boxy suits in black or varying degrees of beige”, said The Australian. In office, she has become slightly more adventurous, but there are limits to any ambition in this regard – the prime minister does not receive a clothing allowance.

4. Shoes: Almost invariably practical. “They tend to be very slightly high-heeled,” says Jacqueline Kent, her biographer.

Lobbying begins

Northern Marianas [REUNIFICATION]

Moves to politically reunite the Northern Marianas with neigh- bouring Guam are gathering pace, with the announcement that their governors are holding talks on the issue. The Mariana archipelago was divided in 1898, when Spain ceded Guam to the US and sold the northern islands to Germany. But a reunification lobby is growing in both territories, arguing that a united Marianas will have political and economic benefits. It’s likely to face challenges: a new survey found half the respondents opposed joining forces with their larger neighbour. A referendum in 1969 saw the Northern Marianas opt for reunification but Guam reject the proposal.

Surfing’s up

Australia [BROADBAND]

The Australian government’s A$38bn (€29bn) plan to deliver high-speed internet connections to more than 90 per cent of the country’s households – no small feat given the predominance of remote settlements dotting the sprawling nation – has cleared one of its final hurdles.

In July, Canberra signed A$12.5bn worth of deals with local telecom provider Telstra and Singapore-based SingTel to provide the backbone of the project, known as the National Broadband Network (or NBN). Telstra alone made A$11bn from the deal, lending its existing connections to knit together a network covering a country the size of western Europe.

Great white hope

New Zealand [SHARKS]

It’s always been thought that the great white sharks that turned up in NZ were strays from Australia, but new research shows that Stewart Island, in New Zealand’s south, has its own population. “The scientific community knew almost nothing about them,” says Clinton Duffy, a shark expert at the Department of Conservation, who helped track them down. Perhaps we won’t go for that swim after all.

Rich in learning

Fiji

Despite 26 per cent living below the poverty line, and most of its workforce engaged in agriculture, Fiji’s literacy levels are remarkably high at 93.7 per cent. Not as high as Samoa’s though, with 99.7 per cent over the age of 15 able to read and write.

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