The animatronic John Howard the Liberal Party has been deploying in key marginal seats has suffered a mechanical breakdown and will be out of action at least until the new year.
Spokesperson for the Liberal Party secretariat in Canberra, Anthony Nation, told The Bug: “It just upped and died. The party is terribly upset – it’s like we’re all mourning an old friend – and we just want to see the machine back in action well before the expected federal poll in May 2019.”
Mr Nation said the high-tech robot had been overworked in recent months, causing problems with its circuitry and the hundreds of pumps, levers, rods, and gears that make it appear as an almost perfect facsimile of the former prime minister.
The machine was yesterday being transported to Sydney Airport (pictured) where it was due to be air freighted to the United States for repairs.
“In recent years we have used the John Howard sparingly, “Mr Nation explained. “It was usually only brought out of storage for the big events, like attending federal election policy speeches or funerals where it blended in exceptionally well.
“They were easy because all it had to do was walk in to the hall or church, wave in a few pre-programmed directions, then sit down.
“But this year it’s been run almost non-stop. We used it in the South Australian and Tasmanian elections in March.
“We had it out and about at the five federal by-elections in four states in July, as well as at the recent Wentworth by-election, and the November state election in Victoria.
“It all takes a toll on its machinery and computer system. For instance, for street walks where the media is in attendance and may ask questions we have to program in a heap of standard responses like ‘The Liberal Party is a broad church’ or ‘Who do you trust to run the nation?’ or “I’ll decide how long I talk for and the manner I talk in” and the like.
“And we’ve really been kept hopping trying to keep the responses updated to reflect the succession of leadership changes in recent years.
“We nearly slipped up in Wentworth, but luckily we discovered just in time that its standard answer on leadership had been wrongly programmed as ‘I think Tony Abbott is doing a great job’. Imagine if that one slipped through.”
Mr Nation said the robot was originally purchased from the Disney World animatronics studio in Florida.
“We bought it after a party official took his kids to the Hall of Presidents at Disney World and was blown away by how life-like the robots are,” he explained.
Mr Nation said using the animatronic machine made sense because it was just as good as having the real John Howard present and allowed the former prime minister to help the Liberal Party while staying at home, usually playing Scrabble with wife Janette or watching his beloved Test cricket, considering he was on the cusp of international glory himself as a young spinner until he wrenched his back in a western-pulley accident at his father’s garage.
Mr Nation would not disclose the cost of the original robot nor the cost of the current refurbishment works.
He also would not directly answer questions about how long the federal Liberal Party had been using the John Howard robot.
“If you remember his morning walks when he was PM in his Aussie green and gold tracksuit, then let’s just say people who declared he had the stamina of the Energiser battery bunny weren’t too far off the mark,” Mr Nation said.