If you look past the triathlete's body and the Down-Under accent, the man who landed in Ottawa Sunday is the closest thing Stephen Harper has to a political twin brother.
Tony Abbott, Australia's Prime Minister, is a leader once deemed too conservative to win power, a monarchist in a new-world nation, an opponent of carbon taxes, an advocate of fiscal restraint, and an admirer of Mr. Harper.
He and Mr. Harper have linked up in a cross-hemisphere conservative alliance that has their two countries echoing each other on everything from trade talks to climate change to East Jerusalem.
The rookie Australian PM is sliding in the polls after a tough budget and could use a friend on the world stage, and probably some private advice from a sympatico veteran. But it's Canada's PM who could learn more. Australia is years ahead in an area critical to Mr. Harper's policies: trade and ties with Asia.
There's already easy familiarity between Canada's Conservatives and Australia's Liberals (as Mr. Abbott's right-of-centre party is called). It started when Mr. Harper's team learned tactics from Australian PM John Howard. Both pulled together social and fiscal conservatives with pocketbook appeals to middle-class suburbs. Officials from both parties still keep in touch, and Mr. Abbott adopted some of the Harper Tories stricter communications tactics – though full-Harper message control would never fly in casual Oz.
The two men are similar. "They're both cut from the same cloth," said Jean T. Fournier, Canadian High Commissioner to Australia from 2000 to 2004, who knew Mr. Abbott as a bright, young, cabinet minister.
The PMOs keep in touch, too, directing diplomats on topics such as the UN. Both countries now stand out as pro-Israel middle powers. When Mr. Harper visited the Middle East in January and declined to call West Bank settlements "illegal," it matched the new Australian policy set by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop a week before.
Mr. Abbott comes to Canada at a time when he'd like to show he's not isolated on climate-change policy, and Mr. Harper, who shares concerns emissions-reduction will hurt a resource economy, can help. The Australian PM plans to cancel his country's carbon tax, but is poised to visit Washington next, where President Barack Obama has just proposed a deep cut on coal emissions. Mr. Abbott and Mr. Harper both face questions about whether their policies will be offside as the U.S. gets more aggressive.
And since Mr. Abbott has touted Canada as a model for deficit-reduction, he might seek the advice of the veteran Canadian PM on repairing damage from an unpopular austerity budget – which spawned the Twitter hashtag #morepopularthanabbott.
Despite all that, it's still the Australian that can teach the Canadian about a critical subject: Asia.
Mr. Harper's economic policy relies on diversifying trade to Asia. And Australia is far ahead when it comes to dealing with Asia, and notably, China.
Australia "bit the bullet 20 years ago," by dropping protections for agriculture so it could compete abroad, redesigned its trade approach for Asia, and enjoyed two decades of recession-free growth, said Fen Hampson, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He noted that Australia marketed universities to Chinese students, something Canada is trying to emulate, worked aggressively to sell commodities on Asian markets, and ships liquid natural gas to China – as Canada wants to do.
Mr. Abbott has the same conservative leanings as Mr. Harper, and expressed a preference for doing business with democracies like Japan and concern about China's maritime-territory claims.
But in China in April, he also mused about removing restrictions on Chinese state investment as Australia negotiates a full free-trade agreement with Beijing. And Australia has already struck many of the trade deals Mr. Harper wants to pursue: with Japan, Thailand, and the ASEAN bloc.
That's an invaluable knowledge advantage as both countries work toward the big trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They compete, too; Australia wants Canada to drop agriculture protections, and both sell resources. But these similar economies also share interests in the shape of the deal.
And if Mr. Harper can persuade his Australian twin to share his country's knowledge advantage in Asia, the cross-hemisphere alliance of these two conservative PMs could bring a benefit to Canada.