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PUPA claiming the limelight in Olympic fashion

With the Rio Olympics only months away - will it be gold, gold, GOLD for Australia?

With the Rio Olympics only months away, it seems only right for there to be a customary panic not only about the event itself (Is Rio ready? Will all the athletes get Zika?) but also about Australia's readiness to compete.

And Lo! On Tuesday, there came a grim warning from the Australian Olympic Committee that the Australian Institute of Sport – formerly the sinewy centre of Australian lactic acid production and consumer-hub of lycra and lycra-related products – was a "ghost town".

Poor old sport. It's a crumbling national institution, whose once-proud icons now find themselves, with disturbing regularity, addressing your honour from the dock or horsing about in frankly inadvisable reality TV shows or posing an unspecified sexual threat to small white terriers.

But life is about innovation, right? Just ask anyone asking Canberra for money these days. And, as it turns out, Australia has an emerging sphere of superproficiency in a brand new field of competitive endeavour, and it's time we paid attention.

I speak, of course, of PUPA: Previously Unheard-of Political Awards.

As a nation, we have a vast and pulsating soft spot for Aussie athletes of whom we've never heard who suddenly turn out to be good at something. Remember Tatiana Grigorieva, the pole vaulting triumph of the Sydney Olympics? And of course the immortal Steven Bradbury?


So surely it's time we got a little more excited when our elected representatives win gongs of which we were previously unaware.

On Thursday, Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy was forced bashfully to admit that he had been named by Forbes Magazine as one of the Asia-Pacific region's 30 most influential people aged under 30.

Mr Roy coaxed the disclosure out of himself in the course of a page-long press release on the subject, in which he confessed himself "incredibly humbled" to be counted among the region's "extraordinary achievers" in this inaugural, and henceforth annual list.

The Assistant Minister for Innovation, having "podiumed" for Australia chasteningly early in his ministerial career, joins a growing band of local politicians achieving inexplicable greatness on the global stage.

And once you get the hang of it, it's a surprisingly gripping spectator sport. For all the thrill of a final one-day over in which some white-knuckled Aussie fast bowler smashes three singles, two fours and then hoicks one into the stands to seal an unlikely victory, can it really compare to the adrenaline-rush occasioned by Greg Hunt's surprise elevation a fortnight ago to the title of World's Best Minister?

Mr Hunt's victory was proclaimed in Dubai, at a meeting of the World Government Summit, an organisation which itself sounds like a cheese-dream of the Illuminati, and of which no one seems absolutely certain that they have actually heard.

Former PUPA champions include Paul Keating and Wayne Swan, who were each named Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney magazine, though Mr Swan might be disqualified from PUPA contention by virtue of the fact that once Mr Keating won that gong, no one in Australia failed to hear of it.

The great challenge of PUPA – and this is what makes it such a compelling spectacle – is watching the victors formulate an adequate response to their own ennoblement.

How to achieve a workable balance between humility and self-congratulation? How to – on one hand – chock up the credibility of the awarding organisation, thus reinforcing the genuine glory of the award, while also remaining deeply self-effacing?

Mr Roy achieved this by waxing lyrical about the accomplishments of his fellow finalists (for whose superb ranks, the reader was subconsciously invited to acknowledge, the Assistant Minister for Innovation was a natural fit).

But for gold-medal PUPA performance, one really should look no further than Mr Hunt, who in one interview with 3AW's Tom Elliott managed simultaneously to elevate the significance of the World's Best Minister title, while boyishly decrying his suitability for such a rich honour.

"Reuters news agency said to the UAE Government that they'd like to create the award and present it at the World Government Summit," he explained.

"They then commissioned the World Bank, the OECD, Ernst & Young and an international strategic firm called Strategy and Co to draw up a list of 100 – they then winnowed it down to 10. They used a series of criteria, they had a voting program – and we didn't know about it, and I got a call just over a week ago.

"And you know, it's one of those things, I don't think anybody can live up to a title like that, and my wife put me in my place very quickly and told me that I still have to put out the bins. But hopefully it's of value to Australia."

What a setup! What lithe deployment of casual detail! What brilliant mention of domestic waste-disposal responsibilities! And what a dismount!

It's gold, gold, GOLD for Australia.

Twitter: @annabelcrabb