A two-decade trend is diminishing Canberra's role hosting the prime minister as Scott Morrison follows recent leaders choosing to stay in Sydney. The national capital's most famous address sits empty for large parts of the year while Morrison becomes the third prime minister since 1996 to split his time between The Lodge and Australia's largest city.
After a near-unbroken run hosting prime ministers for 70 years, Canberra has shared them more often with Sydney since John Howard moved into Kirribilli House.
In choosing the harbourside home over The Lodge, Morrison emulates his Coalition mentor, the first to divide his time at Kirribilli so much as prime minister. Tony Abbott, whose term coincided with a $12 million renovation of The Lodge, is the other member of that club.
The expensive but much-needed refurbishment ended in 2015 but hasn't enticed prime ministers back to the 91-year-old, two-storey house on a permanent basis. Malcolm Turnbull lived there while working in Canberra, but began his term in office saying his Point Piper mansion would remain home. He never moved into Kirribilli House.
The Canberra home may regain its former status after the next election. It is understood Bill Shorten would live in The Lodge if Labor wins, and that he respects the tradition and stature of the building.
However it is not something Shorten is thinking about yet, a spokeswoman says. "We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves," she says. "Let’s convince people to vote for us before we start worrying about anything else first."
Explaining his decision not to move to Canberra, Morrison said in September he and his wife Jenny wanted to keep life as normal as possible for their two young daughters, Abbey and Lily.
His choice of home, whether intended, could also win political mileage for a prime minister at pains to dissociate himself from the national capital. Morrison, who has weaponised the phrase "Canberra bubble", has attacked the insularity of its political elite.
If the capital has any doubts about the Prime Minister's attitude towards it, his decision not to move his family into The Lodge is a decisive snub for some Canberrans.
Barring the Sydney-based Billy McMahon, prime ministers from the building's opening in 1927 until Howard's tenure were a solid presence in the national capital.
The growing line of Sydney-based prime ministers attracts criticism from several people interviewed for this story – all admittedly Canberrans.
Former National Capital Development Commission chief Tony Powell explains it as rudeness towards the city the nation chose as its capital. To Australian National University historian Dr David Headon, it reflects a national immaturity about Canberra and government.
Howard is sometimes identified as the trendsetter. However during a visit to the capital in December, he denied shunning the city or The Lodge, saying it was a "misconstruction" that he had never lived at the home in the Canberra suburb of Deakin.
"I spent a lot of time living here. I lived here in The Lodge when Parliament was sitting and for large swathes of the rest of the year. It's just that I spent a lot more time at Kirribilli House than other prime ministers had done, and there were a number of personal reasons for that," Howard says.
One of his children was at school early in his tenure and Kirribilli House was close to his electorate in northern Sydney.
"It's more accurate to say that I more extensively divided my time," Howard says. "If you did a calculation, I probably spent as many nights in The Lodge, if not more, than I did at Kirribilli."
Prime ministers before him – not just McMahon – have kept homes elsewhere while living in The Lodge. Elsie Curtin spent much of the year in Perth while her husband lived in the prime ministerial house during World War II. Elizabeth Chifley was nursing her ailing mother and refused to leave Bathurst for The Lodge except to host events linked to her husband's role. Joseph and Enid Lyons kept their main residence in Tasmania, although they lived in Canberra with six of their 11 children.
Depression-era Labor prime minister James Scullin was the first to spurn The Lodge in 1929, never moving into the newly built home and calling it a "wicked waste of money".
ANU historian Professor Nicholas Brown says prime ministers have made The Lodge their second home to avoid disrupting their families, to stay close to their electorates and sometimes out of uncertainty about the length of their tenure.
"It would be fair to say The Lodge has been less frequently used for prime ministers going back to 1927 than you would like to think," he says.
The decision of prime ministers to live in The Lodge at times reflected their view of Canberra's role in federal government, Brown says.
They also shunned or accepted the building depending on whether they wanted to be identified with the city's public service and cultural institutions.
"It's not a change, it's an attitude that waxes and wanes," Brown says. "If you look at the last three leaders, we're in a time when it's certainly not too fashionable to be associated closely with Canberra."
Some of The Lodge's most committed residents also embraced the city as the centre of federal political life and government. Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating wanted to be identified with Canberra's apolitical, expert public service. Gough Whitlam, the only prime minister raised in the national capital, was linked to its galleries and museums.
"For that generation of politicians, they didn't just have a rented house in Canberra," Brown says. "This was for many of them a place of residence."
Gough and Margaret Whitlam liked its familiarity and old-fashioned character but found it inefficient, particularly as its kitchen was unsuited for large-scale entertaining. Labor's Ben Chifley hated the house and chose to stay at Canberra's Hotel Kurrajong while prime minister.
Earlier this year, Tamie Fraser admitted she wasn't very fond of The Lodge when she and her husband lived there, and said it was past its use-by date. "You wouldn't want to live here unless you had to," she said after moving in. Mrs Fraser later became a champion for the home in establishing the Australiana Fund to furnish it with art, and opening it to fundraising events.
The 900-square-metre home is considered comfortable and grand by the standards of many Australians.
Too small to host large events or to accommodate foreign guests, and now constrained by heritage status, The Lodge is almost exclusively a family home compared to No. 10 Downing Street and the White House, which double as work places. Australia's prime ministerial house, set on a 1.8-hectare property, can still be put to other uses.
The Turnbulls used it 21 times for official entertaining, hosting Australia Day, Christmas, COAG, Australian of the Year and international cricket functions. They invited leaders of Singapore, Jordan, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to dinner. The Lodge hosted charities for fundraising events three times from 2016 until Malcolm Turnbull's political demise.
Morrison so far has hosted a Prime Minister's XI cricket reception and a Christmas event.
A debate about building a replacement stretches back decades. The house is said to have been intended as a stopgap until a more permanent, suitable one could be built.
Past governments crept towards building a new Lodge, only to defer the idea. Powell says the National Capital Development Commission's efforts to select a site in the 1970s were followed by an underwhelming response from leaders.
"We couldn't get much support for that, we couldn't get support from people who had been previous prime ministers and also, for some odd reason, the various people who had been governors-general didn't like the idea either," he says.
"In other words, the whole reaction was pretty reactionary."
John Howard says a new building is unnecessary.
"I was never in favour of building a new Lodge. That would have quite rightly been seen as prime ministerial self-indulgence," he says.
The new Parliament House has cancelled the need for extra room in The Lodge for official functions.
"It's a very nice residence, The Lodge, I liked it. I don't know why people criticise it and keep calling for a new residence. You don't need a new residence.
"It's got plenty of room, and history, every prime minister since Stanley Melbourne Bruce has lived there or had access to it."
Bob Hawke agrees there is no need for a new Lodge.
"I was more occupied with the job rather than what it was like living there, but it was very comfortable," he says.
The decision of recent prime ministers not to live primarily in Canberra doesn't reflect on the city or its status as the national capital, but rather has been a personal choice, Hawke says.
When asked if The Lodge should be their primary home, he says prime ministers should choose whatever works for them and their family.
Prime ministers have been ambivalent about a new Lodge, but architect and former National Capital Authority leader Annabelle Pegrum found a wellspring of enthusiasm for the idea in a national competition to design one in 2013.
After the University of Canberra set a challenge to design a building at Canberra's Attunga Point, on Lake Burley Griffin's south bank and within sight of Parliament House, more than 200 entries came back from architects.
Behind the response was a view that the existing Lodge didn't reflect the nation, Pegrum says.
"It presents as a fortress on a smaller scale and it certainly can't cope with the kind of role that a prime minister's residence has to enable."
The authority managing Commonwealth land in Canberra says Attunga Point, and nearby Stirling Park, are still designated for work of "special status and national interest". This includes a prime minister's residence.
The prime minister's department says there are no plans to establish a new house for the Prime Minister in Canberra. Labor says enough money has been spent on The Lodge, and there's no need for a new one.
While the push for a new Lodge now lacks momentum, Pegrum says it's a good time to think about what it should look like.
A new building could host school tours, have space for press conferences and COAG meetings, accommodate protests outside, and give office space to prime ministers and their partners, she says. Above all, a new Lodge should be visible and accessible.
The vision might be a tall order for governments in a climate of declining trust in politicians and institutions, but Pegrum says some of the political heat in the decision would be sapped by one likely fact. The prime minister committing to a new Lodge probably wouldn't serve long enough to live there.
Powell now believes a new Lodge is something to consider if Australia becomes a republic and addresses other nation-defining, historical questions. To Pegrum, the recent churn of governments already has Australians re-examining the nation's direction, and a replacement Lodge could be one vehicle to work that out.
The prime minister's home ought to be a source of pride, she says.
"It's become a sort of pre-eminent serviced apartment, which is very unfortunate, and we need to see where that might head."
Prime ministers aren't deciding against moving to the national capital because of something wrong at The Lodge, Pegrum says. They want to stay in their homes, or in Kirribilli House.
"Surely we can offer something better than that in Canberra."
With Markus Mannheim. This article draws on Collecting for the Nation – The Australiana Fund and Graeme Barrow's The Prime Minister's Lodge: Canberra's Unfinished Business.
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