Four things over the weekend reflected my disgust with our current politics in Canberra.
The AFR had a luncheon interview with the Sydney silk, Bret Walker, S C. I do not know the man, but he is reputed to be extremely able, and at the highest level. I have admired the strength and dignity of his opposition to the latest vote-chasing excess of our Prime Minister about citizenship – as if some twerp like him could deny me my Australian-hood or my rights. The interview concluded: ‘I remain behind in Hunter Street’s Mini-Gotham City, drinking the remnants of the wine, trying to work out why his presence makes feel better to be an Australian.’ What a remarkably fine compliment this was for a barrister! It put me instantly in mind of the silk played by Budd Tingwell in the movie The Castle, whose campaign for the rights of man actually made us look not only useful, but good. And one thing is so clear – it will never be said of any of those frightful bastards currently infesting Canberra that they make us feel better to be Australian.
The horror of it all was brought home by the headline on page four of the same paper: PM seizes on Labor terror division. This brings home the complicity of our press in our national disgrace. Our Prime Minister was quoted as saying that the problem with allowing the court to decide was that ‘the terror suspects could get off.’ In the sweet name of the son of the carpenter, is there anyone out there – anyone – who falls for this kind of bullshit – from a serial idiot who only thrives on conflict? Well, the paper said that a poll shows 80% of Australians is in favour of the idea, and that is more than enough for our Prime Minister.
Mr Abbott glories in sending out the Royal Australian Navy against unarmed refugees who could not afford the air fare, and he is currently deploying the Royal Australian Air Force to kill Muslims in a sectarian war on the other side of the word to improve our security against Muslims on this side of the world There are arguments either way on these conflicts, from anyone but the ludicrously named Opposition, just as there were about the role of the Vatican in the Crusades in the Middle Ages, but not about the sense of this idiot’s child-like mantras – ‘people smugglers’ and ‘death cults’.
And what does the vapid obscurantism of Mr Shorten have to offer against this arrant pugilism of Mr Abbott? He leaves the fight to those libertarian heroes like Christopher Pyne and Doctor Death (who wants to hand out instruction on Ideal Marriage at my expense). So, we have a man with no brains against a man with no guts. A man who believes in nothing against a man who stands for nothing. Two silly bad boys behind the shelter shed, daring each other to flash their willies. It really is too awful to contemplate.
It is a condition that is caught by a phrase of George Eliot in Middlemarch that I read on Sunday. A frightful cleric (Mr Casaubon, for those who know the novel) marries the belle of the village, to the disgust of at least one admirer.
But the idea of this dried up pedant, this elaborator of small explanations about as important as the surplus stock of false antiquities kept in a vendor’s back chamber, having first got this adorable young creature to marry him, and then passing his honeymoon away from her, groping after his mouldy futilities….this sudden picture stirred him with a sort of comic disgust: he was divided between the impulse to laugh aloud and the equally unseasonable impulse to burst into scornful invective.
A sort of comic disgust. There you have it – exactly! You do not know whether to laugh or cry. That is what Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten do to you. But I fear that the first may be worse because he has no idea of just how stupid and dangerous he is. And his camp followers may be worse, because they are all the quicker to take offence, as if there were something there in the first place. In the name of heaven, this clown cannot even change his own tie.
Then I was listening to Frank Sinatra over Sunday dinner, in the glow of a rare Demons’ win (and another predicted loss by the Storm at Origin time). Sinatra’s 1976 recording of Send in the clowns by Stephen Sondheim with a solo piano is a remarkable distillation of anger and despair presented with a sombre but lyrical force. The last two verses speak directly to our condition.
Don’t you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.
Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.
Finally, fuelled by the music and the roast and the red, there came back to me the recollection of the cause of death of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet who was gone on booze and drugs – or at least the cause of death asserted on his death certificate, because medical science knows no such condition: Insult to the brain.
Canberra may not kill us, but it is doing nothing for our life.