Passing Bull 36 – Defending your legacy

 

Tony Abbott says that he is entitled to defend the legacy of ‘his’ government.  So do his mates in the press.  What do they mean?

A legacy is a gift that you make in a will to take effect on your death.  Mr Abbott may be the only person in Australia who is yet to acknowledge that he is relevantly ‘dead’ – or even that his government is dead.

Well before the time when the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, my late father told me to be careful about blowing my own trumpet.  That was good advice.  What else is Mr Abbott doing now but blowing his own trumpet?  Well, he may be attempting to do a number of other things, but none of those things does him any credit, or does any good for the political party that he is supposed to serve.

Of course Mr Abbott is free to blow his own trumpet – just as he is free to say that climate change is crap or that he will not let his religious beliefs interfere with his politics.  He is perfectly entitled to talk bullshit as much as he likes.  But not on my time, or while he is on my payroll.

One of the reasons that the parliamentary colleagues of Mr Abbott sacked him was that he talks bullshit all the time, and that he does not realise it.  That is still the case.  Even the other day, he was still talking about ‘stopping the boats’.  That was bullshit too – he hasn’t yet revealed to us what we should do with the people who were on the boats that we stopped.  It’s not the boats that worry us – it’s the people on them.  This was just one of his mantras.

The verdict of his party is in, and we already knew that Mr Abbott cannot face reality, and that he would not accept the decision of the umpire, his party.  So, the next time you meet a galah that has been fired, ask them what they are doing to protect their legacy.  The answer could be quite a hoot.

Poet of the month: Judith Wright

Weapon

The will to power destroys the power to will.

The weapon made, we cannot help but use it;

it drags us with its own momentum still.

 

The power to kill compounds the need to kill.

Grown out of hand, the heart cannot refuse it;

the will to power undoes the power to will.

 

Though as we strike we cry ‘I did not choose it’,

it drags us with its own momentum still.

In the one stroke we win the world and lose it.

The will to power destroys the power to will.

Passing bull 24– A good mantra?

 

Two phrases must go on the Blacklist – ‘boots on the ground’ and ‘stand shoulder to shoulder.’  The second is what you do when you don’t have the first.

But our Prime Minister – AND MAY GOD DEFEND HIM! – has unwrapped a pearler.  He said that this is not a time for ‘gestures or machismo’.

Our PM had the Sniper in mind.  The Sniper had nothing but gestures and machismo.  One great gesture told us that he was mad – knighting a duke – and one exercise in machismo confirmed that he was stupid as well as mad – threatening to shirtfront a Mafia Tsar.  In the result, we now have a PM in cities like Berlin and Paris who does not make us ashamed or give us nervous breakdowns while we wait for the next inane gesture or threatening machismo.

Do you, too, still share the immensity of the relief?  Or as Gough said to Margaret: ‘Did the earth move for you too?’  I feel like Kant did when told of the fall of the Bastille – ‘Now let your servant go in peace to the grave for I have seen the glory of the world.’

All we have to put up with now is Doctor Death, the Grecian Poodle, telling us to put boots on the ground and form an alliance with the Mafia Tsar – and put boots on the ground with him.  Doctor Death did not refer to the Death Cult.  The Sniper has world rights to that bullshit.

And how apt is the phrase ‘gestures and machismo’ for the best mates of the Sniper, the Parrot, and the Lowflying Dutchman?  It might remind us of the difference between Shock jocks and hookers; the latter sell some grubby transient togetherness for money; Shock Jocks peddle grubby permanent enmity for money.  Otherwise, they have lots in common.  They cloister around the gutter.

And now look at the two World’s Best Practice in gesture and machismo – Erdogan and Putin.  At each other’s throats.  No one believes a word that either says, but Doctor Death wants us to hold hands and walk in boots on the ground with both.  While they do their best to wipe each other out.  The Leader of the Free World must be deeply grateful for the gratuitous advice given to him by that Master of Wars, the Grecian Poodle.

Should we have our own Thanksgiving Day?  We have left behind what Churchill called ‘a new Dark age made more sinister by the lights of perverted science’ and we now have the chance also described by Churchill to ‘walk in those broad sunlit uplands.’

And while we are on good news for the Liberal Party, take a look at the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Mike Baird!  It is not just that he can make a decision and take a stand, and stare down a fear campaign from yesterday’s tired men – he has the Michelle Payne effect.  An open Australian face and a flat unpretentious Australian voice.  He just oozes political premiership form and style, and good luck to him!

Final Gwen Harwood poem

I apologise for splitting Oyster Cove.  The following may be my favourite poem.  There is more than a bit of Michelle Payne here, too.  It is what I think poetry is about.

In the park

 

She sits in the park.  Her clothes are out of date.

Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.

A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.

Someone she loved once passes by – too late

 

to feign indifference to that casual nod.

‘How nice’, et cetera.  ‘Time holds great surprises.’

From his neat head unquestionably rises

a small balloon….’but for the grace of God…’

 

They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing

the children’s names and birthdays.  ‘It’s so sweet

to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,’

she says to his departing smile.  Then, nursing

the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.

To the wind she says, ‘They have eaten me alive.’

A little aloofness, please

When I watched Jean-Claude Juncker address the European Parliament on refugees the other night, I was looking at a room full of people who were almost visibly looking for leadership.  Making allowances for differences in style, I thought that they got some.

That body itself reflects the crisis affecting representative democracy across the West, and in two-party democracies in particular.  People everywhere are sick of place-fillers and time-servers and parties that stand for nothing except themselves.  Voters are repudiating all of them and looking for a way out – so making way for crooks and weirdoes.

As a result, one major party in each of the UK and the US is looking at blowing itself up to kingdom come.  In Australia, the disenchantment has meant that parties have become forced to sack leaders who fall out with the voters.  This show of party power does nothing for faith in the party system.  What is to be done?

The answer is for governments to stop doing the bad things that have put their people offside.  They need the sense to formulate policies and the nerve to implement them – even if they are in the short term unpopular.  Mr Abbott did not have enough sense or nerve.

I think that Mr Turnbull does.  Most of his parliamentary party agree.  The dissidents are the mediocrity that got us into this trouble in the first place.  If you want to see the prescription set out above in action, just have a look at Mr Baird in New South Wales.  He is not just popular because he has shown sense and nerve – he is even respected, something that we have not seen here for a generation.

I doubt that Mr Turnbull presently has much to worry about.  Mr Shorten looks to be a shifty little piece of work.  He has now lost his main prop.  A friend of mine, an artist from a country that knows despair, and who has the gift of getting to the heart of the matter, said: ‘I think Shorten has some character fault.  Really dislike him.  He said he wanted to get into politics, because he wants to be the Prime Minister.  I want to be the Queen of Sheba.’

Mr Shorten looks like Hillary Clinton to me – raw ambition uninspired by any need to serve others.  Every single thing that he does is calculated for its effect.  I wonder if he ever did one sincere thing in all his life.  If this were the season to mow down mediocrities, this talking head should be next.  If he is not, it is only because his party has no alternative.

The other party did have one, and the necessary change was made.  But whatever else may be said of Mr Abbott, he was not in the same mindless blank paper class as Mr Shorten.  If nothing else, Mr Abbott has done more hands on and shown more commitment for our indigenous people than any other Australian politician that I can recall.  There is no basis for saying that this politician was there only for himself.

Mr Abbott’s background was journalism, and it showed.  The press are a large part of the cancer in Canberra.  They see themselves as part of the game, and the results have been awful for government in general, and Mr Abbott in particular.  He was held up by and got in hock to cheer squads on Sky News and The Australian – and two of the more loathsome shock jocks.  Many people felt that this was conduct desperately unbecoming a Prime Minister.  The shock jocks live off the earnings of those who pander to the deprived and depraved just as surely as do pimps for tarts in white boots.  They, however, see themselves as the tribunes of the people.  If you want to know just how sanctimonious tribunes can be, have another look at Coriolanus.

If you want to see the teams that play these blood sports in action, tune into Sky News and watch them spit the dummy if their favourite takes a hit – as happened on Monday night.  Or look at some of the vaporising in today’s Australian (that includes a verbal of Her Majesty)Most of these players in the press make no effort to hide their revulsion at the other side.  If you want to come to grips with the word sordid, tune into a show called Richo + Jones. 

It was, frankly, silly of the outgoing PM to lecture the press on their role in his fall, or to disclaim ever having played the game himself.  But it was not at all surprising that a member of ‘the team’ should have advised Mr Turnbull to make peace with a shock jock.

That is the last thing we want of our PM.  Any leader has to be aloof at times.  If you look up that word, which has now sadly got a bad feel to it, you will see that it had a nautical origin, of the order to keep the ship’s head to the wind.  It came to mean generally standing at or keeping to a distance.  Any captain or coach of a footy team, much less the captain of a ship, will tell you that a lot of the time, you have to do just that.

One of the reasons that I think that Mr Turnbull is up to the job is that some time ago, he shirtfronted – yes, shirtfronted is the word – that awful twerp they call the Parrot.  If I could offer our new PM some advice, it would be to tell the Parrot and all his ilk to stand behind him, and to banish themselves to that wilderness that overlooks the old town of Jericho.  There is a good precedent for this.

And do not be surprised if there is an election before year’s end, and some surgery at the top of the other party shortly before or after that election.  The roundabout may have one more turn to come, but then I think things will settle down, and then we can all go back to sleep.

How an Oxford man went into journalism and became a Tory PM – and learned to play dirty

While touring in the north of this land, I read Salisbury, Victorian Titan, by Andrew Roberts.  At 850 pages, not all of which I have read, it is at least twice as long as it should be.  That is a shame, because if you stay with it, and use an editorial discretion about what might interest you, you might get an insight into the problems of being a conservative or Tory politician today.  Their people hold themselves up as the maintainers of standards and decency.  They are fond of saying that the safest way to proceed is by adhering to precedent.  Conventions for them really count.  But common sense suggests, and history confirms, that that when pushed they will get down and dirty as quickly as the rest, and possibly more viciously, because they are traditionally more capable of pulling levers of power and covering up when they do so, or just bluffing their way through in the manner in the manner exclusively owned by those who see themselves as born to rule.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was born in 1830 the second son of a Marquess.  The Cecils had been prominent in serving Queen Elizabeth.  The boy went to Eton, which he hated, and Oxford.  When he married for love, to the daughter of Baron Alderson, his father cut him off because he thought his son should have got a better match – at least financially.  .  To get by, young Cecil became a journalist.  He was prolific, even after he got into politics, but he mostly wrote incognito.  He eventually became Lord Salisbury, and after serving under Disraeli, he became Prime Minister on three separate occasions, being in large part opposed by Gladstone, whose Liberal Party split over Home Rule for Ireland.  Salisbury was a very large man, of studied common sense, who became a very effective party political man and leader of a cabinet.  He was not troubled in making decisions, and although he is not nearly as well-known as Gladstone or Disraeli, he is frequently held out as the model Tory PM or leader.  He looks to have been a model family man as well as party man.

I shall look later at how the upbringing of Salisbury affected his politics, but I now wish to look at some occasions where he played dirty – or tried to.  His daughter Gwendolen idolised him, and wrote a four volume biography of him.  She said that ‘he was essentially a fighting animal’ driven by ‘hostility to Radicalism, incessant, implacable sincerity.’   One of his Cabinet said ‘he never likes to keep the sword it its sheath….He is like the King of Hungary on his coronation who rides to all eminences and brandishes his sword to the four corners of the globe.’

Ireland is the great blot on England’s history.  The contempt of the English for the Irish was racist.  They regarded the Irish as an inferior race.  Even when that racism had got masked in the more liberal nineteenth century, someone like Salisbury could get into trouble by referring to Hottentots in the same breath.  But when Gladstone sought to grant Home Rule, all the gloves came off – right up to the top.  Queen Victoria said: ‘We must agitate.  I do not like agitation, but we must agitate every place small as well as large and make people understand.’  To that end the Queen started to pass on to Salisbury, then in opposition, letters from her PM, Gladstone, whom she loathed.  Even a cloistered queen must have known that these letters were utterly confidential, and that she was in breach of so many conventions about the monarch acting on the advice of her elected PM.  Salisbury for his part kept the Queen informed of his political machinations.  Rogers says this:

Salisbury has been criticised for not having referred the Queen sternly to her new Prime Minister, but to expect such a course is to misunderstand the man for whom the ends of defeating Home Rule easily justified the unconstitutional means involved.

If that is put in extenuation, it is also available to Adolf Hitler and others.  If a member pulled a similar stunt at a golf club, he would the thrown out.

Another case involved Parnell, the fated leader of the Irish cause in England, and the lover of Kitty O’Shea.  The Times published sensational allegations connecting Parnell and his party with terrorism.  How could Salisbury and the Tories capitalise on this?  Why, it is obvious – appoint an inquiry, and let the shit hit the fan.  Rogers says this:

Was it legitimate political calculation, or outrageous cynicism, or, as Winston Churchill believed, naïve foolishness that led Salisbury to act?…..With three carefully appointed judges reporting to Parliament, this was neither a Parliamentary Select Committee nor a court of law.  In effect it was a state conspiracy trial without a jury…..To tar the Parnellite party with the suspicion of criminality, even at one step removed would be well worth the embarrassment…..It was crucial, therefore that the Commission’s inquiries should range freely over the whole question of Irish crime, and not be restricted to the specific issue….The only other person who stuck by Salisbury throughout his persecution of Parnell, besides Chamberlain, was the Queen herself….

The Irish had the same effect on the English ruling class as trade unions do on the Australian ruling class.  It sends them off their heads and allows them to play dirty.

Salisbury consulted an eminent lawyer to help defeat the next Home Rule attempt.  He even looked carefully at something the English know nothing of – a referendum!  The great lawyer A V Dicey, truly a name to conjure with, referred him to a learned article that had the convenient truth that a referendum was ‘at once distinctively and undeniably democratic, and in practice Conservative.’  Salisbury was in warm agreement that this was the only way to end the differences in the Parliament.

And so it goes.  As the author of Ecclesiastes says ‘All is vanity….there is nothing new under the sun.’  And Salisbury was bright – he did not have the excuse of our King of Hungary, who is dead-set stupid.

Passing bull 4 – our land is girt by a continuum

We now have the Australian Border Force headed by an ex-rozzer named Roman Quaedvlieg.  The website has bullshit that is astounding even by our impressive standards.

We have significant service and enforcement functions, including: 

  • facilitating the lawful passage of people and goods
  • investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and immigration malpractice; and
  • onshore detention, removals and support to regional processing arrangements

We consider the border not to be a purely physical barrier separating nation states, but a complex continuum stretching offshore and onshore, including the overseas, maritime, physical border and domestic dimensions of the border. 

Treating the border as a continuum allows an integrated, layered approach to provide border management in depth— working ahead of and behind the border, as well as at the border, to manage threats and take advantage of opportunities.
By applying an intelligence-led model and working with our partner agencies across the border continuum, we deliver effective border control over who and what has the right to enter or exit, and under what conditions.  

Officers in the Australian Border Force are operationally focused, uniformed and part of a disciplined enforcement body undertaking functions across our operating environment – patrolling our air and seaports, remote locations, mail and cargo centres and Australia’s extended maritime jurisdiction.

We work closely with other government and international agencies to detect and deter unlawful movement of goods and people across the border.
The integration of our complementary customs, immigration and border protection functions and capabilities provides more diverse and interesting jobs and careers for our people.  They will be supported by better training, modernised business processes and systems, an increased sense of professionalism and a strengthened culture of integrity.
The combination of enforcement resources from both immigration and customs will enable us to boost our capacity over time and maintain investment in key capital infrastructure that supports the protection of Australia’s border.
The full implementation of the Australian Border Force vision, model and workforce transformation will take time and arrangements will be progressively implemented.

Our Prime Minister was prepared to invoke God in launching the Force and its Commander-in-Chief in his suit of French blue with silver leaf on the lapels: ‘May God bless you, may God bless your work, may God bless the country you are helping to protect and prosper.’

You might think that we could spare the Almighty our bullshit.

Sorry my dear – from bad to worse

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.

Mr Wilson again

There has been a dispute within the University of WA about a centre to study policy issues to be directed by a Danish economist called Dr Bjorn Lomborg.  The idea came from the Commonwealth who put up four million dollars.  Dr Lomborg had been an adviser to the PM and the project was supported by the PM and Mr Pyne, the Education Minister.  The name of the centre was a mistake.  It was to be called the Australian Consensus Centre.  There was no consensus at all.  The opposition to it was intense.  Dr Lomborg’s standing and the objects of the Centre were said by opponents to be inappropriate.  The University was persuaded by these arguments and the certain controversy and possible damage to the University if they went on with it.  They dropped the idea.  Dr Lomborg knows something of our politics.  He blamed the university’s decision on ‘toxic politics, ad hominem attacks and premature judgment’ and said the centre had been used as a ‘political football’.

Mr Wilson, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, is saddened by this result.  He says that the decision is ‘disturbing for its validation of a culture of soft censorship.’  What on earth is that?  No one is forbidding Dr Lomborg to propagate his views – all that has happened is that this university has said that they would rather that he did not do it over their name.

You might think that what has occurred is a triumph for freedom of speech.  Messrs Abbott and Pyne used their freedom to float the idea.  Members of the university and the public used their freedom to oppose it.  The university used its freedom to say no.  Is this not the result sought for by those who like to see the competition of ideas? Well, not if you are a supporter of the government like Mr Wilson, or Mr Henry Ergas in the column next to him.

But Mr Wilson gives grounds for rejecting the Centre at any university.

Lomborg’s views are not about science, they’re about public policy.

Public policy is a debate about competing priorities for government.  Everyone is entitled to their views on public policy.  There is no one correct answer in public policy.

Nor is policy about evidence.  Evidence informs policy development.  The direction of policy is primarily decided by the questions you ask.  The questions asked are heavily informed by values and political priorities.

This sounds like Voodoo, but if you take at face value the statement that policy is not about evidence, then no university would want to have anything to do with it.

It is hard to follow Mr Wilson.  He says that this case is different to that of Mr McIntyre and SBS because McIntyre ‘slurred a large section of the public and broke the terms of a voluntarily agreed employment contract that led to his dismissal.’  Are we to take it that our freedom to offend cuts out if we slur a large section of the public’ and that the Gestapo had every right to turn off Dietrich Bonhoeffer for slurring a large section of the German public by warning of false leaders?  And does not the second point just beg the question – should our law enforce a contractual term that permits an employer to sack someone for saying something offensive?

Is it curious to hear a negative answer to that question from our Human Rights Commissioner?  Perhaps not – Mr Wilson was content in that capacity to describe as stupid and offensive and despicable the opinions of a blackfella who exercised his freedom of speech to express a view on a matter of social policy that did not harmonise with those of Mr Wilson.  Perhaps the crime of the blackfella was to slur a large section of the public.

And if someone tries a political stunt like this at my university, I will march.

The Last Oz Tory

 

When Malcolm Fraser gave his concession speech after losing the 1983 election, his bottom lip trembled. Straight away, my mate Jim Kennon was on the blower saying that he had not noticed anything like that on 11 November 1975. Fraser was all very stiff upper lip back then.

Jim was a member of the ALP, and he would later be in government in that party in Victoria. I have never been a member or supporter of that or any other political party, but Jim knew that I admired Gough, and that I was outraged by his dismissal. It may have been the daylight between us politically that led Jim to being so close with me, but I did feel a kind of mordant relief when Fraser got voted out. I did not however take to his successor, and I would not feel the same kind of satisfaction again until Keating removed Hawke.

The stiff upper lip of Fraser stood then for a lot of what I did not like about him or the way that he came to power. Old money, Western District, Oxford University – each tolerable in itself, but not with that born to rule attitude of the Establishment back then. It was beautifully caught by a Tandberg cartoon. When Kerr, the man Gough called the last of the Bourbons, got full at the Melbourne Cup before he presented it, and looked so sadly common, Tandberg had him standing there cross eyed under that silly top hat, saying: ‘I like making presentations in November – like when I presented the nation to its true owners.’

The ineptness of Kerr, and the plain deviousness of Barwick, began the process of the softening of my position on Fraser. He was just a political leader trying to oust a very bad government – the real villains were two smart-arsed Sydney silks who should have known better.

And we should not forget just how inept that ALP government had become – it would be brought home to me every Saturday morning before breakfast at the Prahran Market by the ghastly apparition of Jim Cairns. Here was a former Commonwealth Treasurer selling political pamphlets from a cardboard box on the street – about the complete picture of a typical Australian political tragedy.

Besides, there was other form to consider. The deposition of John Gorton hardly had Melbourne Grammar written all over it, and there were other plots and putsches in the gross Oz manner.  All else paled beside the moral chasm of Vietnam – and Fraser had been in that right up to his neck. Like every member of the government, he was not subject to the ballot that sent our young men overseas to lose a bad war.

The softening up continued when Alcoa was building a huge installation at Portland. This vast project led to my first brief in the High Court. There were lots of dollars and jobs on the table, and some very big egos. The Americans were cutting up rough – until Big Mal called in on them and put them in their boxes. They called him Big Boots, and they were not going to give him any cheek.

I was most impressed – perhaps this aloof, imperious manner had its uses. It then also occurred to me that this kind of man would not find politics easy – it was not just that he was not the affable sort – he was not even prepared to dissemble, and a strong Coriolanus streak told him that chasing votes was vulgar (in the proper sense of that word). He looked out of place with the mob. On the other side, Gough was getting all the cheers – and losing all the elections.

I also changed my mind about the Establishment. For many years I was privileged to act for a number of them while a deluded NCA conducted an inane political witch-hunt. A former of partner of mine, who has authority on this point – ex officio at the moment – said that my guys were not just the Establishment – they were the Australian aristocracy. I came to admire and respect each one of them very much for at least one attribute – courtesy. As I have remarked before, it is like cutlery – it separates us from the apes. We do not put enough value on it, and that now shows in the mannerless nonsense, the plain vulgarity, of the Australian Parliament.

One of my people, Ian McLachlan, held ministerial office in a coalition government. He is as straight a man as I have met, and I was able to see close up how difficult it is for such an establishment man to come to terms with the awful mediocrity of Oz politics. I think that he and Fraser may have had a lot in common – one difference was that Ian got to a point where he could no longer stand the bullshit.

Malcolm Fraser did not leave his job voluntarily. Neither did Gough. Fraser was eventually voted out, and the slight tremble of the bottom lip may have presaged the humanity that he showed over the next thirty years, and the principles underlying which we can now see in his government. It has been a remarkable journey for a man who came under the influence of superior conflict-endorsers like Bob Santamaria and Ayn Rand – although the latter was reported to be unsure of the extent of Fraser’s commitment. She said ‘I don’t think he’s quite selfish enough.’ That statement of Ayn Rand looks to have been true.

A lot of people then and now say that Fraser was a failure as an economic manager in his three terms of office. The present government has blasted for eternity any claim by the Liberal Party to be a superior economic manager, a boast it pathetically made with the reference to the adults being back in charge. Messrs Howard and Costello in their terms of office are now criticised for wasting the mining boom by buying votes by showering dollars on a comfortable middle class in a very successful attempt to prove to them that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and that life was meant to be easy. The present government is finding out how hard it is to withdraw that largesse, either decently, or at all. If the Fraser government was a failure too, the late Dr Cairns is the only one they can beat in my adulthood.

There is a lot of blather about how Fraser moved from Right to Left, whatever that means, or whether he left the Liberal Part or it left him, as if this split was some observable event like the transit of Venus. Fred Chaney is a very decent man. As a politician, he is about my cup of tea. He said that Malcolm Fraser ‘was a very big man in every respect, and to be honest, I loved him.’ He went on to say that the two major parties are no longer recognisable. That is obviously true – the Liberal Party and Labor party are no more now in anything but name – but it is the profession of love that strikes you. Australian politicians do not talk like that, and it is hard to imagine that statement being made of any of the current crop.

Malcolm Fraser now looks like an old fashioned Tory with an old fashioned conscience. It is little wonder that the hard-liners who hunger after unelectability think that he was a wimp, and that the scrabbling vote-seekers who make up the Liberal Party now would rather not think of him at all.

There is something to be said for the Tory view that those who have a stake in the country have a duty to see that it is well administered. It used to be called noblesse oblige. That is just about dead in this country, as, sadly, is the involvement of the Establishment in the governance of the nation. It would of course be as wrong as it would be absurd to revert to the old Tory view that the government should be controlled by the biggest stake-holders, but if you want to know how bleak it gets when they are driven out of government altogether, just look again at the frightful motley that we have in Canberra now.

If not in government, then certainly after it, Malcolm Fraser stood for bringing people in from the cold rather than locking them out. This frightfully exclusive member of the Melbourne Club was far more inclusive than his weasel successors who would hardly be invited in as guests.

What I detect in the public mood in the nation is that they could see in Malcolm Fraser a political leader who was prepared to announce and stand for a position, and, just as importantly, who was a man of both integrity and compassion. In other words, they could see some of the makings of a statesman, and God only knows, there is not much of that about now. It was, I think, not issues of economic management or political ideology that came between people like Fraser and Chaney, and people like Howard and Abbott, but issues of conscience and compassion for people for whom life is not so easy, like refugees and blackfellas. This is what I see so many people are missing in our politics now.

Two things caught my eye in the press reaction, apart from a few matters mentioned above. (I might say that my Kyneton wine merchant and I had a long chat yesterday along the lines above.) One of those expressing his sadness on the TV last night – I do not remember if it was the SBS that Fraser set up – was the Governor of South Australia. That gentleman was born in Vietnam. This was a very moving moment. His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO arrived by boat with his wife as refugees in 1977, when Fraser was Prime Minister. They started life here at a migrant hostel. Their two sons are named after Australian cricketers, Bradman and Kim Hughes. His Excellency and his wife were boat people and they may have got a different reception from other prime ministers of Australia.

The other item in the press today is one of the greatest political cartoons of all time. It is by Bill Leak in The Saturday Australian. Gough and Malcolm are in heaven, seated on a cloud. Gough is seated on Malcolm’s right hand reading The Australian. The caption is ‘Seated at left hand of Gough.’ With that ineffable and lofty ease, Gough says: ‘They’re all still at each other’s throats I see.’ To which Malcolm knowingly replies: ‘Don’t bother with that, Comrade – death was meant to be easy.’

Rupert’s reindeers

 

After Rupert Murdoch gave the thumbs down to our Prime Minister from New York, the vigour that his lieutenants have shown in implementing the death sentence has been unsettling. Boyhood friendships and years of alliance went clear out the window almost overnight at the croak of His Master’s Voice. It has been a chilling reminder of the truth of the Biblical injunction – put not your trust in princes. The killing ground every night on Sky TV has been revolting. They have been shedding more blood than Fox News.

Dennis Shanahan has been a loyal and imperturbable supporter of Tony Abbott for years, from the time he became leader so heroically, through his glory days as Opposition Leader, and from that wonderful day when government of the nation was returned to its true owners. The endurance of the fidelity has been remarkable. In today’s Australian, we get this.

Abbott’s attitude since becoming opposition leader in 2009, by one vote, then failing to get the support of two independent MPs to form government in 2010 and finally defeating a reheated Kevin Rudd in 2013, has been one of an almost accidental leader uncomfortable in the job.

It takes your breath away. Someone has gone through an overnight change of total reversal – either the writer or his subject. The two are entirely unrecognisable. Jekyll and Hyde.

Mr Shanahan then goes on to compare the PM with Prince Hal, who found friendship among rough mates. He says that ‘Even after becoming king, Henry V, Shakespeare’s character retains a warmth for his old mates until forced to endorse Bardolph’s hanging for looting.’ Now, it may not be wise to sully Shakespeare with the latrine of our politics. That is not how it happened. The reversal of Prince Hal comes immediately after he accepts the crown when he repudiates and as good as kills his would-be mate Falstaff in the coldest line in literature. Prince Hal is a rat. Besides, if the analogy were to be pressed, who is the undesirable that the PM might now be advised to repudiate – if necessary in cold blood?

Still, the PM has as yet some memories of support among Rupert’s reindeers. Mr Chris Kenny is a former Liberal Party staffer who has been swinging the lead about his sometime mate on Sky, but in today’s Oz, there is a most moving return to form and to the fold.

For all the Coalition’s failings and missteps, it is surely incontestable that Tony Abbott has provided the best 16 months of government Australia has seen in more than seven years.

Now, here truly we behold a miracle! The government seen by most Australians and many of its backbench as incurably stupid and unreliable is incontestably the best that this country has had for seven years – incontestably.

After that shell-burst of revelation, we get the following damnation of demons and a catechism for the faithful:

Nor is it a surprise that the ABC, Fairfax Media and most of the press gallery have been ferociously attacking Abbott – [as has Mr Kenny and his colleagues on Sky]; he is anathema to the love media. They are diametrically opposed to his views on climate, borders, gay marriage, even national security.

Can’t you imagine being at a pub or a barbecue and expressing views different to those of our PM on climate, borders, or gay marriage and being dismissed as part of the love media?

Now you can see why this country is buggered. We are surrounded by politicians and people from the press who are just wall to wall bullshit. They roll around and glory in pure bullshit.

A model of confection

 

Although labels are demeaning and dangerous, you might be able to discern two different kinds of politicians. There are conviction politicians. They believe in something and they stand for it. And then there are confection politicians. They do not believe in much and they stand for even less – they just follow the pack and the polls. A confection is a ‘making by mixture of ingredients’ – the advisers and pollsters just mix the ingredients up in a vessel that is close to empty, and lo! you have a confection politician straight off the shelf.

We do not see many conviction politicians now. Margaret Thatcher and Paul Keating believed in something and stood up for it, and I admired each of them greatly for doing just that. They disdained populism, and swimming against the tide was a badge of honour for them. You don’t see their kind now. The strength of Angela Markel is different – as someone remarked, she just takes the politics out of politics. Angela Merkel makes politics decent. That is a heroic achievement.

People generally, here and elsewhere, are sick of politicians who just keep turning out as if they were made up as actors in a show. They are talking heads who go through their unlovely routines in their unlovely parliaments with their unlovely accomplices in the press. The whole confected lot are neither liked nor respected by the voters, and that does not look like changing. The people of conviction are seen to be dangerous zealots who are electoral poison. It is a curio of history that these puritanical party-killers and vote-losers were mostly on the Left two generations ago, and now they sit exclusively on the Right. It is now the conservative side that can be infected by cranks.

Before going to the present Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, let me refer to two politicians that I see as models of decency. Lindsay Thompson and John Cain were Premiers of this State about thirty years ago. Each was incorruptible. We take that for granted in Victoria, but no other state can. Each was a loyal member of his party but each was aware of the limitations of himself and his party. Each had a sense of decency that kept him at a distance from the press. Each remained grounded, even in the top job. Neither was marked by apparent personal ambition; to the contrary, both appeared to accept that in its essence, their job was to be a servant of the public.

I suppose that that view might have become a little roseate with age, but it looks right. Each man is I think fondly remembered – and now, the type of each is badly missed. We do not see people with those solid but modest attributes trying to reach the top in the cess-pit of Canberra. Mr Thompson may be better remembered now as an economic manager, but Mr Cain was attended by fools, and an inept opposition was unable to terminate his rule after one term.

You do not see the attributes of a model politician in Tony Abbott. What you do see are the attributes of a model confection politician. This was immediately apparent to Mr Matthew Parris of The Times of London.

Muscled, tanned, sharpshooting, God-fearing, straight-talking, climate-change-mocking and tough on immigration.

He’s the Right’s dream: the kind of guy Tory-toddlers could paint by numbers, a politician who focus-groupers could have stitched together with canvas returns, polling data and steel wire.

Well, here’s news for them. There’s no need to dream. This populist paragon lives and breathes and was elected to lead in 2013. And, this weekend, after only 17 months, he’s tanking……

I sense….a conflicted man, but a man of immoderate ambition and only modest ability; a leader who wanted to be smiled on by the Deity and roared on by the people, and hoped he might marry the people’s instincts with his own….

The general lesson is this. You cannot construct winning positions simply by summing together the things voters tell pollsters they want.

Once you see Tony Abbott as a confection politician or made-up job, things become clear.

His weaknesses were concealed as Leader of the Opposition because all that he had to do was destroy, and his target was self-destructing in slow motion and in technicolour. Mr Abbott was a disaster in opposition. Doctor No. He was programmed by his minders and an all-powerful personal staff to block everything. It was close to an abuse of office – we see it in the US – but he never bothered to formulate positive policies, which is what oppositions are for, and he arrived in government without policies – and without women. He looked forlorn and irrelevant from the start.

Because he performed so badly and was so unloved, he did not win enough seats to implement such policies as he did have, and he has looked impotent ever since. This does not stop him abusing the word ‘mandate’ – he had hardly won one. All he can do is blame the Opposition – and make the hilarious claim that they are being unduly obstructive. It was not their fault or doing that he campaigned so badly that we let in real and not just make-believe galahs.

But even though he could not lose, he made promises that he knew he could not keep. This comes from his insecurity – I will come back to this.

Then he made two mistakes that you would expect from a confection politician. He failed to change his make-up between opposition and government. He thought that the Hit Squad that served him in opposition might run the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing. This is perhaps the biggest curse of his whole debacle. The failure to move from opposition mode was spotted immediately by a Liberal premier, and I don’t think that this man has ever grown into the job or seen his awful limitations in it.

This relates to his other great mistake at this time. Confection politicians thrive on praise and support – that is, after all, all that they have. Mr Abbott believed the bullshit coming from his own cheer squad in the press. He really did believe that he had not been a disaster – he thought that he and his team had been great, and he was happy to pose in the sun under his laurels. The Canberra press gallery has a lot to answer for in the uncomely circus of Canberra, but none more unsettling than this fevered anointing of the duffer named Tony Abbott. Most of them have recently dropped him like a hot scone, and pointed the bone at him in a most unattractive way, as if on cue, but that is another story. The damage to Mr Abbott and the country had been done.

Now, you can see why he clings so desperately to his advisers and his pollsters, and his personal team. They are part of him. They made him. This is why he is content to flout his personal association with confected front-men of the Right like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, in a manner precisely calculated to alienate the whole East Coast Establishment, and why he is prepared to embrace the program of the Institute of Public Affairs, in a manner designed to estrange his rank and file. The IPA is fast moving to the level of toxic electoral demonology for years claimed by the League of Rights. It is a good example of how the Looney Tunes of the Right have become the best allies of the Labor Party. Indeed, the Labor people now pray that Mr Abbott can hang on indefinitely.

Now you see why Mr Abbott promoted and clung on to a policy that his party loathed and that floated around him like a loaded jellyfish. He was trying to tell as that he could really stand for something.

Now you can see why Mr Abbott keeps saying things that are so silly. These mouthings do not come from deep or even personal conviction, apart from trivia, but from how the team says he should go the cameras with the day’s bon mot. These offerings are at best boring and banal, but too often they suffer in transition. Some, like the shirtfront, have passed into the lexicon, but it is embarrassing to go back.

I want to say that we have made a good start, that the adults are back in charge, and that strong, stable, methodical and purposeful government is once more the rule in our national capital.   Yes, we will speak when we need to speak. But we won’t speak for the sake of speaking, and we won’t bang on things for the purposes of a PR gesture….The Afghan War ends not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope…..Australian troops do not fight wars of conquest; we fight wars of freedom…..I regret to say that not every Australian is a monarchist, but today everyone feels like a monarchist…..You might expect with the ABC that it might show some basic affection for the home side….Australia is a land of droughts and flooding rains. Always has been. Always will be.Jesus knew that there was a place for everything, and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.     We admired the skill and sense of honour that they [Japanese servicemen ] brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did.   Gallipoli was a magnificent defeat.     World War I was in one sense a tragic waste but it was for a good cause…My position is that everyone has to be on Team Australia…..What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots…. I think the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom….The arrival of the first fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent….Modern Australia has an important and indigenous multicultural character. Still, it’s British settlement that has most profoundly shaped the country that we are….There was a holocaust of jobs in defence industries under the members opposite….I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I withdraw…there was a decimation of jobs.

‘Decimation’ was wrong, too. Mr Abbott keeps making these appalling errors because under the confection, there is no conviction. It is as if he mocks himself, and he does. And he does it in front of the world. We just never know what he might say or do next. We should all go down on knees and thank God that we do not have the bomb.

Curiously, the want of bedrock, and this fixation with slogans, appears to be a reason that Mr Abbott also has the worst failure of a politician. He cannot negotiate. Before the last election, the absolutist said he would not negotiate with minority parties. Nowadays, that is political death. It was this disability or childishness of Mr Abbott that allowed Julia Gillard to form a minority government in the first place. She had what it took; he did not. It is curious that his claim to fame is that he killed off a PM who was only there because he dropped the ball. But, as ever, he would not see that.

And it is this absence of conviction that makes Mr Abbott look so insecure, looking as if his mum had done his hair, and sent a note for the teacher. This is how he always comes out programmed by his handlers and it is why Mr Turnbull looks ever so much more polished and urbane. And he is. It is why no one wants to listen to the PM any more. He is at best irrelevant, and he is so completely out of touch with his time and place.

And this lack of conviction and consequent insecurity are behind three of his worse failings. He does not understand how far behind he has got, and he still gets shocked to find that he has been left behind. Then, he fails under stress. We saw this when he went weak at the knees and made rash promises on election eve; he was at it again the other day when he started offering submarines for a vote, and when he got his mate Alan Jones to cold call the party. He was also making seriously wrong statements about our governance and refusing to back away, while taking cover under verbal sandbags like ‘distraction’ and ‘chaos’. It was like the Praetorian Guard auctioning the purple. Finally, and most damagingly for the country, this Prime Minister has put his own interests over those of the country by refusing to put the best man in the job of Treasurer. His Treasurer now commands as much confidence in the nation as the Prime Minister himself, and that is a disaster for all of us, who are being made to pay for the failings of others.

This confection man is not in the same league as the decent politicians I mentioned. He is manifestly not up to the job that he fell into by one vote, and the job now before us is to bring this simple truth home. In the meantime, we just wait for the make-up to fail again before the next mistake. In light of the croaks tweeted from the lonely old man in New York, it is just a matter of time, but that will be an ugly time that will not be good for any of us.

If it matters, I see no real prospect of anything better from Mr Shorten. He also stands for mannered insincerity, a kind of conviction deficit. This is not surprising, as neither party stands for anything that the other does not – with the possible exception that the Labor Party is not overtly Neanderthal about the environment and the Liberal Party favours capital over labour in what they call small business. Funnily enough, people do not see that is why our politics are so presidential – the leaders may be uninspiring, but their parties are no better. Just imagine if the bastards we get as leaders were footballers – you would not cross the road to watch either of them.