As I Please

2.05 am

The rain has abated but night after night returns, as in a tropical country like Nuigini, and gives good indication that long harsh droughts will not be a feature of the next hundred years of our history. The desert has bloomed, and bloomed so lushly that Mad Max 4 and my wife Annie’s desert film will be shot in Namibia now. The Menindie Lakes, as big as Lake Erie, show no sign of depletion, and all the gleaming, bird-thronged landscape round Lake Eyre is much like the still vivid if half-remembered Inland Sea.

We will soon see how foolish our population policy of thirty-five million is, and how readily we could take in a lot more. Eighty million, as I suggested in my lecture The Big Lie, much acclaimed at the Festival of Ideas, eighty million, the population of Germany, a country which could fit within the borders of Queensland, and the always racist, heathenist, denialist illusion that we are full up, no room at the inn, no Hazaras need apply, brownskins enough already, will subside and retreat by 2020, as the hatred of gay marriage so suddenly did in America, once it was shown in the first few jurisdictions that it did no harm, is a reasonable minimum figure now and we should look to it and plan where to put them.

Bob Katter’s electorate, as big as Great Britain, or Tony Crook’s electorate, as big as Scandinavia, or Tasmania, as big as Ireland, might be a good place to start the Big New Settlement, in caravan parks first, of Hazaras — who mostly look like Ricky Ponting or Elle McPherson — in and around those towns and shires that have asked for them, as many of late have tended to do, and then whatever Tamils, as a rule as handsome as their kinsman Kamahl or as beautiful as Natalie Wood, and whatever widowed, smashed, bombed out and grieving Palestinians as want to come here.

3.42 am

Harry Jenkins’ removal was not, by the look of it, his own idea, or he would not have gone so close to choked-back tears in his last acknowledgment of the local indigenous tribes in Parliament yesterday, five minutes before he stepped down. It was a job he had always coveted, having wanted always to emulate in that post his namesake father, foreshortened like him and cast out of the Speaker’s chair he also craved lifelong, and like his friend Kim Beazley, who from boyhood yearned to be Minister For Defence, and lost it all too soon, would have gladly stayed in his present office till they took him out of it in a box.

It was a tactical move too clever by half, I submit, as the always underlying potential for simian chaos in this Hung Parliament will soon show under Peter Slipper’s less magnetic, less amusing and less steadying rule. Harry cannot be bettered, or equalled, or palliated I suspect, and if he is not given a Cabinet Ministry eftsoons will fester visibly on the back bench unrewarded for his sharpness, geniality, charisma and humble if moody self-sacrifice. A slightly different shift of the shuffle-board would have seen him Prime Minister, and if Gillard is ignorant of this, as she is of most things (where Egypt is to be found on the map, and so on), it is likely Harry is not.

If he does come to the Ministry at last it is probable Rudd, soon or late, will go out of it, ungently as the man said into that good night. The plot to see him soon returned to absolute kingship, lately confected not by any small-time caucus conspiracy but a Murdoch press in sore and testy need of a series of headlines damaging to Gillard in the months when some of her legislation was bound on the numbers to be enacted, is now in ruins. His peculiar performance in Perth (‘I sing like a cow!’) under whatever stimulant, medical or recreational, he was on at the time, had a John Gorton whiff to it, and memories of the rumours of his workaholic post-midnight control-freakish tantrums and tyrannisations of his exhausted staff came flooding back.

We shall not see his like again, thank Christ. The harm he did Labor in those two and a half years of dither and strutting  and fretting is immeasurable as yet. He cost us Beazley, Debus, McMullan, Faulkner, Tanner, Kerr, McKew and the best years of Mike Kelly, war hero and the finest Defence Minister we never had (now, under Gillard, Minister For Cheese), who increased his majority in Eden-Monaro while all around him fell down in a squabbling, leaking shambles. Rudd as Prime Minister would have commanded, had Beazley stayed on and become, say, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Wedderburn come in as a Senator as he was promised, a Cabinet as capable as Hawke’s first and ruled esteemed and widely beloved for fifteen years. And he threw it all away, bizarrely believing he could do it all himself. And there you go.

Like Hemingway, he never forgave a favour. Like Evatt, he suspected all around him, and instinctively despised them. And it’s a pity.

And so it goes.

  1. Bob Ellis! What on earth are you doing up so late?
    Go to bed man!
    Oh, and write something that does credit to the……what would you call it?….the intrigue, the sleight, the exquisite timing of Albanese's Adroitness.
    Matched only by Abbott's intellectual and imaginative inability to have that "wrong unredressed or insult unavenged".

    Write it.
    I shall read it.


  2. Good to have you back Bob. I disagree with you on most things but have read and mightily enjoyed all your political books.
    But please keep off economics, Bob. It isn't your subject.

  3. Not Harry's own idea? Perhaps, but it was always likely to happen once Slipper had shed his training wheels. It is a master stroke to shore up the numbers, to put a little distance between the government and the Sword of Damocles at last.

    We've had our disagreements at times, Bob and no doubt we will again, but I do enjoy your prose and the ideas are always interesting.

    I'll echo JG Cole : get some sleep!

    Doug Quixote

  4. Hi Bob, I was wondering why your articles had been appearing less frequently on the drum website lately, it's good to see you're writing somewhere else.

    I guess like a lot of people, I disagree with you on many things, but I always enjoy your posts.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the attitude towards population in this country is ridiculous, although I don't think it's entirely motivated by racism. It's definitely a big component but it's not the whole story. I think that a lot of people don't really understand (or are mistrustful of) technology and what we can really achieve. There's a complaceny in the Australian psyche, we're safe and prosperous compared to the rest of the world, which is good but it's a terrible platform for launching brave new ideas.

    That's what developing Australia into a country that can sustain 80 million people (if not many more!) requires. Courage and vision, and I don't see any of that in or political leaders or society.

    There is also the misanthropic tendencies of a lot of the environmental movement to deal with, a lot of people seem to view any development to be a terrible blight on the face of the planet.

    If we invested in more dams, nuclear power (a viable technology now, can you really tell me it would take more than a few years to build a plant if we throw enough money and resources at it?), research into solar and geothermal, high-density residential buildings for our cities……you get the idea. If we did all of that, we could turn this country into something incredible.

    I never liked Rudd, but what made him completely irredeemable was that he had sky-high popularity, so much support that he could have done anything. Anything. And he did nothing.

    Ok, so rant over for now, I look forward to reading more from you Bob.


  5. To Ken:

    Hmm. My two economics books were praised by John Ralston Saul, the world's greatest thinker, by Gore Vidal and Barry Jones and read aloud on Australia All Over by Macca for a few weeks. Passed on, read in toilets and taken out of libraries, about a quarter million readers have got go at least one of them.

    No columnist has ever attacked their contents, and several have praiised their 'practicality' and 'common sense'. The second, The Capitalism Delusion, has been published in China, where a hundred million or so interested neo-socialists might, or might not, take heed of them.

    But not you, apparently.

    How dare you.

  6. Sorry, 'got to at least one of them'.

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