Monthly Archives: December 2013

Classic Ellis: Paul Keating’s Tower Of Babel

(First published 8 November 2011)

It is hard to see how Paul Keating’s five great achievements – the floating of the dollar, the letting in of foreign banks, the privatisation of Qantas, the winding down of tariffs and the sale of the Commonwealth Bank – look any good any more.

After Qantas’s two ‘incidents’ this past week it has no future as an airline and it is clear that sending maintenance off-shore and the $1,600 Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce earns every hour has a lot to do with it.

When sold it was the world’s safest airline (praised by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man: ‘Qantas never crairshed’); now it’s a dodgy dysfunctional scramble for post-meltdown survival and obscene levels of executive payout (what to Qantas executives do?) with half the ground-crew-per-plane it had in 1994, all of them daily exhausted, guilty, overworked and numb with frustration.

Why privatise anything where lives are at risk? The executives will always want for themselves the money that should be spent on safety and the sackings that follow this will always endanger lives (consider England’s train crashes after Blair’s privatisations), and I don’t see the point.

No ordinary citizen has ever said, ‘Thank God we privatised Telstra!’ after the many thousands of lost jobs and soaring phone bills. And I don’t see the point.

Why privatise anything? What service improvements do we get from the lotteries, tramways, nursing homes and prisons privatised against the people’s wishes? The money that goes to the shareholders comes out of safety and frequency of service (your call is important to us) and ordinary people die of the difference.

It is possible that privatisation kills people; but, hey, the upside is Alan Joyce gets $1,600 an hour, $13,000 a day, $90,000 a week, $4.7 million a year for saying things are going swimmingly while engines catch on fire.

Ralph Norris at the Commonwealth Bank, by contrast, gets only $5,563 an hour (multiple times what his government-bureaucrat predecessor got in 1991), but it’s hard to see what he does to earn it.

He puts stress on millions of lives, sure, every time he puts interest rates up but the time he spends deciding this can be measured in minutes per year. And I don’t see the point in paying him this much; one year of his wage, as I keep tiresomely pointing out in my books, could subsidise three small theatre companies for 1,000 years on the interest alone. And I don’t see the point.

Keating’s floating of the dollar has been a whangdoodle of a success too. It means, this week, that hundreds of export businesses, farms in particular, will go broke, and China, which doesn’t float its money, will soon rule the world.

We can’t, like China, say our dollar is worth a useful 78 US cents; no, it’s a disastrous 101 cents, driving our 2013 budget back into deficit, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Except unfloat the dollar, of course, and admit Paul was wrong. And that would never do. Better the people perish than this eloquent drongo confess he made a mistake.

He took off the tariffs too, which meant that instead of us taxpayers getting back 10 cents for every Hong Kong t-shirt we bought, and instead of having a clothing industry that kept employment in country towns and kept those country towns going, we made nothing out of the t-shirts we bought and devastated hundreds of thousands of lives. What a great idea that was.

Can’t have protection, he said. Everyone else does but we won’t. Protectionism was an idea that worked for 5,000 years, but it’s lately failed. Let’s do away with it. Just us, on our own.

Funny how he didn’t see that protection means what it says. We protect ourselves from AIDS with condoms. We protect our shores with navies, armies and air forces.

We protect our children from roving perverts with police and Hinch’s broadcast hate-lists. We protect ourselves from boat people by locking them up in the Adelaide Hills. But protect our jobs and way of life by tariffs? Nah, that’s over.

Losers like Japan, the EU, the US and China do that. We’re over it. Paul Keating says we’re long over it. Who needs jobs in country towns?

…And, oh yes, Keating let in the foreign banks, which meant Australian money didn’t stay here, it went to other countries to pay their executives thousands an hour and put out of work, in tens of thousands, our suburban bank tellers and wreck their families’ lives.

That was a good idea wasn’t it? He was praised for it effusively at the time; world’s greatest treasurer and so on. How wrong they were.

The worst thing he did, though, was sell the Commonwealth Bank. Had it still been a government instrumentality Wayne Swan could have ordered it, this week, to keep its interest rates at 6 per cent.

This would have saved the average family $40 a week. In what way was it helpful that Swanny could not?

The past 10 years has seen the unravelling – as I predicted in my book on economics First Abolish the Customer in 1998 – of the Friedmanite Consensus as more and more businesses go to the wall and mortgages go up and wages down and jobs are lost in tens of thousands and country towns cark it, and Keynesian Common Sense is returning.

If we keep people working, Keynes says, the nation prospers. An idea thought outdated at the time.

But Keating, who doesn’t read books much, won’t admit this. Planes will fall out of the sky because of his innumerate folly but he won’t admit it. He’s as rich as Croesus now, and we can all get stuffed.

And economics for people like him is no longer a mechanical system of pushed levers and cascades of money, it’s a religion: though he slay me yet will I trust him. It’s a kind of willed madness that China, the victor, has opted out of.

And we’re still in it, imagining competition with slaves and selling our farms and our jams and our Berlei Bras to foreigners makes national sense.

And our present Prime Minister, who likes what she’s heard of Paul Keating’s ideas and thinks Bob Katter a fool, doesn’t get it either.

She’s in the religion that’s killing us all.

And it’s a pity.

Classic Ellis: After Afghanistan

(First published in Unleashed, May 31, 2011)

After we train them to kill their cousins we can go home, in ten years’ time.

No, after we bomb them into a new religion we can go home, in ten years’ time.

No, no, after we’ve made Kandahar secure and safe for Hazara Shi-ites to live there and intermarry with Sunnis in, say, twenty years’ time then we can go home.

No, no, no, it’s when we’ve taught them, with bombs and bullets, to treat their women better, in, say, forty years’ time, then we can go home.

It will cost us a hundred more soldiers, and a generation of young suicide-bombers attacking our Test Cricket queues, but it’s worth it. You wait and see.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Why are we in one of America’s religious wars when most Americans want to be out of it? Why are we not bombing Amish, fundamentalist Mormons, Hollywood orgies, Hillsongers, Moonies, wife-sharing Nimbin hippies, pederasts of Pitcairn?

Why are we sending Hazaras back there? Is there no joining of the dots any more? Why not? Oh yes, that’s the answer. We went mad on 9/11, didn’t we, and only Julia Gillard has not recovered her perfect mind.

Let me be plain about this. You do not improve the situation of Afghan women by killing their sons and brothers. The Taliban is not a foreign invader, its members are family. You do not make friends by blowing up wedding parties and offering three thousand dollars as recompense for a little girl who will never grow up, and marry, and have children of her own. You don’t win friends that way.

So what is the plan, Prime Minister? Three soldiers’ funerals a month is fine with you, is it, and the tears and plaints of the bereaved? Can’t go on saying, can you, that Bin Laden’s assassination made the world a safer place? How long does this madness go on? When do we start bombing Pakistan? Oh, sorry, we already are.

How long does this weeping madness go on? This is a religious war, a post-Christian Crusade against pious, prayerful, bread-winning men who barter their daughters, have four wives at once, discard them at will, refuse them literacy, stone them to death for holding hands with a foreigner. But is this our army’s business? Is it not rather Four Corners’ business? How is it our army’s business?

Is it worth killing two more Australians for?

Even one?

Is the Karzai Drug Syndicate worth it? Why?

Let’s imagine we had never gone there. Never flattened a mud-hut country. Never punished Afghanistan for ‘harbouring’ a man already in Pakistan. Never killed twenty thousand children (or is it forty thousand, or only ten?) with our bombing raids and house-searches and helicopter-gunships and sniping and drone attacks on the wrong villages. What would that have meant? If we had not done that?

Well, twenty thousand more children, and sixty thousand more adults, would be alive today and seeking happiness in their own particular, local, traditional way. One hundred adulteresses would have been stoned or decapitated. Two million women refused a literate schooling.

The opium trade, closed down by the Taliban, would be smaller now, and the Ice trade, probably, bigger. Fewer Americans, ten thousand perhaps, would have died of heroin. Osama Bin Laden would not now be the Arab Che, and suicide bombing would not have become the preferred indoor sport of twenty million teenage males.

And an evil regime … would have continued, sure. Persecuting women, slaughtering those Hazaras who did not get away to Australia, seizing their abandoned farms. But trade sanctions would have been put on this evil regime, and al-Jazeera, CNN and BBC have revealed its horrors.

Two hundred thousand more Hazaras would be living in Australia, slaughtering cattle and running small businesses in country towns and mastering grade cricket. America would not be bankrupt, Australia would be two billion richer.

Increasing numbers in the Muslim world would not be strapping on bombs and howling jihad. And an Arab Spring would, perhaps, have erupted five years earlier. David Hicks would not now be a magnificent, moody celebrity, nor Julian Assange a sexy global hero in peril of his life. Kim Beazley would be in the tenth year of his prime ministership and the Liberal Party a squabbling, shrinking irrelevance led by Eric Abetz.

And yet we are in Afghanistan, when no Labor voter wants us to be there, Prime Minister.

What are we gaining there? What good are we doing? How many tens of thousands of children must we kill before it gets into your skull that we should not be there?

If we were not there, a widening Arab Spring might well by now have destabilised its tyrannous government, and a memory of the civilised there in the 1960s bestirred a new generation. There might be some hope there.

And yet we are staying.

And Improvised Exploding Device by Improvised Exploding Device observing our best men die, and their women weep at the funerals and hate you for being there.

Are we mad?

Or is it only you?

Bilbo Baggins Revisited: Tolkien’s and Jackson’s The Hobbitt: The Desolation Of Smaug

It contains, I suppose, the best action scene in all cinema (swordfights and some beheadings by Dwarves and Elves in and out of barrels tumbling down rapids and waterfalls), the best action editing ever and the best melancholy dragon (a sonorous, questing many-toothed sea-slug with the voice of Basil Rathbone), but Tolkien’s unwillingness to kill any of his goodies makes The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug eventually unsuspenseful and over-detailed though each of the details is a cranky, ramshackle, neo-medieval wonder; and eventually, frankly, not so much tedious as tiresome. And it’s a pity.

Still … it’s worth noting how coarse and smart-arse and American it makes the blam-blam Star Wars juggernaut seem, and how constant and mannerly in spirit and tone and race-memoriousness the British, very British Peter Jackson manages to keep this humanistic surge of stoic epiphany through battle after battle and test after test of this exhausting, unending pilgrimage, this scarring, saddening, sorrowing quest for affirmation, restoration, revenge and, oh yes (oh yes), holy ground.

All the actors are very fine, Cumberbatch especially as an icy kickboxing Elf, the computer animation peerless, the artistic design (a Dickensian Venice, a Dureresque Satanic Underworld of dragon-guarded treasure) the best ever, and it is a pity Tolkien did not live to see it.

And so it goes.

A Christmas Message: Sermon By Bob Ellis in St Stephen’s, Newtown

As always it is the longest day and a foreboded foregathering, at Christmas, of memory and regret, and, for most of us, a lot of unlikely people who turn out to be our relatives, come from another millennium with unsought advice on how we should live, hereafter, the few short years we have left on the planet, and what they paid, in 1987, for a weatherboard shack by the beach now worth a couple of million, which they’re waiting with waning hope to become at last three million, before they downsize. And the old religious quarrels come back like southerly busters, and we realise, once again, with carols by candlelight competing by the waterways with the loud cicadas, and the hoons honking their horns on the highway, what beach and ocean and fishing and hot Christmas nights are for.

They’re what we have in Australia instead of psychoanalysis.

For we meet again the people (parents, brothers, cousins) who have bruised us most and we walk by a roaring surf alongside them shouting and gesturing, working things out. We beat them at Monopoly or Scrabble and dunk them under breaking waves. We give them over Christmas dinner the hard time they deserve. We get pretty drunk. We sing along with Bing Crosby, daring them with the high notes. We get it all said. And then we are at peace for another ten months, till the need for the soul for another Australian beachside Christmas purging comes again.

It is a difficult realisation, by New Year’s night, and the fireworks over the Opera House, and the first toys under the Christmas tree broken, and the youngest kids fighting and building up enmities that will be still vivid in the twenty-second century, that this is how it is, and these are the ones who will be, for better or worse, your family, your unbroken bloodline, your tribe, your small incongruous nation of need and remorse and blame till the crack of doom. Unchosen, unloyal, unpleasant, unchanged, but here they are, the only ones whom you can ring at midnight and ask for bail, the only ones whom, when they turn up with a bloody nose and a cardboard box, barefoot and supplicant, you must let in, and make up the couch for, and hear what was wrong with the latest girlfriend, and how it came to grief.

For Christmas is a reminder of our linkage, of our adhesive obligation to those who were, like us, accidentally engendered one careless, drunken, vomitous night by unlikely couples who, were it not for us, might not have seen each other much on subsequent nights, nor learned over time to see in each other some good worth staying with down forty or fifty years.

Christmas is a reminder of the democracy of our origins – English convict or fugitive Italian or Greek islander, or Vietnamese fleeing what the American helicopters and the Vietcong insurgents had done to their grass village – and how in our interbreeding we must learn, soon, how our humanity is the only unanimous thing about it, and with each Scrabble game, and each attempt at beach cricket, and each quarrel over Julia Gillard, is a bonding, a forgiveness, a shared redemption, of what we did not choose to be our family, and yet is.

And what we did not choose to be our nation, and yet is. Each act of migration begins with a defeat, and we, in this large continent, are the sum of the defeats of most of the tribes of the world, by other tribes, by Lehman Brothers, by the movement of Shi-ite against Sunni, Protestant against Catholic, Hindu against Muslim, and here we are, the great Tempe Tip of a minor planet, and here it is, Christmas again, and our dreams receding in the ugly Abbottite revenge on our brief civility, and the jobs going and the universities dwindling and the rents rising and the love of God a pale mirage as once again it is Christmas, and we face again what is to become of the rest of our adventure here on a heating planet in a doomed galaxy in the days we have left among strangers who bear our surname and have plans for what we might do with our money in partnership with them in a scheme that will make millions, they are sure.

How long we can live like this – meeting, carousing, cursing, rewriting our wills – is not to be known, or known soon, for the great break-up may come, the unending bushfire, the risen seas, the scramble of hundreds of millions for higher ground in the decades ahead.

But…it is good to meet, and sing sad songs of lost love, and know who we are, this once, and who are our friends, for now, and wish each other well, in a sacred place, and wish each other joy, and renewal.

Only The Best: Biggins’, Forsythe’s, Scott’s, Bishop’s, Burke’s and Worboys’ Whoops!

Not that it matters, but the Wharf Revue, the best thing of its kind in world history (this is not an exaggeration) ends on Saturday and most of you fools have missed it. You had better things to do, and it’s a pity.

Phil Scott is not there this year (except in a black-and-white rear-projected silent farce, which involves, of course, a train wreck, Rudd’s Return), though his musical choices and Gilbertish-Grouchoish-Goonish lyrics continue, and his two replacements, Andrew Worboys (on piano) and Simon Burke (as Shorten, Abbott, Beazley, Bronwyn Bishop, the Player King, a munchkin unionist, and Cap’n Morrison’s mutinous Devonish bosun) are devastatingly good. The moment when Worboys (as Palmer) and Forsythe (as Rinehart) after many an orgiastic hill-explosion prove to be on the deck of the Titanic as it sinks in full moonlight was the happiest in many, many, many elderly people’s lives; and Burke’s already famed rendition, in a clear, soaring tenor, of ‘Empty Benches In The Chamber’ (the most anguished melody of Les Mis) in the glum guise of a Hamlettish wrist-slashing Bill Shorten, brought many True Believers on opening night — three days before the election — to actual tears.

There was an Assange-Robertson banjo song, replete with bells, whistles and honking and farting bullhorns, about whistle-blowing and its consequences; a Restoration comedy (with Burke as Bronwyn Bishop and Amanda Bishop as Julie Bishop, Biggins as Sir Petulant Pyne and Forsythe as the crow-garbed, glottally-challenged Puritan masochist Eric Abetz) on the Abbott royal house’s glad return; a post-atomic-holocaust footnote, in the ABC’s ruins, in which Mark Scott, Marieke Hardy, Richard Gill and (yes) Bob Ellis bewail the good old days of the Arts and in a final moving dirge (‘And when they ask us how relevant we were, We’ll probably tell them’) sing an era down; a Kitchen Cabinet Crabb/Katter cook-up ending in gunfire; a Mutiny-On-The-Bounty version, in tossing, stormy Arafura waters, of Operation Sovereign Borders, with Biggins as Cap’n Morrison saying ‘arrrh’ a lot; a Gilbert-and-Sullivanish Dalai Lama giggling, sly and freeloading round the planet; a Borodinish lament, amid the present wreck of Cairo, for those Arabian values religion smashed; and much much more, as they say.

Hard to judge, but the best sketch, probably, was the climactic Wizard of Oz lament for the loss in a recent electoral tornado of the Labor heartland, with Bob Carr, tottering, as the Straw Man, Paul Keating, immoveable, as the Tin Man, Kim Beazley, constantly shaping up and miaowing, as the Cowardly Lion, and Bob Hawke, back-projected on fulminating clouds, as the shifty trustless viagra-stiffened Wizard.

Bishop plays Dorothy, and her immaculate Judy Garland soprano soars and engulfs like the original, as always (‘Somewhere over the rainbow, voters flee. Pigs fly over the rainbow, dump on the ALP’); and she adds, as always, what might be called the human stain to the dizziest, dirtiest, horniest pun and metaphor. Her Gillard farewell song (in proud, flouncing petticoat-scarlet,to Bizet’s most famous Carmen tune) was an almost legendary, throbbing, vulgar occasion, and audience members stood applauding her last, fine, careless ‘Fuck you!’ More to come.

Night Thoughts On Homeland (2)

(Spoiler Alert)

I’m not sure Brody is dead. If he were we would have seen his wife, daughter, son and adulterous brother-officer responding to his public throttling in Iran. We would have seen his eyes bulge, and his corpse being floppily pushed into a bag and later burned. It is more likely that, as in the beginning, he has been wrongly presumed dead and will be back soon, looking bruised, bloodshot and impelled, for another season.

The victory over Saul of the contemptible tapeworm Lockhart seems wrong too. And if Brody was dead then Carrie would by now be suckling his child, like Varinia under the crucified Spartacus some years before. But she is over all that, she swears, and will be forthwith back at work running Instanbul where Brody will look in her window soon with lust and menace and piety by moonlight, the way he does. He no more needs to be actually dead, on the evidence we have before us, than Damian Lewis, who played him being hauled up and up and up and twitching on a rope. Actors get hanged in the theatre all the time. Brody may have been just another acrobatic thesbian, sky-hooked out of the drama, on cue.

If not, so be it, and so it goes. Either way it remains the best long-form drama ever made, surpassing even Aeschylus’ famed miniseries on the House of Atreus and the Earl of Oxford’s two bloodstained sagas on his fratricidal forebears Hereford and York.

It will be still, for a while, without peer.

Peter O’Toole

I met him only once, and we did not get on. He was a hell-raiser, like Trevor Howard, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Nicol Williamson, John Osborne. He was an Irishman of genius, like Robert Shaw, Brendan Gleeson, Brendan Behan, the McDonaghs. It is rumoured that he drank too much.

He had a nose-job in order to look less Semitic in Lawrence of Arabia. He all but wrecked the National Theatre when, as the star of its first show Hamlet (director, Laurence Olivier, Claudius, Michael Redgrave) he was drunk on opening night and many nights thereafter, varied the text a lot and gave a reading some thought ‘bizarre’. He was very good as Titus in Masada, superb as Errol Flynn in My Favourite Year. He should have got an Oscar for Venus, about a lonely and bitter old actor obsessed, as Olivier was in his last years, by a twentyish, drab, unremarkable girl, and his death scene on Brighton Beach is the best in cinema. He was wonderful in Bright Young Things as a rich mad old bugger writing generous cheques and signing them ‘Charlie Chaplin’. He wrote a superb autobiography. He was an adequate Mr Chips, a dreadful Don Quixote, a very fine Henry II (twice), excellent I hear in the one-man piss-up Geoffrey Bernard Is Unwell and the role he was born to play, Henry Higgins. It is hard to decide whether to mourn the good roles he did not play (Estragon, Coriolanus, Benedick, any role by his friend Stoppard, the Player King especially, Hadrian VII) or to be thankful for the ones he made it through.

It may be his pugnacious craziness derived from his two years in the desert with David Lean, certain of how famed he would be very soon and drinking champagne toasts with Tuaregs against the pink and rising day. It may have been from that more common affliction, an Irishman abroad. The Irish, like prison playwrights, should not be let out of their place of initial confinement lest they kick in the stained-glass windows, urinate on the Beefeaters and molest the wives of the gentry. At home, of course, they behave like perfect gentlemen.

Burton and O’Toole were two great examples of the erotic power of the male voice, well used. Cumberbatch, in our time, is another. Burton stormed you. O’Toole enveloped you. In an earlier age Errol Flynn (his voice exactly like that of Clive James) sent pantees flying by merely asking the time of day. ‘Men fall in love through the eye,’ Mike Rann once said, ‘women through the ear.’ Nobody who saw it will ever forget the moment when O’Toole, as Flynn, in My Favourite Year, says to a portly, baffled businessman, ‘I say, old sport, may I have the honour and the pleasure of dancing with your lovely wife?’ and the impaled and smitten upward look of the fat Ohio lady he swept around the floor.

In a similar way James Mason’s voice — breathy, implacable, feline, embellishing every sentence with a pan-European wine-dark perversity — moved many women to contemplate urgent sex with him, even after his Humbert Humbert in Lolita. So did the husky Hoadley’s Crumble Bar baritone of Paul Keating (‘He has the voice,’ Judy Davis once said, ‘that Australian men used to have’); and, for my mother’s generation (‘He can put his shoes under my bed any time,’ Elsie Ellis, at eighty, poignantly noted), Kamahl. From other actors — Bogart, Marvin, Holden, Wayne, Peck, Nicholson, Irons, Depardieu, West, Firth — came similar wedding-night fantasies in women read to at bedtime by adored fathers, in voices that communicated awareness already of many available marital positions and a willingness to try them all before dawn.

O’Toole was one of these anyway, and for this and hundreds of other reasons (wistfulness, contemptuousness, Irish daring, pale blue mascaraed eyes) he will be missed; and remembered.

And so it goes.

The Canberra Gay Honeymoon: Quixote’s View

From Doug Quixote:

Although the High Court struck down the ACT Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act, there are important advances made.

The Court decided unanimously that when the Constitution says that the federal parliament has power to legislate with respect to “marriage”, it means that the term is clearly wide enough to encompass same-sex unions as marriage.

The Court dismissed the rather flat-earth idea that marriage must mean what it meant in 1900, namely “marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”.

The Court observed that after divorce was accepted into law it had already by 1900 become “entered into for life” rather than “for life”.

The Constitution’s provisions are to be read as “a mechanism under which laws are to be made, and not a mere Act which declares what the law is to be” ! further :

‘”marriage law is not a matter of precise demarcation”. It is, instead, “a recognized topic of juristic classification”. ‘

And :

“Power to make laws as to any class of rights involves a power to alter those rights, to define those rights, to limit those rights, to extend those rights, and to extend the class of those who may enjoy those rights.

“The social institution of marriage differs from country to country.

‘It is not now possible (if it ever was) to confine attention to jurisdictions whose law of marriage provides only for unions between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Marriage law is and must be recognised now to be more complex. Some jurisdictions outside Australia permit polygamy. Some jurisdictions outside Australia, in a variety of constitutional settings, now permit marriage between same sex couples.

“These facts cannot be ignored or hidden. It is not now possible (if it ever was) to decide what the juristic concept of marriage includes by confining attention to the marriage law of only those countries which provide for forms of marriage which accord with a preconceived notion of what marriage ‘should’ be.

“More particularly, the nineteenth century use of terms of approval, like ‘marriages throughout Christendom’ or marriages according to the law of ‘Christian states’, or terms of disapproval, like ‘marriages among infidel nations’, served only to obscure circularity of reasoning.”

The Commonwealth v ACT [2013] HCA 55

The upshot is that when the federal parliament finally gets around to legislating to allow same sex marriage, there can be no challenge to such a law with any prospect of success.

It is only a matter of time.

Night Thoughts On Homeland

It occurred to me last night that the HBO revolution which made adult, in the last ten years, most American drama on television, and most political comedy, had a cause, and it is a political one.

And it is this. It is impossible to imagine an episode of Homeland with commercials. It is also impossible to imagine an episode, so encumbered, of Rome, Veep, Mad Men, Girls, John Adams, The Borgias, or Breaking Bad.

Commercials require the darkest drama to ‘lighten up’ after the commercial break. You can’t keep going down, down, fathoms down, into despair or gore or suspense or grim incestuous revelation when you have to come up, in seven minutes’ time, for ‘air’, and product placement, and jovial scenes of suburban reconciliation.

This explains, too, why the BBC led the world in long-form drama, and America took forty-five years to catch up with it. It explains why Edge of Darkness was possible, and why it had a deeper focus than I Love Lucy. It explains why Talking To A Stranger and Father Knows Best had nothing in common. The attention span of the audience had to be longer. And, with commercials, it couldn’t be. More to come.

Words That Have No Meaning (1): Politicise

When Holden bailed out on Thursday Abbott said it was ‘a shattering blow’ that ‘should not be politicised’. It was, however, the result of a political act the day before, when Joe challenged Holden to ‘piss in the pot, or get off’, or words to that effect, on the floor of Parliament, a political venue.

When an issue might harm the Liberals, Murdoch says it must not be politicised. When it might harm Labor — like, say, Rudd not speaking to a makeup girl in the most crucial hour of his life — of course it is politically relevant, and a national scandal. He said nothing to a makeup girl, he did not insult her, he just said nothing: vote him out.

The truth is, everything is political, because, in a democracy, everything you do or say affects the vote. Abbott’s bare hairy chest is political. His sister’s undaunted love of a woman is political. Gillard’s poor choice of past lovers is political. Clinton’s twelve blow-jobs were political, once revealed; and they ended, probably, life on this planet, by electing Bush the denier not Gore the climate expert.

You cannot say ‘politicise’ or ‘playing politics’ is wrong, in any context. It is what politicians are paid to do. Bronwyn Bishop’s refusal to lower the flag for Mandela (if it was she that forbade it), Nelson Mandela, a man she previously wanted hanged, is political. Of course it is political. Abbott’s refusal to apologise for peeking at Bambang’s wife was political. Of course it was political.

We now hear people say we must not ‘politicise’ the massacre of Sandy Hook although it was politics that caused it, nor the shooting of Gabby Giffords though it was politics that caused it, and we must not ‘politicise’ the drownings off Christmas Island in plain sight of shocked witnesses although it was politics that sent them on that voyage into ocean peril and needless doom.

So the word ‘politicise’ is useless. It means ‘to speak of things that happen in life’. Of course we can speak of these things. We have the freedom to do so, the freedom of speech. Our elected members have a duty to do so, it is what we pay them for.

Let us have done with this verb. It is null and void.

Or perhaps you disagree.

O You Sweet Heavens: Doyle’s Vere

I had thought to call Doyle’s Vere ‘the Stoppard end of Williamson’ but of course there is no such thing, Like Biggins’ Australia Day it has a Shavian glint, and Shaw’s successors Hare, Brenton, Bennett and Frayn would not flinch were it fathered on them, and Williamson, an intellectual boofhead, is not any more in the event; not since The Department anyway.

It deals with death and the universe and the quarrel of science with Intelligent Design and the Lear-like madness of a good man with rapidly-growing dementia in a mild-mannered way, first at an end-of-term impromptu office party at a University, and then at an engagement party in a high-rise apartment (the altitude is significant) in Sydney.

Vere (Paul Blackwell), an eminent physicist who shares a Christian name with Vere Gordon Childe, the Marxist historian and suicidal archeologist, and Herbert Vere Evatt, the famously demented Labor lawyer and leader and brilliant architect of the modern world, is diagnosed with a fatal swift mind-crumbling ailment at the end of the academic term, a few days before he is to go to Switzerland to witness the Higgs’ Boson — the God particle — being affirmed, or not. He stifles the dire news with difficulty, and with his colleagues — a nose-picking young disciple, a compassionate female fellow physicist, a lecherous calm grey-bearded Vice Chancellor (Paul Morell), the nervous doctoral student he wishes to pork — he explores the question of the beetroot since ancient times and, as Stephen Fry might do on QI, the many meanings that males, especially, have attributed to it. This is very funny, but sadly underscored by the initially unshared knowledge of his illness.

In the second act the same assembly of actors play other people but the demented Vere thinks they are the first lot, and calls them by the wrong names and totters, incontinent, round a dinner party like Lear or his Fool and attacking, especially, Roger, a Hillsong minister (Morrell again) and his clenched wife Kathy (Rebecca Massey), who believe his madness is a struggle between God and the Devil in his soul, and his faith in science (‘Vere’ means ‘faith’) is the work of Beelzebub and a prelude to an eternity of burning and screaming.

…It is very, very difficult to achieve this balancing-act of comedy, tragedy and intellectual tussle — of science, the Bible, Shakespeare and one’s individual imminent extinction — but Doyle makes it look a breeze. Like Hare in Racing Demons he gives the Christians their dignity while showing their crazed bellicose pomposity. Like Shakespeare he gives the poor addled man his dignity and his raging heart — O you sweet heavens, let me not be mad — and the calm eye of God, which more and more looks like that of Spike Milligan, and less and less like that of Paul Davies, his form and pressure.

Sarah Goode’s direction is very fine, but a more vivid projection of Vere’s crumbling universe on the back wall would have been preferable, I think. Morrell’s mastery of the academic villain and the smug churchman is worthy of Rex Harrison. Rebecca Massey’s shrieking Hillsong bitch is amazing, and Paul Blackwell, meek as a titmouse, proud as a bantam, is what we used to call a tour de force.

All in vain, of course. The show is closed, and I got to it on the last day. A salute to its passing anyway, and a high bugle call to Doyle, our finest living master of the stage.


Will Abbott now say why his hero Howard wanted Mandela hanged.

The Only Policy Shift That Matters

Today, December 5th, 2013, future historians will note, was the day ‘the partial renationalisation of Qantas’ became a thinkable notion, a plausible option, and Australia changed.

If it is done the partial nationalisation of Holden will follow, and Cottees, and Berlei, and those iconic brand names that made us, in old times, catch our breath, and the old, wise way of partial socialism in a thinly peopled continent will resurrect itself, return to life, and things will be better for all.

It is wrong that any money made by Qantas go to foreigners, or any money made milking cows in Tasmania, or digging up Western Australia. Yet many politicians, calling this ‘investment’, Labor included, have applauded this haemorrhaging of our country’s good, as if any money that went overseas and not here, into our national coffers, made any sense.

Of course it doesn’t. Particularly money from Qantas, whose reputation for safety (it’s still never ‘crairshed’) was achieved by Australians exclusively, and is now eroded, by the only gay thick Irishman in two hundred years.

Qantas should never have been sold off, and Keating, a smart semi-Irishman, stands condemned by history as a wrecker of our economy and an underminer of our finest sons and daughters the pilots, engineers, luggage handlers and stewards, our best international advertisement ever, who lost their jobs in due course to listless undermotivated ill-trained Asian slackers, on planes that soon started to fall out of the sky but never, luckily, hit the ground.

People think Keating should be forgiven for this, because he has charm and a keen command of dated slang but I do not. He made it fashionable to sell off anything Australian and good and pack off its profits to foreign ingrates in order to balance a Budget, or ease pressure on some bottom line, somewhere.

He should apologise for this, and come out in favour of the renationalisation of this, his worst mistake.

I invite him to use these columns to do so. Or debate me any time, anywhere on why he will not.

Lines For Chris Bowen (6)

Can the Treasurer name one foreign critic of Labor’s economic performance?

Can he name two?

Take My Wife — Please

Joe finds ‘bizarre’ a man resenting his ex-wife dating a rival.

Bizarre, is it?

I would have called it ‘universal human behaviour’.

Joe, the fat, nervous Palestinian Maronite greaser, may favour wife-sharing, but most Australians do not.

Fascism, At Last, Down Under

Brandis preventing a prime witness from reaching the International Criminal Court by impounding his passport signalled the moment when Abbott Fascism clicked in as a new way of life. Morrison’s revoking of the work permits of ten thousand real refugees led up to it, and Abbott’s refusal to apologise for peeking at Mrs Yuduyono. And Bernardi’s denouncing of homosexuals as ‘bestial’.

Fascism is the last resort of the incompetent, as is well known. If you cannot get the votes legitimately, you gerrymander, like Joh. If free speech endangers you, you stomp on it, as Bernardi now recommends his lying, slimy fellow creeps now stomp on the ABC. If the vote goes against you in Florida, you disallow it retrospectively. Or rejigger, next time, the voting machines.

We are in a lot of danger here. Already the pariah of South East Asia, we will be soon scorned by the ICC and drummed out, perhaps, of the Security Council, and it is time this government were done away with, by a Turnbull mutiny or a Senate refusal of Supply.

A Senate Inquiry into the international crimes of the Howard government would be a start. It could deal with not only the duping of Timor and the robbing of their poorborn children of billions but the 297 million it gave Saddam Hussein to buy rockets to kill our allies with. It could deal with the WMD that Howard insisted were there, and went to war over, a war that killed or exiled four million innocent middle-class people, and smashed and burnt for no good reason the cradle of civilisation, WMD (that is, atomic and hydrogen bombs) that were curiously not used in that war, mythical weapons he knew did not exist while swearing till 2010 they did.

These were not small time crooks, they were — are — big time war criminals, most of them alive and well and in Abbott’s ministry today.

It might be difficult, but perhaps the ACT Attorney-General could seek their arrest for crimes against humanity.

There is no doubt they are guilty, and, to coin a phrase, it’s time.

The Innocence Of Craig Thomson (72)

I note that the ‘porn’ movies watched by Craig Thomson turn out to be not porn at all, and include The Sound Of Music.

A quarter of a million each from Abbott, Pyne, Brandis, Kate McClymont and Peter Lewis will set Craig up for a happy retirement, but it would have been nicer if he had retained his Labor preselection.

And if Gillard had allowed him to speak in parliament a year before he did.

This has been an attempt to subvert the course of justice — by, in particular, the Victorian police — unlike any in our history, and Abbott, who ran from parliament to avoid the very smell of Craig, should be sacked for it.

Privatising The ABC

The ABC showed bias toward Abbott during the election — broadcasting no Morgan Poll, which sometimes put Labor ahead; concealing the rumours of his break-up with Margie and his cover-up of rape in his college — and they hoped, they believed, they truly believed, in Churchill’s words, ‘each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.’

But their sad, clenched, cringing plea for mercy proved in vain. Bernardi already wants them dismantled, running commercials, or privatised, or cut back to the bone to save the taxpayers money in straitened times. Twenty-eight cents a day is too great a sacrifice; a dollar ninety-six week is not to be borne; seven dollars ninety a month — the price of two lattes, once a month — an intolerable burden on a household budget and must come down to, well, four dollars a month. Or three.

He is a creepy dunderhead and he is, of course, not arguing this week, as he ought to be, that gay marriage unleashes bestiality and somehow sanctifies it, but he is distracting the public from his favourite crazed quarrel with human biology by resurrecting this old one from 1997. And, more and more, people of great heart and clear conscience will be worried that the ABC will be sold soon to Singo or Lachlan or Alan, and expend emotional energy better used defending Gonski, or Broadband, or attacking the corruption of the Victorian courts.

For it is not now very likely the ABC will be dismembered, I think, I believe, I truly believe, though Abbott with better polling figures would almost certainly have tried it on. But now that he seems unlikely to survive till the Ides of March and is daily resembling more and more a doomed and fretting Christmas turkey and is yelping with fright at everything that comes his way it is not probable he will dare a battle that even Howard flinched from. He is in diabolical trouble historically also, with old words rising up foaming to bite him hip and thigh. His description of Labor’s thirteen billion Gonski and his three billion for Gonski-without-tears as ‘a unity ticket with Labor’ looks more and more like lying to parliament and he can be expelled from it for that alone.

He is a crazy, messed-up piece of work who will not long abide in his position.

If gay marriage gets through next week, he may have to resign it.

It would be, let’s face it, the only honourable thing to do.

Abbott’s End (71): Gaily, Gaily

A Great Overturning seems imminent. The High Court is allowing gay marriages to occur on the weekend, and it would be surprising if they then annulled them. In our sister country Canada they occur every day and there have been, thus far, no attendant shootings, firebombs, riot, affray.

This will leave Abbott with sperm on his face and his sister exultant over the Christmas turkey. Nothing has gone right for this government and it is unlikely they will last very long. Turnbull would win a leadership battle held now and the Senate can, as I understand it, refuse Supply. The lies and lies and lies told by Christopher Pyne in the last week (Is he matching Labor’s 12.5 billion? Yes, with 3.2 billion, of course, that’s a match; well, isn’t it?) make him seem entirely insane, and he would not pass a medical examination. Scott Morrison’s daily avoidance of democratic scrutiny, annoying to even Laurie Oakes, suggests that he too is bonkers (though he does achieve some lucidity, I hear, when speaking in tongues and waving his hands) and a Senate inquiry would find him so.

As for Abbott … well, my thesis that he is six men, not one, held up when I lately heard from a friend that at a dinner party hosted by his sister he spoke up for gay marriage and said it would happen soon and he was looking forward, he said, to that ‘significant victory for the side of the angels’. He may well believe it, but he was crazy to say so.

What a mess he is in. His confessor, Pell, will be working round the clock.

The December Primates Poem

(To be sung, perhaps, to the tune of ‘We Three Kings Of Orient Are’)

Attend the rage of Christopher Pyne,
His face as puce as burgundy wine;
From Connski to Gonski and back again
He seemed, every other day, insane.

He punned, he smiled, he strutted, preened,
He snickered like a hellish fiend,
He tap-danced over red-hot coals
While colleagues studied plunging polls.

They dared not ask where had he been,
This silly, mincing drama queen,
When priests and teachers in his youth
Cried, ‘Speak up, boy, and tell the truth.’

He shrieked, he nattered, fibbed and sneered,
He struck good folk as fucking weird,
Those forty-eight nights on Q&A
He seemed so madly sweet and gay.

But Destiny came for Christopher Pyne
Who did not know when he’d crossed the line
By threat’ning to wreck the lives and hopes
Of those unencumbered by Queens and Popes.

He did not get it, in the end.
He thought each pun would make a friend,
And love result if he wagged his tail.
He’s buggered now, please God. Wassail.

The Madness Of Christopher Pyne (2)

Christopher has just told Leigh Sales that schoolkids and their parents and their teachers will get more money from him than they would have received from Shorten if he had stayed in his post. But Shorten proposed — and in eight jurisdictions agreed to, and began to enact, and contract, and ratify — three times as much money as he, in six years not four. In Christopher’s weird and wacky world view, less is more, and four billion dollars greater than twelve billion dollars, and massive change no change at all, and the ‘shambles’ of last week is, hey presto, this week’s great idea.

He believes he can mesmerise us out of any residual memory of what he said yesterday. He believes that if he asserts with brazen confidence something, anything, then lo, it has come to pass.

In this, he closely resembles a madman.

He should be taken away in a straitjacket, and questioned closely.

Martin Sharp

I knew Martin for fifty-one years, not well. More to come.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (67)

I have finished at last my review of the Assange film The Fifth Estate and commend it to you.

Any argument about this might appear below this column.

Abbott Agonistes (1)

Even Fran Kelly seems dismayed by what Abbott is now saying, ‘Don’t read my lips, read my mind’, and this morning she failed in her arm-wrestle with Shorten, in his best performance yet, to justify it. She will answer at the Last Judgment no doubt for the help she gave this malevolent chameleon Tornado Tony in the last eight months, but before then she will strive to change the subject away from his beaming falsehoods as often as she can.

What a moral jelly-back she is. What a wuss.

For what we are seeing here is the return of the non-core promise. It means these chittering jackals can now re-define ‘disabled’, and will. It means thay can re-translate ‘stop the boats’ as meaning ‘tentuple the numbers of refugees on TPVs in Australia’. It means there is no English word that strays near them which cannot be morphed, by an act of malign will, into its opposite. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And by redefining the Gonski-Shorten Better Schools plan as an ‘O’Farrell shambles,’ a ‘Napthine shambles’, a ‘Giddings shambles’, a ‘Weatherill shambles’, a ‘Gallagher shambles’ they have made sure, now, that Weatherill and even, possibly, Giddings will retain office next year and Napthine lose it, in a landslide.

It is a turning-point, and a measure of how things have changed. You could be slippery once and go back on your word. Now all the instruments agree on what it was you actually said, and you are faced at last with your own face and voice, contradicting you.

It may well be that Abbott has months, but he doesn’t have years. Like Nelson a year into leadership he will be overthrown by Turnbull.

Unless, of course, for other wrongdoings, he, and Pyne, and Brough, and Ashby have by then been put in gaol.

A National Scandal

Whoops!, the latest Wharf Revue, is the best thing of its kind in world history and should be filmed and, like The Audience, make tens of millions of dollars in arts and provincial cinemas, but the STC won’t hear of it, nor of an offer to film it for free in return for a negotiable share of the take for all the parties involved, including the actors who desperately want to do it.

This is madness, and the kind of vandalism that erased John Gielgud’s best performance, in Forty Years On, from the tapes of the BBC, and all of Not Only But Also, and the first production of A Hard God, starring Gloria Dawn, from the archives of the ABC. It is throwing away money which is sitting there, bound to be earned, in cinemas, ABC rebroadcasts and over-the-counter DVD sales in the next ten years and robbing future generations of a high point in Australian theatre and satire which I will go to, if I can get in, three or four more times having seen it six times already at Parramatta, Glen Street, and the Wharf.

I urge the sacking of the officer responsible, whom I will not name, and Royal Commission into his lunacy.

What he is done is a War Crime against performance excellence, and he should be gaoled for it.

He will be known hereinafter as the Walsh Bay Taliban because he is, with this fool malignant act, blowing up the giant sacred Buddhas of the day.