Author Archives: Bob Ellis

Back In The USA

The Congressional shutdown continues, and it it is to be wondered if American democracy can — in the old phrase — long endure. Every few months the Debt Ceiling must go up; and every few months the Tea Party can stifle the workings of government by theatening the preselections of moderate Republicans if they do not greet with ‘relentless negativity’ this or that Obama law, enacted after they, the people, voted for it; and so it goes.

It is a high stakes game, and it would normally, in any other country, extinguish at election the envenomed, malicious, negative party. But in this country two things prevent this happening. One is the ability of state governments to set, and gerrymander, federal boundaries and give to Republicans seats they cannot lose. And then there is the 22nd Amendment, which gives each President eight years only and no opportunity, after that, to recontest that position as Grover Cleveland did and Teddy Roosevelt tried to and come back to it.

This makes him or her from day one a Lame Duck, and gives the Nastier Party power — in procedure, and filibuster, and mischievous amendment — vast power, to whittle him away; to make no law permanent, and all of them vulnerable to, as it were, posthumous attack, once the eight years are over and he, the auteur, no longer there to defend with moral force his legacy. It gives enduring power to those who can re-contest their seats, and their jobs, thirty times, over those like Barack Obama who can do it only once.

Had the 22nd Amendment not occurred (the work of another malignant, ‘do-nothing’ Republican Congress, elected in 1946) Bill Clinton would be, at 67, President still and no Iraq and Afghan Wars infecting recent history and smirching world affairs. There would have been no Wall Street Meltdown, no GFC, no Tea Party, and so on. Other things would have happened, but none as bad as these. Beazley would have won in 2001 and be at 65 Prime Minister still. There would have been no Bush 2, no ruined Greece or Ireland, a continuing Gordon Brown government, and so it goes.

Lament is futile but this is the cause, the 22nd Amendment, is the cause of our present world malaise and the return, in many countries, of poverty and tyranny.

And so it goes.

Love In The Afternoon: Rivka Hartman’s Wanting

Rivka Hartman’s new play Wanting, a pub four-hander with tangoes and swordfights, has dialogue in it better than any by Buzo, Williamson, Hibberd, Romeril, Ellis, Doyle or Biggins and a comedic sense as as delightful as that of, say, Woody Allen in Manhattan or Tom Stoppard in The Real Thing. I hope I am not overstating this.

The plot concerns internet courtship, dating, consummation and remorse and the dialogue, though heightened, is well within the hyperbolic loquacity of that form of communion and pursuit. To the usual glowing and squawking machinery she has added choreography  — duels, bullfights, descending scud missiles — as the four principals, all decisively middle-aged, wrestle for erotic advantage with their consciences, their quarries, and their rivals in love, murmuring wryly to the audience as they do so.

The effect is a bit like Noel Coward’s Design For Living or Future Imperfect or any episode of Girls: enforced gaiety, covering despair.

Each character has burdens of anguished responsibility: Dion, a frequently unpromoted public servant, has a teenage daughter; Pearl, a yoga instructor, has a mentally challenged little son; Alexa, a hotshot corporate shark, a schedule that whisks her round the planet squandering other people’s millions; Jack, a melancholy bricklayer, a tendency to undervalue himself, and a lot of evidence to support this bleak view of his ever-shrinking universe.

Dion, the most flamboyant, with some of the characteristics of Pepe Le Pew, is drawn, like Restoration rogue, to first one woman then the other, when he finds she is richer. Pearl, dumped by him, flings herself at Jock who is dubious. A lot of mawkish, coquettish and macho foreplay occurs and gaucheries proliferate. As in Jacobean comedy, we continue to like each character despite the detestable ingredients displayed; as in Neil Simon, they each in turn show a buoyancy that is both magnificent and very irritating.

Robbie McGregor, Taylor Owynns, Elaine Hudson and Jay Hackett, rhumbaing and soft-shoeing through the dimlit scene changes, soliloquize very persuasively, each at times like a character in A Chorus Line: why has life not turned out better? what am I doing here? I don’t want to die alone; help me, help me make it through the night.

And we wonder, with them, if sex in one’s infertile years is all that large a matter at all; why not spread it around a bit? And we wonder, with them, if love has any reality at all; and whether it is just an habitual reiteration of what we felt, and felt sincerely, when we were twenty-two. And the admonition ‘Be your age!’ comes back with a lot of moral force. Is it not time, surely, to get a cat, join a book club, or a bowling club, and get on with the business of slowly dying and stop behaving like like Uncle Vanya, all slobber, harangues and drunken remorse and gunshots fired in the night at one’s employer and quickly regretted?

We realise after a while that what we are seeing is close to the reality most of us are in: a crisis of confidence, a struggle of dreams with overdue mortgage and the horrors of loneliness, or parenthood, or suppurating divorce we never in our youth conceived of. In olden times extended families would take us in, or small towns rally round and look after us. But in this ever-widening metropolitan world, which is more and more like Manila, we are on our own now, striving for some sense of nocturnal conquest, or sexual friendship, of abiding companionship or comradeship or fellowship or sisterhood or neighbourhood you want to be there as it is for Carrie Bradshaw or as it was for Don Draper and Andy Hardy, or Parker and Benchley at the Algonquin. We may be up against it in these latter days as never before.

And yet we laugh, laugh uproariously. We have no other choice.

This fine play is on nexr at the Randwick Labor Club at 8 pm on November 2 and at St Luke’s Chruch Hall, Mosman on November 15, 16, 22 and 23. It will have a’long life after that — including, I suspect, Off-Broadway — but see it soon if you can.

A Question

Who is Albo’s ‘running mate’?

She should be female, and of the ‘Right’, and not from New South Wales.

I’m blessed if I can think of anyone.

Shorten/Plibersek works. Albo/Macklin doesn’t. Nor Albo/Bowen. Nor Albo/Shorten. Albo/Plibersek, though attractive, come fom adjoining electorates and the same faction.

Can anyone say what the deal is?

Albo/Gray, perhaps.

Albo And Shorten At Half-Time

Shorten did well on Q&A, and Albo less well, though not at all badly. An honest vote would have been 55-45. Albo looks like the Mayor of Marrickville, Shorten like a Prime Minister-in-waiting, and the reasons are physical, oral and (I suppose) linguistic.

Albo looks and sounds class-bound, Shorten more able to deal with different negotiating tables. His verbal ability with matters of conscience is greater, and his brevity impressive. Albo wavers and rambles a bit; not very much, but more so, and his language is vaguer. One is reminded of Gillard, the attack-dog, being good at that role but poor as a national unifier. This Deputy Prime Minister is similarly limited.

My son, grandson and nephew are constituents of Albo’s in Marrickville (the earthly paradise) and it was with difficulty my wife, who likes him, and likes him a lot, made the comparison of Whitlam and Calwell.

It is not entirely fair. Calwell’s voice was worse, and Shorten is nowhere near as lordly and condescending. But the ability to traverse classes and speak with persuasive honesty to employers and CEOs and female professors and the wives of doctors is easier to imagine in Shorten than Albo.

The effect would be, in an election held this Christmas, Albo winning ten seats and Shorten eighteen; the difference between defeat and victory. In a year’s time it might be Albo winning thirteen and Shorten nineteen. The effect is the same.

Albo can do what he does, attack, rough up, mock and enrage, whether he is Leader, or Manager of Opposition Business. Shorten can do what he does, that is, impress, persuade and prevail, better as Leader. If Nathan Rees were Leader in New South Wales the party would be doing better. Albo, like Robbo, is not easily seen as one who will, or might, prevail.

The choice is very similar. And, in each case, it is only one choice.

And, however affectionate the membership is to one of the candidates, winning is the question.

And only one can do it.

The October Primates Poem

Attend the rise of my friend Tony,
Part priest, part jock, and part baloney.
He showed drowned children his hairy chest.
They drowned, he grinned, and then confessed.

Father, I have sinned, he said.
That pregnant girl I did not wed,
That pederast I spoke up for,
My silence through a needless war

In which four million died or fled,
Father, I have sinned, he said.
My bloody oath you’ve sinned, you dill,
Replied the priest, whose name was Bill,
You push it, and you always will.

In what was well called hyperbowl
You’ve dared the fates and lost your soul.
You overdo it, like Chicken Little.
You should have been more non-committal.

And now the homing chickens roost
In all the evils you’ve unloosed,
The children drowning while you strut:
It’s your watch now, that door is shut

Behind which you could jeer and point
And threaten to bust up the joint,
It’s your watch now, it is no dream,
The dead souls cry, this is my theme,

To you, all asking why, oh why
So many more of us must die
To prove you have a hairy chest,
And many votes in Sydney’s West?

And hearing this from Father Bill,
He seized him, knocking down the grille,
And punched him out, and slammed the door
And howled, I am a Tyke no more!

I’ll show these wimps, I’ll show them all,
These nancy jellybacks, like St Paul,
That God applauds the strong, and sneers
At those who feed the poor and marry queers!

And off he jogged up Manly Beach,
And heard the mermaids, each to each,
Cry, Go, go, Tony, you cannot fail.
You got the mix right. Wow. Wassail.

Lines For John Faulkner (6)

I hereby announce a Senate inquiry into criminal acts by the Howard Government and its ministers. These include the AWB, the Children Overboard, the SIEV-X, the forged evidence that caused the Iraq War, the corrupt defence by Tony Abbott of a convicted pederast and a friend of pederasts, Peter Hollingworth, the unlawful persecution of Dr Haneef, David Hicks, Mamdoub Habib, Peter Slipper, Craig Thomson, Andrew Wilkie and Julia Gillard, and the forging of polls by Lonergan and ReachTel which were, on the face of it, malicious nonsense.

If other matters come up, like the concealment of votes for Clive Palmer, or the framing by Ashby and Brough of the second highest official in the land with sexual harassment of all things, we will investigate that too.

And if, after three months, it seems they are a pack of crooks, we will advise the Governor-General to dismiss them, and call a fresh election.

Sincerely Yours: Soderbergh, Lagravenese and Douglas’s Behind The Candelabra

I would have preferred, say, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Liberace, but what Michael Douglas does with him/it is remarkable. He is I would think as engaging as the man himself, with glitterings of evil around the eyes that are not by any means unseductive. He is elf and Satan, artist and spiv, loyal friend, rich patron, exploiter of youth, tortured genius, fashion statement and flouncing Vegas imp all at once. One is struck by his bravery: to be so thoroughly ‘out’ yet pretending to be waiting for Miss Right. Millions of American moms wanted him to marry their daughter, and so it goes.

As always, Soderbergh exposes facts we may not like but does not push us to a moral conclusion. Liberace offers the young but not innocent Scott Thorson heaps of money to be his lover/companion/bodyguard/social secretary, to dress like him and be altered by facial surgery to look like him but seems, in many of his actions, kindly. He loves his dogs and looks after his Polish mama (an unrecogniseable but very effective Debbie Reynolds) and sets up foundations that give poor kids a career in music. He buys Scott a house, adopts him as his son and leaves him, in a will that is later cancelled, millions from his estate. He gives him many jewels and pet dogs.

But Scott (in a remarkable performance by Matt Damon, computerised to look eighteen, then fat, then fit, then surgically recast with new cheekbones, a bigger jaw and a Kirk Douglas dimple) finds he has no life of his own, and fucking Lee four times in an afternoon exhausting. And when Lee wants to fuck him too, an idea he finds repugnant, and Lee wants to ‘open up’ the relationship with other partners, not excluding females, things go wrong. Drugs supplied by their plastic surgeon Jack Startz (a witty, mocking performance by the evilly mutilated Rob Lowe) addict him, and when Lee forbids him continued use of them, he steals and sells jewellery to pay for more of them. And so it goes, towards his eventual forcible eviction from the mansion, the subsequent notorious palimony proceedings in which he is dudded of millions, his doleful job in a department store, the arrival of AIDS in the world and Lee’s shamed death of it in 1988, only twelve years after the story begins. What Scott did in his thirties we are not told. He wanted to be a veterinarian, with a wife and kids, and then … well … life happened. Didn’t it.

This is a very fine film, ably dialogued and shaped by Richard LaGravanese, and however one is repelled by the flouncing, queeny assistants, glittery decor and on-screen buggery it is good to take a deep breath and, like me, see it again. Douglas’s essay into subtle ugliness (dark eye-contacts, piano-keyboard back teeth, creepy sneered voice) after many an honest cop and American president, reveals a major actor at the top of his form, albeit already afflicted with what he denounced, to his wife’s annoyance, as a cunnilingus-connected cancer of the throat.

And … a major director unwilling to let us off any hook. As with his Che films, we are forced to look, flat on, at what happens and make our own moral judgments, or else throw up our hands. Scott, a much-fostered child of a crazy dysfunctional mother, abusive half-way houses and nice eventual farm-dwelling step-parents, ends in homosexual corruption (though he dares call it love), and drugs and theft and self-pity and vexatious litigation, yet we like him, and want him not to be ill-used. Liberace is a huge talent (and Douglas, it seems, can play the piano as fast as he), and a lonely old queen of a familiar and not unlikeable sort, but his embracement of American glamour and its glittering emoluments (he has many cars and mansions, and personally designs their interiors and also cooks pasta) both repel us, and, like the Donald Trump series (you’re fired) attract us. We are in a not uncommon twentieth century quandary of auctioned souls and, like Scott, we don’t much want to be there. But … the Vegas world is as it is, it’s there, it’s real, and look, look, look at all that money. And what it can buy.

It is a tribute to Scott perhaps, perhaps not, that he never took it up the ass. It is wrong that he underwent Lee-like plastic surgery. Though it was fascinating to watch, this film convinced me that I myself am not, and never was, a homosexual, not even a fraction of one, and it may convince you. It is not the physical details but the sensibility, the jewels and makeup and flamboyant mannerisms, the world apart, the parallel universe of glitter and flounce and pout and bitch, that repel me I think, more than the various ways of achieving emission, which I probably could, in my youth, have managed.

It is an extraordinary film anyway, and a measure, in these gay-marrying times, of a lifestyle too long hobbled, and shamed, and driven — or drawn — to drugs and suicide and the cold dank fear of ageing, and having no real home to go to, no family, no town, no city, and no abiding friends.

It should be seen at least twice, and I commend it to you.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (31)

Due to a glitch of availabilities the performance of Opening Night will not be on October 8 but (I think) December 13.

Please do not come all that way to an empty theatre.

My apologies for any inconvenience.

Love Star-Crossed, Ill Lost And Past Forgetting: Labor And The English Language

It has worried me for a while that the Labor Party has lost touch with the English language. Had, for instance, the Carbon Tax been called the Pollution Tax there would have been no successful campaign against it, nor no Abbott ‘mandate’ for getting rid of it. Had there been no repetitive emphasis on ‘surplus’, there would have been no defeat. Had the slogan not been A New Way but Unfinished Business, there would have been a Ruddslide.

But, after September 7, a date which will live in infamy, it was clear the illness was worse than that, it was tapeworm-deep, and not even a dozen typing Don Watsons in a monkeys’ cage could cure it.

Rudd spoke of a ‘seventy billion dollar black hole’ and ‘cuts to the bone’ to indicate the Liberals could not add, and would damage Australian life (as indeed they have) if they got in. Black holes, and cuts to the bone, and, indeed, seventy billion dollars, convey nothing, nothing at all. Nor do ‘cuts to jobs, health and education’. What was needed, as Dale Carnegie pointed out in Public Speaking And Influencing Men In Business, was imagery with human content in it. If he had said ‘nurses out of work, teachers out of work, families evicted from their homes, more alcoholism, wife-beating and children prostituting themselves to make ends meet’, it would have shown the horror of Abbott’s budget cuts, not merely hinted at them. It would have shown he was up to no good.

So it would too had Rudd not said ‘the threat of slipping back into recession’ as though it was some sort of tarpit. What it was in fact was lives ruined, marriages ended, children not born, or dead early from avoidable accidents of disease, addiction or violence in the home. ‘Recession’ has no meaning. It sounds like hair loss. And it was used all the time.

An ability with English helps in campaign politics, as Carr and Obama and Whitlam and Menzies and Curtin showed. You cannot get by without it. Rudd said the word ‘cut’, or more portentously, ‘cut, cut, cut’ as though it meant something. ‘Cuts to jobs’ means nothing. ‘People being put out of work in every street’ means something. ‘Children having to move to a poorer neighbourhood, and leaving their friends behind’ means something. It was as if he didn’t realise this.

But Rudd and Hawker, rich as Croesus, didn’t care much, I think, about human details. It was all a board-game to them. Their lifestyles would not change if Labor was defeated. Only the lifestyles of two million good, blameless, ordinary suburban people. ‘Recession”would suffice, entirely meaningless though it was, as a campaign exclamation mark. Bureaucratese was enough. Recession, surplus, underlying surplus, black hole. Good English was not required.

It is always required, and ten seats were lost for the want of it.

What utter fools they were.


After Ruskin: Rush And Tornatore’s The Best Offer

For a long while my favourite film ever was Cinema Paradiso; in part because it was about the movies in the 1950s when I first experienced them, and in part because it got the delicious anguish of being young and in love (he waits beneath her balcony for ninety-nine nights in mounting, desperate hope; and then, like Juliet, she appears) more blushfully and potently and sadly than any other night in the cinema I had until then, in six decades, endured. I have since seen other movies — Army Of Shadows, Hugo, Downfall, Snowtown — which have bumped it down the list a bit, but it remains with Jules Et Jim and Modern Times and Smiles Of A Summer Night and Chariots Of Fire among my sentimental favourites, and though the Director’s Cut is useless, Morricone’s score must be the best ever, and so it goes.

It was therefore with trepidation I saw last night The Best Offer in which, I was told, Geoffrey Rush talks frustratedly through a door to a shy, neurotic, traumatised, whingeing young woman for half an hour. But I need not have worried.

What I saw, among other things, was the best use of colour of all time. Every frame is crowded with texture and hue and and shape, an entire Renaissance of cloth and metal and cobbles and sandstone and carved and polished wood. We are in a world like Ruskin’s mind; awash with great art and free of erotic desire, until, until …

I shouldn’t give away too much of the story. It involves a slowly reassembled seventeenth century automaton (like the one in Hugo), an autistic, watchful female dwarf, a womanising, worldly-wise twentysomething engineer-inventor, an Old Masters forgery racket, a wall full of classic portraits of young women, and a central narrative that has elements in it of The Blue Angel, Vertigo, Lolita, Pygmalion, the life of Emily Dickinson, and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Rush has no difficulty in portraying a man both celibate and heterosexual, both art-loving and art-racketeering, both late-middle-age and underinformed in the ways of love as a teenager. He is very like Max Beerbohm’s famous cartoon of Henry James, on his knees in a hotel corridor, trying to work out from the male and female shoes outside a bedroom door what fresh, hot, lecherous penetration is going on within.

It is said that Vertigo is one of the best ten films, but this, in similar territory, is better. Tornatore has given us that ache of idealised love at the point when it crosses over into obsessive/perverse. Polanski would identify with his character, and so would Humbert Humbert, and the central, cultured Nabokovian predator in Joyce Carol Oates’s A Fair Maiden, and indeed John Fowles’s creepy, uncultured Collector; and so, I guess, would that eminent painter of royalty Rolf Harris. The unseen beloved imagined, from Annie Laurie to Annabel Lee, from Beatrice to Bosie, has consumed the art and mind of creative souls since early Sumerian times, and we will never have an end of the subject.

Donald Sutherland, bearded and piractical, is a character, not unlike Gulley Jimson, whom Robert Hughes in his travels will have encountered frequently, the accomplished forger who wishes he could originate, and can’t; Jim Sturgess as the young inventor, is exactly like my young friend Joel Hill; and Sylvia Hoeks as Claire, the unseen beloved (and progressively seen entirely naked, pubic fur in caressing shadows first and later, in a bath, the rest) as glimmmering, pale and beautiful as a Botticelli angel, reminds us of all of our thirteen-year-old unachieved first loves in country towns that are no more.

I tremble a little as I remember this film, which I will see again and again, of course, as I did Cinema Paradiso. It must be seen on the big screen, and I urge it upon you in that condition.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (60)

I’ve completed my piece on The West Wing, and am planning others on Downturn Abbey, Veep, In This Our Life, April In Paris, The Thick Of It and Casablanca. I am rehearsing next week my and Chris Neal’s musical Opening Night, to be directed as a reading and performed by Terry Serio and Lisa Chappell at the Parramatta Riverside at 7 on Tuesday, October 8, and everyone should come to see it. The Word Before Shakespeare will be on at the same place at 7 on November 5, November 12 and December 3 with a cast of Paul Bertram, Terry Clarke, Bob Ellis, Jane Harders, Denny Lawrence, Nathaniel Pemberton and Natasha Vickery. Both shows will be directed by Denny Lawrence.

This is one way of saying I will be writing less about politics in the next week or so, till the Albo-Shorten issue is resolved, and the moot question of whether Clive Palmer will take the election to the High Court and overthrow it. It is hard to think of an election more cheated, nor, since Nixon’s, a government more malign.

Polls are already showing that Labor would win back office now, and the Senate should force on the people that redemptive opportunity soon. Very soon.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: Latham and Murdoch, 2010

Mark Latham’s report on 60 Minutes was a recognisable rendition of the troubled bruiser I’ve known for fourteen years, and called once in a book a future Prime Minister. Eloquent, effusive, frank and threatening, he can charm or scare you still, and you would be wrong to contradict him after thirteen Guinnesses lest he come round by moonlight and throw pebbles at your window shouting unsavoury verses and dropping names.

Some say he is mad but he is more, I think, like Hamlet, ‘but mad north-north-west’ and he can tell a Hawke from a Hanson when the wind is southerly; and he could slip into Hinch’s chair or Steve Price’s - or, frankly, Bill O’Reilly’s - and make himself at home there in minutes.

His visit to what Rudd might call ‘redheadland’ was particularly evocative, when Pauline Hanson reminded the Queensland forgetful that Tony Abbott helped put her, unjustly, in gaol. Abbott should be urged to apologise to her unreservedly for this, or say in Brisbane on Wednesday night why he will not. Ten percent of Queenslanders voted for her once, and will want him to.

This morning’s The Australian is a measure of how thoroughly and how often Rupert Murdoch cheats. The ugly chinless photo of Gillard on the front page. The front page appeal for the old to vote Liberal. The headline ‘Labor CLINGING to 4 point lead’. The four-point lead arrived at by distributing Green preferences as they were in 2007 not as they are now, which would give Labor a six point lead. The courtly sentence ‘Julia Gillard is as attractive as flies at a picnic’ in the last minutes, we are told, of the Grand Final. The description of Julia’s Brisbane Launch as ‘poll-dancing for political aficionados’ which has the double effect of recalling Rudd’s visit to Chances and an image of Julia writhing for her supper scantily dressed in a nightclub.

No mention of Abbott’s unlawful refusal to show his figures to Treasury or to say the name of the (probably) obscure and pliable Marrickville accountant he’s trusting to assess our national future. No mention of the influence on Abbott’s policies, present and future, of his mentor, hero and confidant John Howard. No mention of the morning-after pill, or Abbott’s peculiar idea that pregnant rich women (corporate lawyers, for instance) should get a lot of money for having babies and pregnant poor women (part-time waitresses, for instance) should get very little. No call for an ICAC enquiry into Rooty Hill and why so few Rooty Hillers got to ask a question, and so many questions went to Gillard’s loyalty to her leader but none to Abbott’s disloyalty to his leader, Turnbull, so rapidly despatched so recently.

The Murdoch fix is in. He has Newspoll playing the Good Cop and Galaxy the Bad Cop, with figures suggesting towns in Queensland as far as apart as Athens and Stockholm will experience exactly equivalent vote swings, and Maxine will lose Bennelong because Debus leaving Macquarie brought Labor’s vote there down, and this change will now be duplicated across New South Wales in seats as far apart as Paris and Moscow. He runs editorials saying vote Labor while swamping his papers’ pages with rhinocerine pundits like Akerman and Bolt baying the opposite.

Murdoch hates losing, loves cheating, thinks Bill O’Reilly an objective observer, George W Bush a misunderstood hero and Prince Charles a loony who should be put away. And he wants somebody he likes in charge of Australia. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

…Some would say Mark Latham should be expelled from the Labor Party for advising his viewers to spoil their votes but I do not. Six million people voted for him as Prime Minister in 2004 and his conscience is therefore at least as valid a thing as Bob Brown’s and his right to express it is as great. And the idea that he alone should have no civil rights is bizarre. When a Prime Minister is on a street walk she (or he) is expecting to be confronted and asked questions: why not questions from an old friend, colleague, ally and boss like Latham? If Abbott’s old boss John Hewson came up to him on a street walk with cameras and said ‘Mate, there’s a couple of questions I want to ask you’ no-one would be howling he had ‘crossed the line’ with a ‘handshake from hell’. It’s possible Laurie Oakes, unofficially renowned as Harasser-in-Chief these many, many years, resents Latham’s usurpation of his role.

It’s also likely that, as always, Gillard’s gender makes a difference. It was not thought Latham was going to rape her, or punch her nose, or seize her breasts, but the national memory of men who looked like that having done so summoned up this unspoken possibility, which the phrase ‘crossed the line’ unsubtly evokes, and the consequent idea that Latham is some sort of a rancorous, roving mauler. We would not have thought such things had he confronted on a street walk, say, Kim Beazley.

How skilfully propaganda works in our day. We are told no Australian elected Prime Minister ‘by the people’ was ever before brought down by the ‘faceless men’ in his party machine though Gorton was and Hawke and Hughes and Menzies, and in the State sphere Brown and Olsen and Iemma and Lennon and Clare Martin; and the Opposition Leaders Snedden, Peacock, Howard, Nelson, Turnbull, Collins, Chikarovski, Brogden, Kennett, Evatt and Calwell, who each at the time had the support of forty per cent or more of the electorate. Yet we are told it has never been done before, and some of us believe it.

We are told too that the Rooty Hill questioners came from Rooty Hill and got up spontaneously to utter their Dorothy Dixers and were not coached or selected, and some of us believe that. We are told the New South Wales government has done nothing for our infrastructure though they ran the best Olympic Games in history, rebuilding Sydney to do it. We are told the Education Revolution was a ‘shambles’ though ninety-seven per cent of it worked well, and ‘Labor can’t be trusted with the taxpayers’ money’ though the Nobel Prize economist Joe Stiglitz rates its response to the Global Meltdown as the best on earth at the time. Yet we believe that too, or some of us do.

Murdochism, or, as Pilger calls it, ‘Murdochracy’, works hard round the clock in many latitudes to make us believe many things that are not true. It is the principal enemy of freedom of speech in our time like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe writ large. It advocates with great skill the daylight robbery of the poor and their displacement by machines and the sale of the toxic poison, tobacco, to silly teenage boys and fat women so Rupert can make a few billions more, I guess, in this his eightieth year. Rupert thought the Iraq adventure was a good idea because it would ‘halve the price of oil’ and the Afghanistan catastrophe a great idea because someone said to be involved in 9/11 was living there at the time though he has since moved on to Pakistan and the slaughter continues. He likes wars on heathens and finds atheistic Red China congenial, identifying I suppose with Chairman Mao and his Ministry of Truth.

It’s a worry Rupert cares so much. It’s a kind of madness that he wants to fool so many people, and publish so many female breasts, and gather round him so many sycophants like Blair and Palin and Cameron and Abbott, his wayward wishes to perform.

Or do I err in my assessment?

Please explain.

Working Where It Matters: Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing

It was a great day for world drama when Aaron Sorkin went to work in Clinton’s White House. Dialogue recaptured its primacy, and Shakespearian complexity of character, the mutability of conscience, and the fevered, erotic heat of campaigning, the unended, persistent campaigning which is power in an elective democracy. Anyone who has been in the steam rooms of Carr or Rann or Rees, as I have, recognises immediately what The West Wing shows, that no other office job is in the race.

In the first ten episodes, which I have just seen, a siege situation ends badly; country is bombed in reprisal for the death in a downed aircraft of the President’s doctor; a wayward hurricane sinks some US battleships while the President speaks well on the phone to a doomed young man; war occurs, with nuclear threats, between India and Pakistan; a principled hooker refuses to ‘name names’ and help the Democrats, whom she favours; the President’s Chief of Staff, a reformed alcoholic, is accused of worse drugs while in treatment; the President’s daughter dates a young black aide; the President behaves bizarrely while on painkillers; a homeless war veteran dies of cold on a park bench and gets an illegal state funeral; a marriage breaks up; a Christmas party is arranged … and a year in office, in glimpses, shows the comings and goings and private concerns, the goofs and gaucheries and apologies and self-disgust of the mainly young participants in interesting, millennial times.

In this latter ingredient we see, perhaps, too much Harry Met Sally shilly-shally and wacky comedy of the My Girl Friday sort for perfect comfort. Self-mockery abounds among the men (who said Americans can’t do irony?) and cool worldly wisdom among the comely, tall, unreachable women. There are no abortions, infidelities, Downs Syndrome children, venereal diseases. There are a goodly number of exes putting aside their scalded feelings and behaving well, but in a state of what Scott Fitzgerald called ‘romantic readiness, in war and peace, to do the right thing for their country whatever emotional loss it costs them.

It should feel wrong but, of course, it doesn’t. Political offices are like this; the long, urgent hours mean they can be no other way. And the big moving off-the-cuff speeches occur in that way too. Two, by Rees and Wedderburn after Rees was axed by Obeid I wish I had recorded. An election night with Carr I did record, but lost the audiocasette of. It is clear there were many such Clinton moments on Sorkin’s mind when he began his alternative history of his country and our times.

Sorkin has revolutionised screenwriting, or do I mean resurrected it (Capra and Sturges would identify closely with what he is doing) as The Social Network and The West Wing and The Newsroom vividly show. Rapid overlapping repetitive speech, Billy Wilder style, is back and so are long Shakespearian arias. Every man is a Hamlet, divided against himself, every woman a Hedda Gabler, dreaming suicide. Death, or its expectation, and love, and the death of love, haunt every plotline. Fools are suffered gladly, and no invading crazy seems entirely crazy: the UFO had a physical basis, the border crossings of endangered wolves do need attention. Not since Shaw (or Hare, or Mamet, or Kushner) has dramatic writing had such intellectual heft and gristle. An episode on the difficulties of the Census is rivetting. A Chinese ambassador’s limpid curse on America’s hypocritical righteousness in view of their ethnic cleansing of the Red Indians gives us pause.

And … we wonder, briefly, what business America has, or ever had, in being a global policeman. What cause does it have to send young men to their deaths in the Middle East on the side of this or that ethnic-cleansing gangster? Josiah Bartlet’s perky attitude of shucks-it-comes-with-the-job riles me sometimes.

But here I am, enthralled. I will watch it rather than Abbottland for a while.

And so it goes.

Classic Ellis: Theological Correctness, 2010

It was when the proud atheist Julia Gillard turned up to honour Mary MacKillop and say this emotionally-troubled woman should be sanctified that I first thought of the phrase ‘theological correctness’.

It applies to those who genuflect to a system of thought they despise (and, in some cases, suspect of organised pederasty) in order to further their political, business or academic ambitions.

It applies as well to those who say “so help me, God” in the witness box and those who murmur the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament House or sing Christian hymns at funerals despite having spent their adult lives in revolt against religion.

But the phrase can go further than that, beyond God, as it were. With a bit of a jump-start it can apply as well to those Australians who sing our National Anthem while disbelieving, or actively despising, most of the words in it.

And it should also apply, I think, to those many utterances by successive prime ministers and ministers for Defence and ministers for Foreign Affairs about ‘our mission in Afghanistan’. We are there, they tell us, to prevent the Taliban from providing, once more, ‘a safe haven for terrorists’ and one dead Australian per month, or even per week, is a worthwhile sacrifice, and even a noble one, if we were to fulfil our mission of keeping the drug-dealing Karzai brothers in power till they stabilise their democracy and form, at last, a broad coalition that includes, gulp, the Taliban. For then it won’t be a safe haven for terrorists any more (Bradford, Yemen, Hamburg, Miami and Lakemba will) and the boys who are still alive can come home, at last, from a mission, er, accomplished.

This is theological correctness too. It is an unexamined premise, like the Lord’s Prayer, uttered without caveat for political or commercial reasons hypocritically, corruptly or (mostly) lazily by men and women in quest of a quiet life.

Another is the Prime Minister’s avowed belief in free trade. Though it drives dairy farmers to suicide (as Bob Katter correctly yelped) and props up child slavery in South-East Asia and encourages Tasmanians to stop growing apples and to sell their family farms to red Chinese corporations and though (as Bob Katter correctly screeched) no other country actually practises it, and though no Australian actually believes in it, it nonetheless soothes and solaces some sad souls to murmur from time to time a prayerful affirmation of it, as the Prime Minister did last week in a public response to Katter that lost his vote. For though it’s an international disaster that kills tens of thousands of children a week it’s appropriate to speak well of it, to call it the only way of doing things. And though protectionism worked well for five thousand years this, though currently disastrous, is clearly the only way forward. We’re moving forward with free trade, repeat after me. It kills more people than Asian flu but we’re moving forward with it, march in step there.

Fifty years back John Kenneth Galbraith came up with a phrase,”the conventional wisdom”, which covered similar ground. Scoutmasters who advocated being prepared, television preachers who said Jesus hears and loves you, politicians who said our great battle with godless communism will be fought in the unions and universities and bureaucracies of bravery’s home and freedom’s land, qualified doctors who said moderate smoking of filtered Camels posed no danger, no danger to health whatever, were typical examples of this corrupt, emollient public language. It, like theological correctness, had a religious feel to it, and a vast component of hypocrisy.

Another frequent utterance by successful prime ministers adverts to ‘hard work’. When asked what he would do about his plunging popularity Rudd said he would “just have to work harder to get my message across” - though he was already up till 4:00am and crazy with tiredness and overwork. The phrase had no meaning, and has no meaning, mostly, whenever it is used.

Nobody advances themselves by sheer hard work. Nobody gets preselections, for instance, by sheer hard work. Some, like Hawke, Downer, Crean, Beazley, Jenkins, McClelland and Ferguson are born into political families who give them a leg-up. Some, like Tebbutt, Keneally, Nori, McKew and Turnbull marry into them. Some like Oppermann, Koperberg, Garrett, Rudd and Evatt are gifted with them after eminent careers in another sector. Some like Pauline Hanson and John Alexander buy their way in. Hard work has little to do with political advancement, or indeed with commercial success. The biggest bonuses are made not by hard work but by corporate takeovers of smaller entities by bigger entities. Hard work? A couple of lunches, maybe.

To seek out theological correctness you need only follow the present Prime Minister around. She’s full of it. She’s “letting the sun shine in” after decades of backroom secrecy. She’s “building the education revolution” while cutting money to disabled Indigenous adolescents. She calls prisons for innocents “processing centres” but I suppose prime ministers always did. She’s “moving forward” away from the Rudd era by including Rudd, big time, in her era.

Worst I think is her verbal formula, when asked her opinion about anything, of saying she has none. “I’ll leave that to the judgement of the Australian people,” she says. “I’m just rolling up my sleeves and getting on with the job.” She leaves nothing to the judgement of the Australian people, not while Simon Crean and Mark Arbib are in the vicinity, and she’s probably never rolled up her sleeves (a poor fashion statement) in her life.

And “getting on with the job?” What does that mean? It has no meaning. It is what all employed people do every day, all working mothers, all stay-at-home mothers, all carers, all volunteers. It has no meaning, yet it is presented as a laudable, unusual, refreshing, astonishing activity.

Theological correctness involves the admission by public figures of only the appropriate emotions. If sacked, they are not angry or bitter, only “disappointed that I am unable any more to serve the Australian community”. If sprung over porn sites, they agree wholeheartedly with their own demotion. If politically betrayed (like Stephen Smith) they pretend not to care what happens to them, since “that’s a decision entirely for the Prime Minister”. If politically destroyed (like Belinda Neal) for speaking sternly to a waiter, they profess a sympathy for the man who ruined their life, their one life on Earth, which they do not feel.

Theological correctness involves the telling of big lies about the way you feel. It involves the fabrication of high-sounding, high-stepping and high-rolling emotions (patriotism, unending party loyalty, overwhelming sense of duty, standing four-square behind my leader, marching shoulder to shoulder with George Bush and Tony Blair on the war on terror, or fervidly propounding premarital chastity to adolescent girls in 2010) that do not actually exist; and like the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase “what I’m really passionate about”, a phrase that has come adrift from its meaning of being aroused, enthused, in love with a particular idea, they weary their audiences with what is plainly ill-acted falsehood and thus imperil democracy itself.

A Theological Correctness Register (TCR) should soon be set up I think, like Private Eye’s OBN, the Order of the Brown Nose, and a prize each year awarded like the Ernies (in which, most years, I am a saddened runner-up) because it is a serious assault, worse in many ways than the bureaucrats’ gabble Don Watson rails against, on our language and the way we think, and makes us tell big lies to each other when the truth is almost always, in this imperfect world, a better option.

So the next time the Prime Minister says “I’m going to be perfectly frank and open about this” in a hall near you, it would be really good if you stood up and booed her.

And when you’re arrested, say to the cameras you totally agree with this prompt official response to your unforgivable behaviour.

The Undecided: An Autopsy

One lesson of the last election is how irrelevant polling is. Until the last three days, two million were still Undecided. On the morning 1.5 million were. And a million, at least, voted Informal because they still were.

Small things, like Rudd playing the piano, would have shifted votes and saved perhaps eight seats. So would Rudd stopping to engage O’Farrell on Garden Island, or asking Abbott the name of the French foreign minister. It happens much more instantly, in the present, in the moment, these days. 2001 was won on the news — false, as it turned out — of a boat, burning, twelve hours before the voting began. 2004 was won, we are told, on a vigorous handshake in an ABC corridor, twenty hours before.

Abbott would lose next week because the Afghans have more women in Cabinet than we do, and Morrison, in proposing we bribe Indonesian dobbers, is risking war with that vast nation. And so it goes.

And the word ‘mandate’ is therefore meaningless now. McGowan has a mandate; Wilkie has a mandate; Bandt and Hanson-Young have mandates. Palmer in particular has a mandate, and will be taking it to court. In a vote held this week, Palmer would have five elected members, and Abbott no chance of controlling the Senate, ever.

In a Christmas Double Dissolution, Palmer would have ten members. Is this an Abbott mandate? Of course not. Is it a Palmer mandate? Not really. The word no longer, in a multi-party parliament, has meaning, if it ever did.

And a preferred Prime Minister poll this morning would have Abbott on 39, Shorten 42, 19 Uncommitted. Or Abbott 40, Albo 41, 19 Uncommitted. And what, precisely, would that mean? That things might change, and polls are therefore meaningless, even the poll on the day.

I urge the Senate therefore to use its present numbers to guarantee Broadband, and force the Government to a Double Dissolution if it will not agree to this.

The present polling shows, aha, this ploy would work.

And polling, as we have seen, is useless.

Lines For Chris Bowen (10)

This is a lame-duck government already. A million women who voted for it sixteen days ago will never do so again.

I ask the Senate therefore to deny it all co-operation, including Supply, and force to an election by Christmas, and put it out of its misery.

I’m A Good Girl, I Am: Shaw’s, Robertson’s and Vickery’s Pygmalion

In the tiny Cellar Theatre, a young SUDS cast makes dramatic sense of Pygmalion, at last. Liza is very loud, Higgins sinuous, petulant and silken, his mother quietly dominating, Doolittle free of bluster, Pickering gently worried. Nobody seems on the verge of song. It is chamber drama, closer to Rattigan than Coward, and these are real people.

A first-time director, Julia Robertson, has got the measure of it as the recent, useless, updated STC production did not. Liza is not just an ignorant girl, but a traumatised hysteric, avoiding whoredom narrowly but about, I would say, two weeks from making that life decision. The repeated ‘I’m a good girl, I am’ is a last strident protest before the knickers, if need be, come down.

In the role, Natasha Vickery is a revelation. Big, buxom, dangerous, with a big-eyed bony face, she is a frisky mare to be tamed not a yapping lapdog to be petted and soothed. Her excruciating slow vowels in the ‘did the old girl in’ scene could be enshrined among Monte Python classics (‘looxury’, the dead parrot sketch, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, and so on). Later, when she is merely BBC, we feel, as in Educating Rita, how much of her humanity has been lost, as in radical cosmetic surgery. In a better world, this twentyish fledgling would have an Oscar already.

So would Patrick Morrow as Higgins. In a role too often miscast – a Hungarian played him in 1938 (and a Dutchwoman Liza in 1965), and, two years ago, Richard E. Grant as a limp, camp noodle – he is correctly Anglo, mother-fixated, tense with sexual denial, bothered, scornful, ill-mannered and in love without knowing he is. He is blond, pale-eyed and restless, such as O’Toole might have been in the role. As his mother, Kate Spira has the measure of him, and breast-fed him, probably, till he was five.

As Pickering, the probably fourteen-year-old Zach Beavon-Collin is excellent. Watchful, correct, scholarly, effortlessly well-mannered where Higgins is a mess, he is, as it were, the play’s tuning-fork. Rashmi Dixit, Meg McLellan and Xavier Holt are very fine as the Eynsford-Hills, though one notes with surprise that Freddy has about three lines, and Liza’s marriage to him appears in the dialogue almost as an afterthought.

Sebastien Scott as the ‘hairy Hungarian’ Karparthy, here called Nepommuck (‘He speaks twenty-four languages. Sure mark of a fool’), and an ardent East End costermonger, shows effortless range. Isabella Moore, who has some of the qualities of Liza Minnelli, is very fine in three very different roles (hostess, parlourmaid, bystander), and Annabel Larcomb as the prim and bothered Mrs Pearce exactly right: a stern moral compass in a newly global, imperial, ever-changing world of Anglo-Indian wives and testy American millionaires.

Robert Boddington as Doolittle, for some reason, is the best I’ve seen. His sudden copious wealth in the last act, much like that of an Irish Sweepstakes winner beset with fresh daily waves of poor relations, is almost poignant, and somewhere in his deep troubled baritone and big hairy face is a real human being, not, as we often see, a muppet. His acceptance of five pounds for his daughter’s virtue, and his refusal of ten pounds, lest he then be tempted to spend it wisely, is a genuine moral dilemma, rationally argued and concluded, quite rightly, in a three-day bender and hangover.

The two climactic Henry-Liza scenes, lacerous with sexual feeling, derive, I guess, from one or other of Shaw’s near-consummate stifled affairs with actresses, and leap with great intensity across the footlights at us like similar confrontations Look Back In Anger or Closer. Needless to say, these two young people make them live and crackle, as never before.

I strongly suggest this company ask Clover Moore for two years’ money and go professional. I have seen this year seventeen actors as good as any doing classics remarkably well. Like the Bristol Young Vic, they could be an inspiration to a generation. I note they were all born in the 1990s, and I am in awe.

Class Ellis: Rudd’s Return, 2010

Rudd’s interview with Phillip Adams may - just may - have saved Gillard by influencing enough Queensland seats to change the result. This result yesterday was an Abbott majority of two or four, and it is now, I assess, a Gillard majority of two or four, with the momentum going Gillard’s way.

It is worthwhile reflecting, meanwhile, how much better at ‘doing sincerity’ Rudd is than Gillard. He seems thoughtful, self-amused, calm in his own skin, and principled. She seems evasive, wayward and under-informed, pulling out a merry laugh that has no equivalent in human behaviour like a dead rabbit out of a threadbare hat, and moves not a few of us to nausea. A lot of successful politicians (Churchill, Attlee, Menzies, De Gaulle, Whitlam, Keating, Carr, Tanner, Shorten) got by without laughing. Some laughed and were less successful (Costello, Beazley, Reith). I can think of no laughing female politician (Palin, Kernot, Chikarovski) that ever got there in the end. Those female politicians that do not laugh (Helen Clark, Tanya Plibersek, Nicola Roxon, Verity Firth, Maxine McKew) look, currently, like better Prime Ministers than Gillard.

She had better, as Cole Porter never said, brush up her sincerity. An adequate simulacrum of sincerity (and, as I wrote in my new book, a working substitute for integrity) has been Abbott’s most persuasive hidden weapon in the campaign thus far. He seems a festering kettle of all-too-human emotions. Gillard professes to have very few emotions except lofty amusement and noble purpose. He is channelling Bob Hawke, she Lady Thatcher. And guess who, in Australia, is presently gaining traction.

It does mean that he lacks gravitas - which she, curiously, has bags of, readily on call - but he has what Australian men and women quite like (as they do in Hawkie, Warnie and Kylie): flawed humanity.

It is time, therefore, to look at his policies, lest we too be tempted to vote for him.

He proposes more troops for Afghanistan, which four out of five Australians want us out of. He judges the war in Iraq a good thing, and believes (he told me and a hundred witnesses in Gleebooks) the WMD may still turn up. He thinks the sending mad of children in Nauru an excellent thing, and proposes to send mad a good few more children there. He will make no apology to those kidnapped, imprisoned, tormented, defamed and humiliated refugees on the Tampa who are good Australian citizens now. He believes that Muslims will burn for a billion years in Hell and is keen to give them a preview.

He rather likes WorkChoices and in Battlelines last year - only last year - said so. He believes Christ will return, and the earth burn, and global warming therefore need not concern us prior to then. He believes the power of prayer a greater unguent than Medicare whose usefulness, as our longest-serving Health Minister, he listlessly ran down. Twenty years ago when he was in his thirties he believed like his hero Howard in the abolition of Medicare, and it is an institution he may do no good if he is Prime Minister. Some things persist, and this voodoo mix of prayer, transubstantiation, physical exercise and drinking Christ’s blood on Sundays forebodes a man less attuned to modern medical practise than a civilised people might wish.

He believes pregnant women should get six months their wage on quitting work. This means if I employ my pregnant daughter for two weeks paying her two thousand dollars a week for that fortnight he will then give her fifty-two thousand dollars out of which she can pay me back. It means pregnant women in part-time jobs will get bugger-all and pregnant women who work longer hours (for their husbands, say, on big imaginary wages on family farms) will get a fortune. It will give hundreds of millions a year that might else be spent on, say, midwifery or live theatre to families who don’t need it. It means inflation (of course), lost jobs, working class resentment and all the rest of it, but it also means corruption, lots of corruption, big swags of corruption. Just like the roof batts.

He thinks foreign gougers of our national wealth should get endless increasing billions for having themselves never wielded a shovel nor driven a truck. He thinks tobacco moguls are selfless contributors to the Liberal Party who want nothing back. He thinks the hero of the Wharf Dispute was Peter Reith.

He is not too sure most mornings what the deficit is and what calendar year he will put us in surplus. He holds sacred his right to change his mind.

He has a lot of charm and a good brain and a fair amount of acting talent but, as we pool players say, no character. He wears on his sweaty face the lineaments of an Artful Dodger. He left his pregnant girlfriend at the altar and is likely to treat his country no better.

Is Gillard a finer character, then? Well, narrowly, perhaps. But she at least represents a party that got us out of, not into, Vietnam and Iraq, that did not impose the Birthday Ballot, sack Utzon, persecute Aborigines for twelve years and strive to gaol anyone declared to be a Communist and seize their property. She represents a good party, he a bad one, grown worse in recent years, and this should be known.

Is he running a better campaign? Of course he is. Does he deserve to win? No way.

He comes tentacled and slimed with too much Howardite sludge to be entirely trustworthy.

Or am I wrong?

The Holy Ghost Factor

(First published by Independent Australia)

I don’t read the news much any more. It’s easier to watch a miniseries, or read a Clive James essay, and sleep. I’m going to do some performing, reading Shakespeare on stage, and see at last, touch wood, a musical I co-wrote in a rehearsed reading. I tried hard to save my country, but the Rudd team were unreachable, and there you go.

What is most disturbing is how Labor people didn’t fight, with the weapons they had, against the dirtiest fighters in a century. They could have accused Morrison of treason, they could have used Abbott’s record of assisting pederasts. They could have arrested Brough and Pyne for conspiracy. But they chose not to.

They did this because they believed some Holy Ghost would frown on them if they did. You can’t win that way, it wouldn’t be nice. Better to lose. Better to lose. A single sentence, ‘we will seek ways to bring down all small business rents by a third,’ would have won it in a landslide; but…if we said that, Gittins, or somebody, might say, tut tut. We’d win a million votes, sure, and we’d stay in power, but…the Holy Ghost might frown at us. And say, tut tut.

And the election was cheated, and we don’t dare, now, say that. It’s not the way good children behave. It was cheated, hiding policies till after the blackout is cheating, but…we mustn’t use the weapons we have. We must fight with both arms tied behind our back, that’s all we’re good for. That’s what we here for. We’re bound to lose. We’re born to lose.

Rudd especially believed he was ‘above’ all that mere squalid campaigning. He could have played the piano, just once, and saved eight seats. He could’ve compared his ministry, one by one, to Abbott’s and saved four more. But no, the Holy Ghost would frown on him, and he sacrificed my grandson to a worse, unequal world he might have been saved from.

Even now it’s possible to do that, by using the Senate numbers to make government unworkable, and force a sacking, and…oh no…Nanny might disapprove, we couldn’t do that. The Holy Ghost might frown. No Labor vote would be lost. We’d win back government, win, win, but we mustn’t do it.

‘The Labor Party,’ John Curtin wrote, ‘is, was, and ever shall be, the handmaiden of capitalism.’ He wrote it before he was in the Party. He was young, he was a Socialist, but you see what he means.

Why not fight? Why not fight? It could have been won.

Why not fight?

Classic Ellis: Arguments For Socialism, 2011

So: If the euro stuffs up, let’s keep it on. If stupid men pauper the known world, let’s reward them with hundreds of millions and torment their victims with closed factories, dud schools and bad hospitals.

If tsunamis, fires and floods cause inflation, let’s make everyone pay $20 a week more in their mortgages because raising the cost of living, raising it further, stops inflation, really it does. That’s what we were told in graduate school and we’re sticking by it, whatever happens.

And now the world’s falling down because of it, why, we keep on doing it, don’t we. What else can we do?

… Einstein said insanity was doing over and over and again and again what didn’t work the first time. Global economic practice is, by this definition, insane. ‘We must fight rising market panic,’ it says, ‘by cutting back the money that goes to people who use it to buy things, and by cutting back government jobs. It’s by cutting back government jobs that we fight unemployment because, because’…

No, no, no. No. It doesn’t work that way. As I wrote once in First Abolish the Customer, my most successful book, in 1988, every lost job, every sacked worker, means four people not buying things any more, and not having their teeth fixed and not going on school camps, and this in turn means more lost jobs, more strain on public service, and more public service jobs lost, which… And so on.

It’s never helped society to sack anyone (name one instance) yet Greece is told that massively cutting back jobs will… not exactly prevent the default but delay it, and that’s good because, um… umm… And America is told (by the Tea Party) that cutting back money to the poor but not the rich means, well, jobs go, jobs vanish and that’s good because …

No, no, no, no, no. No, no. Jobs should not go, and that, and no number on a page, is the bottom line. Jobs should not go. A job buys food and soap and shoes and tickets to Disneyland. It keeps scenic railways going and waitresses working on school holidays. It keeps things ticking over. A lost job causes drunkenness, crime, wife-beating, imprisonment, divorce, insanity, medication, harassment on buses. A lost job is not worth it.

Yet this ‘austerity budget cuts’ nonsense keeps being tried. It’s like saying, ‘We will win World War II by cutting back the cost of it’. It’s like saying less is more. It never is. It’s like saying Standard & Poor’s, which gave Lehman’s a triple-A rating a week before it wrecked the world economy, are worth listening to. They never were.

No, no, no, old friend. It’s not some theory of what money should be (Gold? US bonds? Fifteen squalid Lucien Freuds in a locked bank safe?), but jobs, and keeping jobs, that matters. A job needn’t mean that you actually do anything. A soldier doesn’t do anything, or anything useful, for years on end. A presidential guard, a door guard at the cricket, a security guard, a nightwatchman, doesn’t do anything. But it does mean you go dancing, fall for someone, buy a diamond ring, pay wedding caterers, have children, pay babysitters who then go dancing, and so on. You keep the wheels of commerce moving, as we used to say.

Many, many jobs are full of inactivity. What does the head of Wilson Parking do? Boom goes up, boom goes down, one thousand and twenty-seven dollars an hour, please. Or whatever he gets.

And this is why there should be more government jobs, not fewer. Bus conductors, traffic policemen, railway shunters, government-salaried babysitters, as in France. Government-salaried clowns in old people’s homes, as in Scandinavia. In wartime you put on more soldiers, in time of recession more, not fewer, public servants, more idlers on wages, fooling around in offices, in jobs with little point.

And, yes, you put taxes up to pay for them. Why not do that? People don’t seem to mind that much when interest rates go up (though why they go up has never been explained to me: they make life more costly, surely, and thereby cause, not cure, inflation), or cinema tickets, or bridge tolls. They feel they serve the greater good. And they should be likewise told that taxes, the price of civilisation, are worth it.

Yet the Tea Party ‘economists’ tell us the rich must not be taxed, not a farthing more, not ever. And the poor must be sacked, and unemployment reduced that way. It’s a religious fixity, a pious and foolish formula like faith, ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’, that is cracking open and gutting the world. Or it’s an adolescent stubbornness: not paying for what you glory in. We’ll have bigger and stupider wars, but we’re not paying for them, buster, no way. We’re lowering, moreover, the taxes on those who profit by them. And we’re keeping our AAA rating, buster, or else… or else…

None of us dare even suggest the obvious, which is socialism, the emergency socialism we have in wartime, because this is a kind of war. We don’t dare even whisper it.

With emergency wartime powers to do the bleeding obvious, we could lower all rents by two thirds and solve everything, pretty much. We could power Australia with wind, sun, waves and Hot Rocks. We could take in a hundred thousand Hazaras. We could buy and protect the Indonesian forests, and bring down global warming by 20 per cent and incidentally save the orangutan. We could do the right thing, for a change.

But as long as we don’t equate it with a wartime emergency, as long as we say the word ‘tax’ as if it’s radioactive (all it means is ‘price, the price of good things, a dollar a week for the ABC, sixteen dollars a week for free health care), and so on, as long as we don’t have tariffs the way they were in 1985 , our best economic year, protecting our jobs and small businesses, we’ll continue to feign amazement that jobs lost kill everything. Jobs lost bust up the economy. And so it will go, and go, and go, till a socialist economy, China, owns us all.

It’s not too hard a concept, old friend. You pay your bills. You contrive new jobs, however useless, to keep young people sane and out of jail. You keep jobs here.

A job can be anything. It can even be enjoyable. It can be playing the flute in a high school graduate orchestra, in Mrs Carey’s concert on tour.

And the Tea Party’s right in one way: it’s a religious, almost fundamentalist principle. You look after people. You don’t punish them for the sins of men earning eighteen hundred dollars an hour for moving jobs overseas.

You come back to the idea of a fair go. You consider what that means.

Or perhaps you disagree.

A Question

Why are votes still being counted in Fairfax?

Queensland is a notoriously crooked place, the votes are in pencil, and twelve days have elapsed since the last erasable pencil marks were made in Surfers Paradise and adjacent precincts and heaped up in small rooms by pliable public officials and left there overnight.

Either way, Clive must take the entire election to the High Court.

Twelve days counting a hundred thousand votes in unlocked, unguarded rooms are too many.

A Note To Clive Palmer

Dear Clive,

It is clear the numbers in your electorate were cheated, and it is likely therefore that other numbers — in the Senate in Queensland, in Indi and Eden-Monaro, where the votes came in slower than in Zimbabwe, and possibly elsewhere — may have been cheated also.

It is absolutely certain the election itself was, in a very real sense, ‘cheated’, likewise. Never before in the history of democracy has the leading party concealed ninety percent of its policies till after the Blackout, which may be unconstitutional, nor tried to hide even after that, in the very last day, its attack on child care.

I therefore urge you to take the whole thing to the High Court, and have it thrown out and re-run with adequate policing, and the same candidates, and the now visible Liberal policies, buying the boats back, paying Sumatran spies to rat on their cousins and the rest of it, by year’s end or soon after. You alone have the money to do this; and you also, like many others, probably, the inclination.

If it does not work it will be magnificently argued and at the very least delegitimise, and cast scorn on, what currently looks like the worst, most cockamamie Government since Billy MacMahon’s.

Pray think on these things.


Bob Ellis

The Legacy

The current suspenseful process of leadership choice has Kevin Rudd written all over it. Nothing happens, and we wait. The Abbott government is making an international goose of itself, and we have no Shadow Foreign Minister to rip into them. We wait, and we wait.

It was this waiting, and this fiddling of the details, that so enraged his people, and brought Rudd down.

Lost opportunities. More lost opportunities. It should be written on his grave.

‘He fiddled, and we burned.’

That Is The Question (3)

And who would be Albo’s deputy? Who is his team?

Shorten/Plibersek makes sense. Who would Albo’s deputy be?

That Is The Question (2)

Beware of what you wish for. Gillard, an excellent humorous attack-dog Deputy, was a poor Mother of the Nation, and Albo, a brilliant humorous attack-dog Deputy, would be too.

Fighting is not uniting. It is not consensus-building. It is only fighting. It is only scrapping.

Albo is an excellent scrapper, but … addressing the United Nations? Addressing the House of Commons? The Soviet Praesidium? The Labor Party National Conference?


He would be less like Hawke, and more like Latham. Less like Whitlam, and more like Calwell.


That Is The Question

It is not a question of whether it is Albo’s turn, or whether he is a good bloke, or a good parliamentary performer, or how impoverished his childhood was. It is a question of who would win more seats.

If Albo wins fourteen seats, and thus ensures six years of Abbott, and therefore probably nine, he will help destroy our civilisation. If Shorten wins eighteen, he will save it.

And this is the only question, surely. Who is more likely to win the doctors’ wives, the McMansion mortgagees, the Penrith pokie-pullers, the greyhound punters, the fly-in fly-out mineworkers, the nurses, the teachers, the small businessmen of the country towns? Albo will give us the green-leaning True Believers from the inner suburbs and the party workers, but we have them already.

Shorten, who speaks well to everyone, will give us government.

And it is government, or oblivion, surely.

And that is the question. The only question.

Government, or oblivion.

Lines For Chris Bowen (9)

This government is already held in contempt by much of the civilised world, and most Australian women. It is a hissing and a byword among the nations, a subject of scorn and and amusement in even the Murdoch media, and it hasn’t been sworn in yet.

I ask the Senate to give it no quarter, send back its legislation, deny it Supply, and enforce by March a Double Dissolution that will test, now its policies are known, and no longer secret, and its disgusting Ministry made manifest at last, if it is worth proceeding with.

Out of the shadows, what a can of maggots we see now, wriggling in the sun.

A Note On Bill Shorten

Bill Shorten has stayed at my house, and I at his, and in the seven years I’ve known him since we met first at Beaconsfield and he became more known to the nation, I’ve been struck by particular, varying things about him.

One was his calm under pressure. ‘Mate, we are where we are,’ he said when Beazley, his hero, was overthrown by Rudd and Gillard. He had been offered the leadership, or so I have been told, by some party heavies even before he entered parliament, but would not ‘dud Kim’, and was dismayed at Rudd’s ascension. Nonetheless, he got on with it, and campaigned for the ‘dream ticket’, massed his union money behind it, and helped it win.

Another was an ability to articulate the dividedness that preceded a decision without losing his audience’s respect. ‘Did we get the best deal possible? Probably not,’ he said to the Beaconsfield miners. ‘Are we three million dollars better off than we were this morning? Absolutely. All those in favour?’ He hated unionists’ funerals, but, mate, we are where we are, and if he had to look their capitalist tormentors in the face and be firm and polite, this was his job, as a workers’ advocate in the worst of times, which the Howard years were. He had not just a Catholic conscience, but a Jesuit skill at argument, and he used it with tireless and sinuous vigour.

At Beaconsfield, I watched him, like Hawke, plunge into a pub and come out with fourteen new lifelong friends. Up close, and vernacular, with a big voice that could command a whole wharf unamplified, he was very much the union rouser. Up close, and careful, in the corporate boardrooms he would get what he could for his people, understanding the limits of what could be.

Another quality, and the noun is overworked, and sometimes falsely used, was his compassion. He came back one morning near tears after two hours with some disabled people. ‘I met three heroes this morning,’ he said. He came to see the Disabled cause as the last great battle, the last Civil Right, getting them, as Martin Luther King did, ‘up the front of the bus’. When given by Rudd, his foe, this difficult portfolio, and not even, insultingly, a Ministry of it, he said, ‘I’m going to make this the job everybody wishes they had,’ and worked, and worked, thereafter, to change Australia with it, and put us at the forefront of the world.

It was the greatest achievement of the Rudd-Gillard years, and the most endangered, when Abbott, as he is bound to, redefines ‘disability’ and wrenches the money away from it, as he will.

I quarrel with Bill, a free marketeer, a good deal. I don’t fully understand why insurance, for instance, should not be more punished for swindling flooded shopkeepers out of their money, but there you go. He understands world finance post-Meltdown, and I do not. Like Hawke he has steeped himself in the immensity and the difficulty of the subject and come out wise, and torn, and visibly thinking, minute by minute, on what is necessary, and what is possible.

His best speech, and it was self-composed, was at the Labor Party Conference two years ago. Imagine a walled city the size of Perth, he said, a walled city of the Disabled, and they can’t get out of it. A prison that size. With that many people. It thunderstruck that audience, and was, Bruce Hawker beside me said, ‘the best audition for Prime Minister I’ve heard’.

Bill stuck with Gillard for two testing years, even after he was offered the job of Treasurer, tomorrow, if he defected. As with Beazley, he was loyal, to his own cost. He could, I believe, himself have displaced Julia by merely putting up his hand, and then intriguing for a while, but he chose not to. He chose not to for a year perhaps, and I wish he had. I actually thought on the dreadful day when he at last, for the party’s sake, went across to Rudd, believing that we’d end up with twenty-five seats if he did not, and the pain showed in his face, that he was putting his hand up then, for himself, but of course he was not. In his office an hour before, no-one knew what he would do. It was his call, and he was in pain. And, as always, the party came first.

And we are where we are.

And I hope he gets up this time.

Looking Backwards

I find it passing strange (as Kim might say) how thoroughly the word ‘can’t’ rules Labor strategies. We can’t use Abbott’s present adulteries and past cruelties; we’d win, but we can’t win that way. We can’t prosecute for conspiracy Brough, Pyne and Ashby; we’d win, but we can’t win that way. We can’t bring in free dental care for the over-eighties, and win that way. We can’t bring in free child care at primary schools from 3.30 till 6, and win that way. We can’t order the ABC to broadcast Morgan polls, the most accurate, as well as Murdoch’s Newspoll, though Morgan has us ahead, and help win that way.

We can’t say the obvious, three million Australians haven’t made up their minds yet, and the polling doesn’t matter yet. We can’t do the obvious, and compare our ministry, one by one, with theirs, and win that way. We can’t ask the Governor-General to command Abbott, as she can, to give us his costings and his policies a week before the blackout. We can’t hang on till November 30, when the boats will have stopped, and win that way.

The net result is best summed up as a will to lose. Though they use all their weaponry, we cannot. We must fight with one arm tied behind our back. It’s the right thing to do.

Their weaponry, since the storming of the Tampa, has been heat-seeking derring-do. The Prime Minister’s brutish lover stole union money. Craig Thomson used union money for whores. The Speaker was a sexual harasser of men. The Treasurer was bankrupting the nation. The new school halls were expensive, swindled, life-threatening disasters. The Better Schools plan was a ‘con’.The PM, Rudd, was chaotic, hated and mad.

And the false, innumerate and criminal ReachTel and Lonergan polls showed PM, Treasurer, former Treasurer and Attorney-General losing their seats. There was no point voting for a local member who would be in Opposition, and powerless there. Better vote for one, however dimwitted, who would be in Government.

It is barely worth saying this, but what Labor must do, do now, even now, is use the weaponry they have. They command the Senate for ten more months. The must refuse everything, including Supply, and force the GG, Bryce, to a Double Dissolution by March. They must announce inquiries into Abbott’s past, into the Iraq War, into the AWB, the Indonesian boat buy-back, and, oh yes, the ABC’s bias this August.

The Senate must meet though the House does not. Abbott is effectively closing down parliamentary debate, with parliament meeting three or four weeks a year. The Senate is all we have, and we must use it to confront, accuse and destroy him.

But, oh no, we ‘can’t’. It wouldn’t be proper. It might incur the disapproval of … of … some Chatswood auntie we daren’t dismay with our unruliness.

Though it wouldn’t lose a Labor vote, we mustn’t do it. Can’t do it. Wouldn’t be proper. Though another election, fought on the Liberal policies we now at last know about, would be easily won, we mustn’t have one. We’d win. But have no appetite for it.

It is death-wish, no more, and I’m sick of it.

We could have won. We could have won.

We could still be in power, and, on November 30, landsliding in.

Curse you, Hawker, you wouldn’t listen. Day after day you wouldn’t listen.

And here we are.

Casting Couches (1) R & G

A parlour game worth playing is the ideal casting for R and G in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.

Some early suggestions:

(1) Lennon and McCartney;

(2) Blackadder and Baldrick;

(3) Steve Martin and Robin Williams;

(4) Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis;

(5) Abbott and Costello (ours, not theirs);

(6) Crosby and Hope;

(7) Clarke and Dawe;

(8) Kennedy and Newton;

(9) Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant (when young);

(10) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon;

(11) Bill Clinton and Al Gore;

(12) Bill Leak and Warren Brown;

(13) Hugh Grant and Colin Firth;

(14) Peter Reith and John Hewson;

(15) Cleese and Idle;

(16) Whitlam and Freudenberg;

(17) Gervaise and Merchant;

(18) Carr and Cavalier;

(19) Biggins and Forsythe;

(20) Morecambe and Wise;

(21) Roy and H.G.;

(22) Phillip Adams and Barry Jones;

(23) Paul McDermott and Tim Ferguson;

(24) Fry and Laurie …

With each new casting the show I saw yesterday changes wonderfully. And it always works.

I invite contributions.

An Entrance Somewhere Else: Stoppard’s, Phillips’, Minchin’s and Schmitz’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

It is said Stoppard first wrote Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead as a revue sketch in which the befuddled amateur courtiers end up in an England ruled by King Lear. So climaxed (eaten by bears in a cave in a pelting storm while Mad Tom poignantly tapdances and Lear takes his clothes off howling), it would have proved no more arbitrary and wayward than the text is now.

A dozen alternative scripts would have worked as well if so structured (waiting for Hamlet) and so themed (or not to be) in the England of 1968 when all was in flamboyant flux and in the Old Vic, where I saw it first, and a Niagara of lush costumes thronged it. It was the year of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, the King and Kennedy killings, Tet, My Lai and other blasphemies; and it worked well, so placed.

And it does so now too, in another time of structural flux post-Meltdown, the time is out of joint and O what a fall was there, my countrymen .

That said, it is surprising how rigidly party-game it all is. We are stretched to the edge of pain by the endless coins all coming down heads, and the questions-only exchanges. We are squeezed near screaming by Minchin’s failure to join, like Stan Laurel, the obvious dots.

Yet it works, it works, it plays, it holds, at 160 minutes plus interval, the length of Gone With The Wind, greywash of Beckett and red daubs of Shakespeare and long halls of Escher and a trailed whiff of Lennon and McCartney — or Morecambe and Wise — to carry it through. Only one coinage, an arguably non-existent England called ‘a conspiracy of cartographers’, is recognizeably ‘Stoppardian’; the rest could have been tossed off, if that’s the verb I want, by NF Simpson, Antrobus, Cleese, Clarke, Bennett or Peter Cook — or Patrick Cook, or Biggins-and-Scott-and-Forsythe, or Woody Allen — in a weekend; or, perhaps, a long weekend. Or do I forget myself, m’lord, and was it more masterly than that? Possibly; possibly; a little more of that excellent brandy, I beseech you.

Nevertheless, it is a superb idea, a blithe and soaring … thought-bubble, you might say. Every exit is an entrance somewhere else, all journeys end in death, death is not-being, to be no more; and the Actor Manager, and his cringing minion Alfred, a boy for all purposes, are superbly, lewdly, coarsely characterised. It has something of 1066 And All That about it, and Magritte, and My Word, and Monte Python, and Clarke and Dawe. Lewis Carroll would have enjoyed it, WS Gilbert, Edward Lear, the Hamlet-scholar James Joyce, the Shakespeare-parodist Max Beerbohm …

Simon Phillips’ direction is superb: lush, abundant, colourful, brisk and mad, the court of King Claudius like playing cards, Heather Mitchell’s Gertrude a livid, smeared face from Francis Bacon, the two boys sauntering in leather, male, priapic, diffident, flipping coins like Runyon gangsters, Schmitz more like Blackadder, Minchin more like Ricky Gervaise. Ewen Leslie’s Actor-Manager recalls, as he should, both Wolfit and Robert Newton, and when the entire mob piles out of barrels too small to contain them, it is joy. John Gaden plays Polonius dead straight, a good choice; Tim Walter Prince Hamlet barking, a bad one, I think, David Whitney Claudius as if directed by Kurosawa. The whole text, a wily undergraduate roll of the dice, lucked, as it happ’d, into a miracle of timing (1968; revolution; LSD; degage young people turning on, dropping out, making love, not war) and was thereafter accidentally, or almost accidentally (it was a busy time) assisted by Tynan into immortality.

And it was good to see it at its semi-final performance. And so it goes.

I Left My Heart: Woody And Cate’s Blue Jasmine

A beautiful woman with upperclass pretensions arrives after suffering a nervous breakdown in the cramped flat of her sister, disdains her brutish, hairy bloke, is wooed by unsuitable schmendriks and ends up stark mad and in need of ‘the kindness of strangers’: sound familiar?

With Cate in the lead, even more so. Woody has woven out of this unpromising doodle a work of art more impactful than Crimes And Misdemeanours, with characters and speech-patterns worthy not just of Tennesee Williams but Mamet, Coward, Chayevsky and, yes, well, Chekhov.

He manages thirty major characters as effortlessly as the creators of The Simpsons. Each one comes on fully formed, as if a three-act play about them has just occurred across the street. Some of these are vacillating dental patients, yet they have true Chekhovian seismic force; no film has been cast better.

Much of its effect comes from the audience’s feelings about Cate Blanchett. We share with her character Jasmine the belief that she is better, far better, than these low people around her. A squat, hairy working-class man wants to take her out, and we cringe with her.

More comes from what should be called the humour of mental illness. Jasmine, awash with xanax and vodka martinis, talks to herself sometimes, accusing the vacant air of mortal wrong, and this is genuinely funny, and so are the brand-names (Vuitton, Klein, Mercedes) of the life that late she led in The Hamptons and on Fifth Avenue with her crooked, womanising, jet-owning, Gordon Gekkoish husband (Alec Baldwin) who, in one regretted rush of craziness, she puts in the slammer with a hectic phone call to the FBI.

We have seen this flighty, self-absorbed Woody-woman before (Keaton in Manhattan, Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway, Davis in Deconstructing Harry), but never so well played. I can understand, from this,why Blanchett feared every day she would be fired, and also her eventual, shoo-in Oscar.

Sally Hawkins is wonderful as her sister Ginger, an optimistic vulgar brunette (as she was in Happy-Go-Lucky) with a taste for sluggardly ‘losers’ (much is made of the sisters’ differing tastes, and how this comes from their varying genes, as adopted children of unknown, contrasting progenitors), and Bobby Cannavale superb as the Kowalski-equivalent thicko Chili (he doesn’t yell ‘Stella!’ at her from the street, he besieges her at the supermarket and overturns trolleys), and Louis CK as Al, her former husband, ruined by an investment the vulpine Baldwin tempts him into pre-Meltdown with money he could have spent setting up his own small business.

Each character is treated with what might be called ‘cruel tenderness’. Even a lecherous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg, from A Serious Man) has his moment, like Uncle Vanya, of romantic fumbling sudden grief. And as Dwight, the decent rich diplomat with political plans (a stylish leftover, one feels, from Preston Sturges) who showers her with diamonds and mansions, Peter Skarsgaard, delicately cast, moves us also: even he does not deserve to be lied to, not lies as big as this.

Blanchett in this role somehow channels three Davises, as she did in Hedda Gabler — Judy, Bette, and Essie — and gives us a kind of Everywoman. All women, as their beauty ages, are, I think, as insecure as this, reaching for the next pill that salves the next mood, and none can get over the lost love of the bad man they did not see through. Cate gives us not only inner multitudes, but a Female Myth.

What is most remarkable is that it is as a work as complex as a well-wrought Roth novel and yet it takes only 93 minutes before the credits roll.

This is a master of world cinema at the top of his form, in a home-stretch like no other, daring, and beating, the odds.

Canberra Diary, Friday the Thirteenth

5.50 am

In Malvolio Towers after a deep sleep, in the bed with me Harlot’s Ghost, Mailer’s vast CIA novel and Jon Croal’s copious John Gielgud, saga of a life on limelit boards I envy nightly now, some Clive James essays and, on Kindle, The Brothers Karamazov, a remarkably easy read, I awake, belch phlegm, and prepare myself.

Shorten is standing, Albo ‘undecided’ (sniffing the wind) and we may be now in for a glum, slack, mudsliding countdown like that which after eight weeks coughed up, with blood, the wrong Miliband in England in 2010. I gloomily foreboded this much last night to Tom Cameron who had seen up close the last days of Blair, Brown, Gillard and Rudd and was going with his beauteous new love Claire to seek work in ‘the farming sector’, he said as he drove me to Garema Place, where I ate a steak in the Labor Club and fetched up too late to see Blue Jasmine and dozed off in Paranoia, a thriller about souls lost in the corporate world of New York.

And the Labor Diaspora continues. Good people who once, in Carr’s office, and Beattie’s, and Bracks’s, and Bacon’s and Gallop’s, and Martin’s, and Gillard’s, and Rudd’s, helped steer the nation’s dreams have no adequate income now, and must slummock off into what they lately, surlily call ‘the private sector’ and put food in the mouths of their squalling children while their honed brains lose their edge and the Abbott Fog of Despond obscures what good things else might have been achieved, or dreamed upon.

It is clear what they must do, and they will not do it.

7.25 am
Taxi to the House where Julie Bishop in black tights and a Darth Vader helmet looks at me with a flummoxed, bright smile and quickly recedes indoors.

I sit, as always, awaiting Tom. Last night in this bare sad green-marbled place I asked the vast Dick Adams — titanic, bearded and wrestling with his luggage — to sign me in, but he was not let do so; he was no longer, they explained, with kindness, as they might to an addled senior, an MP. I asked what the swing was. 13.5, he said. I asked the margin. 13, he said. There were ‘local issues’, he explained. I barely know him, and wanted to hug him. But he is, of course, too big to hug.

8.30 am

Wyatt Roy in a smart suit arrives and some guards applaud him. Graeme Perrett signs me in. I pass Morrison, in gym gear, smiling hugely, toothily, at a friend.

In the Aussies coffee queue Swanny tells me his margin was tight, ‘But you know what they say, comrade, the smaller the margin, the less people you have to thank.’

I hear Richo’s voice murmuring, ‘Whatever it takes’, and I look round. It is Sinodinis, of course, a survivor, who shares his thin, wise voice.

10 am

Aussies crowds, and thins out. Xxxx, Dastiyari, Perrett, Cameron come and go. Shayne Neumann in the coffee queue thanks me for a speech, ‘the best in Ipswich since Whitlam in 72′, which Shorten gave in his praise two weeks ago. Tom comes by, admires my salmon salad, and asks what I think. ‘Albo won’t stand,’ I say. ‘He’s looking down one barrel of six vain years of miserable, quarrelsome desolation he won’t much like, and down another barrel of happy, growing children in Marrickville, the earthly paradise, which he would much prefer. He’ll give Bill a warning, do well or I’ll be after you, but he won’t stand against him.’

‘I half agree,’ Tom said. ‘I agree fifty-five percent. Well,’ he sighed, ‘we’ll see.’

10.20 am

I pass Corman, the obergruppenfuhrer, on the way to the Senate bog. Our eyes, cast carefully down and leftward, do not meet. I strain at at stool, fearing death, succeed, as Evelyn Waugh at 62 and dead in the loo did not, and return thus disburdened to Aussies. I eat a banana, a tart, a salmon salad, a yoghurt and a piece of caramel chocolate, wrapped in gold. Heffernan comes up with his dingo lope and jackal smirk and says ‘How are you, you old bastard?’ and slyly, drily, companionably, shakes my hand. The plump and fiftyish Karen, who works for Albo, doubts he’ll stand. We both wish David Cox had not changed his vote in 2004. ‘Kim would still be Prime Minister now,’ she avers, with truth, and moves on, suspecting she will not have a job this afternoon.

I ponder Rudd’s unwillingness to’play the piano while little children sang around him ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’. It would have saved five seats. Why not do it? Why not do the obvious? What sort of prim, proud prude was he? Why not do it?

11.20 am

Time, that moves on little fidget wheels … I encounter Timmy Gleason, the racehorse-owning big blond Westie whose Elvis Wedding to Reba Meagher went wrong after nine months and who wrote The Campaign, and excellent backroom comedy as good as The Thick Of It, which has not thus far got up, and should. He worked for both Rudd 1 and Rudd 2 and liked the latter more. I knew him first in Carr’s office, a nicer operation, after seeing him foaming on the floor on his first day in a rare epileptic seizure. A man of resolute romance like Gatsby, he once had a girl in New York he flew over every three weeks to see for a day. Hyperbolic, is that the word? It’s Timmy. He once agreed to star in our Beaconsfield film if he could ‘do nude scenes with any of the female leads’.

Tom Cameron’s love Claire -’Not his new love, his first,’ she declares after reading the blog — sits down, as beautiful as Wendy Hughes aged thirty, and curses the new party rules. ‘We were going on our pre-honeymoon,’ she says, ‘to London, and now we can’t. We have to hang round while this vote thing happens.’ She is mightily displeased.

We agree that Rudd has once more left an odour of disorder behind him. His new rules will hobble the party for a month of wrangling while Abbott, unhindered, settles in. What a waste. What a cock-up.

11.45 am

The Right in a crowd erupts from their room — Burke, Dreyfus, Ellis, Collins — and joyful tidings, unheard by me, are exchanged.

On the ABC, a headline: Albo will stand for the leadership.

Oh dear.

12.40 pm

I am told I cannot stand among cameramen awaiting the end of the caucus meeting and am banished to the end of a long, long corridor where I watch, a hundred yards away, some insect-like silhouettes fidgeting apprehensively. Told I was a historian, a Labor historian, they said, ‘Well, you can’t stand here.’


I will come back and complete this text in a few days if I am in the mood. I’m currently feeling foul and keen to go to the theatre.

Classic Ellis: Moving Out, 1996

(From Goodbye Jerusalem)

Many a heart is aching,
If you could read them all,
Many a heart is breaking,
After the ball.

– Charles K. Harris, ‘After the Ball’.

Tuesday, 5 March 1996

They were moving everything out of cardboard boxes and filing cabinets on trolleys and big removal vans, not exactly like Bosnian refugees but somewhat, when I arrived as usual, or it seemed as usual, at the minsters’ entrance of Parliament House on the Tuesday after the lost election in bright autumn sunlight. I went in as usual and to the right, and the left, and along and then left past the hurrying evictees, and then left again, and wound up as usual in Beazley’s office. The Deputy Prime Minister had a .303 rifle on his lap and was waywardly pointing it and laughing in his high infectious share-misery way. He looked like a sadly jocular amalgam of Falstaff and Fatty Finn. I asked him how his count was going in the West where his seat was threatened. ‘Oh, I’ll lose,’ he said heartily. ‘There’s no way I can win. I’ll be beaten, I calculate, by thirty-two to forty-eight votes.’

People came in and out of the office, taking things away, and I lingered and watched the bouncy despair of the big soft affable hard-nosed man who now was Labor’s last best hope of revival. He drank coffee and laughed and sighed and spoke with clarity in his long, ornate and perfectly grammatical sentences, his boyish basso soprano slicing the ambient melancholy, occasionally pointing his rifle, a cadet .303 he said, and a good one, unloaded of course, at the courtyard out the window and notionally potting off one or other detested arriving Liberal, saying he had his imminent retirement all figured out. Six months lying on a beach, then three or four years writing the definitive history of the American-Australian alliance in the second Great War, then a big think about things.

He was staggered, he said, when he looked it up, by the amount he’d be getting as a pension, pretty undeservedly, he added, from the coffers of government nostalgia, and there would by God be time for another life, and his new young family. I’d watched him on the phone to his little daughter in Perth. ‘Hello, little person,’ near tears at the distance, and now that would be over. He’d have a life instead of a peripatetic neurosis full of intrusive welcoming lunatics. He could, moreover, tiptoe at last into the Roman Catholic Church, long his moral destination. There was a world elsewhere.

Appalled by this I and some other staffers – Owen, Johnno, Karen, Lucinda – begged him to stand for Keating’s vacant seat of Blaxland if he lost his own, move everyone to Sydney, keep the family close, but he said he’d thought of that, and he’d thought it through. Listen, he said, or something like it, the Speaker would inform the Parliament of Keating’s departure some time in April and call, if he chose, and of course he would, a by-election as late as August. By which time Beazley – an absentee leader, a corpulent phantom holding press conferences where? at Aussie’s Coffee Shop? in the lost property office? – would have been without a parliamentary seat for five months, emphasising with his every edgy television apparition the paucity of Labor’s available leadership talent and thus increasing the despondency everywhere. No, he said, better let Gareth or Simon have it and slip out quietly. Leave it all behind. The mannerly thing to do.

…Jim Killen decided to film a sequence of Goodbye Parliament House (neurotic director, Bob Ellis) in the parliamentary office he had for seven years occupied as Minister for Defence and the then incumbent, Kim Beazley moved out for the morning. It was May 1987, and Jim, with whiskery ardour and rectitude, paced and reminisced and Roger Lanser, later Branagh’s cameraman, filmed him among the toy aeroplanes and strategic maps and souvenir shelves and bullets, all of which Beazley had lovingly enshrined. Around 11 a.m. I noticed the large bulky form of Beazley pacing up and down a trifle haggard in the hallway outside. He continued to do so for twenty minutes, like a gloomy buffalo, glancing from time to time at his watch.

Eventually I went out and, embarrassed, asked him if he wanted his office back. ‘No, it’s all right,’ he said, ‘it’s just that there’s been this coup in Fiji, and I should make a few phone calls.’

I later learnt he had been keen to send in battleships and blockade the main island and rescue the ousted Labor government there from its unconstitutional usurpation. But he was too well-mannered to interrupt our filming for a mere international crisis. The office was ours for the morning. He stood by his word.

– From Notes and Memories, May 1987.

The afternoon wore dreamily on and whisky was drunk and Kim’s buoyant stoicism (if that’s the phrase) had us nearly convinced that his dropping out of politics, quickly and neatly now, was the best, the only option. Then a lightbulb appeared above my head and I asked him if there was any constitutional reason why he could not lead the Opposition from the Senate – if a casual vacancy arose, for instance, in a Senate seat whose occupant had a .303 rifle, say, put to his head. Kim looked thoughtfully at the rifle and said no, not that he knew of.

We then fantasised for maybe ten minutes on a double-shuffle and sting by which he replaced a startled senator and occupied his seat for the four months till the Blaxland by-election was called and then resigned it and let the hypothetical, patient, long-suffering intermittent senator back in. It had a kind of zany plausibility to it and he was cheered for a while, then he fell back into chuckling, despondent fatalism.

It was the fucking forged letters, I said. The voters were sleepwalking back to Labor as they always did and they stubbed their toe on the letters, and that was enough to focus their accumulated insecurity for three or four days, and that was all that was needed.

‘That’s right,’ said Beazley. ‘It was the letters that did for me.’

…‘We who are in politics in Western Australia know,’ Kim Beazley said on the day he hired me, ‘that we’re going to end up in strife. That’s a given. It’s part of the deal. And it’s all right in a way. Because once you know what your fate is, you feel empowered to do things, and do good things, in the short meantime you’ve got left. I plan to use my moment. And I aim within my limits to do good, before the steel doors clang.’

His jovial mocking frankness intrigued me, along with his offer out of the blue of a job occasionally writing his lines. He seemed both bigger and younger than his pictures, and blonder and fresher-complexioned, like a hereditary monarch long accustomed to power and amused by its appurtenances, a Crown Prince of Bavaria, say in 1623, or any postwar German Chancellor. Unlike Keating he was in the game, I sensed, for the long haul as his father Kim senior was, who succeeded Curtin after his death in 1945 in Fremantle and held it till 1977, never however achieving the prime ministership, for which he was superbly equipped, because his tall ironic mirror image Whitlam was luckier and more available and impulsive and less ideologically burdened in the fifties. ‘God save us, Gough,’ he would say from time to time with a hint of satiric bitterness, ‘from another of your inspirations.’

Like all charismatic politicians Kim the Younger had the power of simultaneously relaxing and exciting you. It was good to be in his presence, inspiring to be there, but safe as well. He would look after you, and the country too. He had, perhaps, the answers.

– From Diary (lost) and Memories, August 1995.

I went to Keating’s final speech to the parliamentary staffers (some didn’t, believing the Bankstown butthead’s impulsive hydrophobic wrongheadedness and vendettas on Packer and others had cost them many seats), then back to Beazley and found him and his staff in an elegiac mood, mentally toasting and farewelling great times now gone.

‘Listen,’ I said with a certain fury, ‘when my country needed me I was there to stand against Bronwyn Bishop. I did the gig. I turned up. And your country now,’ I gave a fair impression of the cross-eyed finger-pointing poster of General Kitchener, ‘needs you.’

Kim then laughed, and his mood shifted. ‘Oh, all right,’ he said.

Almost immediately Tim Fischer, long and gangly, appeared hat in hand in the doorway like the young John Wayne and craved to be admitted, as the next Deputy Prime Minister, to his new office.

‘Come in, Tim,’ said Beazley, ‘have a cup of tea.’

We trooped out and watched the tall preposterous figure amble in, passing me (‘G’day, Bob,’ he said to my alarm), like a supporting actor from ‘On Our Selection’ and close the door behind him.

‘It’s clear,’ said Syd Hickman, Kim’s blond sad-eyed chief minder, his voice more doomful than usual, ‘that this is a day on which we are to be spared nothing.’

There was a dinner after that, in a Chinese restaurant, and a speech from Kim paying tribute to each of his numerous staff – including, to my considerable surprise, myself, with special thanks for my lengthy list of the great battle sequences in world cinema – then a dialogue of some spirited warmth between me and what I now realised was my former employer.

I put it to Kim that it all went wrong that day in 1984 when Bob Hawke disrupted his long three-month election campaign by bursting into tears at a reference to his daughter’s heroin addiction. And the film of that emotional occasion, more self-pity than fatherly compassion, took from Labor its historic opportunity of a huge majority which, though dwindling in successive elections, has kept them – us – in power for twenty years. Beazley was cautious in his response – Hawke had after all been his significant mentor – but allowed there were serious stuff-ups in the era that followed, stuff-ups that should have been avoided, and could have been avoided. (Hawke, it was rumoured, had lost the plot soon after, in a period of near breakdown for him, and Keating had begun with far less populist precision to run the government from Treasury after that.)

One that was on his mind, I rightly or wrongly surmised, was the day five ministers including Kim had tried to talk Hawke into standing down for Keating, and he said he wouldn’t, and the five ministers had then aberrantly defended his decision to stay.

Yes, Bob Hawke and Labor went back a long way, I decided, over the fried icecream that ended the concluding meal of Beazley’s staffers of that era, and so did Bob Hawke, and loads of trouble.

The Inverted Commas

One of Rupert Murdoch’s great successes was to put the inverted commas round ‘conspiracy theory’.

For nearly all of life is in fact a conspiracy. A Test cricket side is a conspiracy. A new production of Hamlet is a conspiracy. An editorial line in a newspaper is a conspiracy. A police entrapment of a dope dealer is a conspiracy. A class action is a conspiracy. A family is a conspiracy, mostly, to get one of them rich, by schooling , job placement or advantageous marriage. Downton Abbey is an example of a family that is also a conspiracy, as is The Godfather, and The Sopranos, and the Guelph-Battenberg-Windsors.

In the sense the phrase is often used, a political coup or murder, a conspiracy is usually the explanation. Julius Caesar, Jesus, Socrates, Lincoln died as a result of conspiracies. So did Prince Franz Ferdinand whose death caused World War 1. There were seven or eight conspiracies against Hitler, which failed. It is very likely Bobby Kennedy was killed by conspirators, since Sirhan was waiting in a place where he, Bobby, was not scheduled to go to. South African secret services conspired to kill Steve Biko, and failed to overthrow Harold Wilson. Mrs Ghandi’s bodyguards conspired to kill her, Anwar Sadat’s to kill him. It is likely Mossad poisoned Arafat, on Bibi’s orders. Many Russian journalists have been killed on Putin’s orders, by KGB conspirators. Osama Bin Laden was tracked down and shot in the face by conspirators, or Navy Seals as they are better known.

A conspiracy of Kerr, Barwick, Murdoch and Fraser, it is now known, ended Whitlam’s brief hold on power nineteen months before an election was due. It is now known Brough, Pyne, Abbott and Ashby conspired against the House Speaker Slipper and drove him near suicide. It is now known Murdoch and his palace-buggers conspired against Prince Charles, whom they sought to deny the crown.

Yet the sneer ‘conspiracy theory’ works. Though conspiracies brought down Rudd, and Gillard, and Turnbull, and Rees, and Baillieu, and Redmond, and Brogden, and Collins, and Chikarovski, and Olsen, and failed to bring down Howard, and failed initially to bring down Rann, and then succeeded, this very common process is said to be on a par with flying saucers or archangels or thetans and no good explanation of earthly circumstance.

But conspiracy is a very ordinary, human thing. It is a luncheon club. It is a church choir. It is a chapter of AA, or the Actors’ Studio, or a secret Mormon polygamous marriage, like those in Big Love. It is a Mutual Society. It is a Pension Fund. It is a workers’ union. It is a convocation of wife-swapping ‘swingers’ in a country town in the 1950s. It is any Kennedy Christmas Dinner. It is any meeting of the Masons, or the College of Cardinals, or the Primates. It is any Aboriginal initiation.

It is just, in fact, life proceeding normally, as it has, pretty much, for ten thousand years.

And yet we are told it is crazy, it never happens, only mad people think it happens.

And it happens all the time.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (59)

Will those who don’t like the new respondent order (the last shall be first’) put up their hands, please? And those who do?

I can restore the old arrangement if that is what you truly want by, say, Saturday morning. Please put up your hands under tgis.

A few more evil fascists, the whelps of Mirabella, have been banned for life. I forget their names.

Zimbabwean Tendencies (1): J’Accuse

More and more it seems like a police state election. Ballots, unguarded. Ethnic Liberal candidates dragged off, and hidden away. Treasury officials threatened, until they intervened. A candidate, Slipper, framed with a crime of which he is guiltless. Another, Thomson, deprived of his vote. A duly appointed official, Bracks, removed by a Shadow Minister, legally powerless to do this. A ballot box with a thousand unwelcome votes, missing. Policies on child care and slashed enviromental action, concealed until after the advertising ban. A spy, disguised as a tell-all makeup girl.

Good polls for the government, unreported. All interviews based on the bad polls. Many of these polls, in particular seats, fabricated. Thirty four days of hostile headlines and vituperative commentary in seventy percent of the newspapers. A national broadcaster bullied into Oppositional bias. An Opposition grandee let off drunk driving charges. A threat to the tenure of the Governor-General.

‘Zimbabwean Tendencies’ one might call this if it were merely funny. But it is, of course, a democracy gone wrong, a polity hijacked by a foreign mogul. There is criminality here that the Senate, for ten months yet Labor-Green-dominated, could assemble next week and investigate with public hearings. With what, Mr Parkinson, did Mr Hockey threaten you?

It is an extraordinary record of subcriminal, and probably unconstitutional, electoral behaviour.

It should be tested in the High Court.

With Clive paying the lawyers.

The Fatal Daintiness Of Labor

The question is why, when Labor had a lot of dirt on Abbott and a Senate that might investigate it, they chose not to do so. Eez, as Yul Brynner might say, a puzzlement.

They must have thought it unladylike to do so, and would rather doom two generations of young Australians to ruin and suicide than seem to be prying and grimy.

No such dainty feelings prevented Abbott from going after Kernot, Hanson, Gillard, Slipper and Thomson, nor, with Abbott’s nod, Heffernan after Kirby.

It is hard to imagine what they would have lost by asserting, correctly, that Abbott defended in court a pederast and in parliament a friend of pederasts, and covered up, according to his uncontested biography, gross acts against young men in his seminary. Who would lose if they did such things? Why not win, untidily? Why lose?

I have long thought Labor people so suffused with spontaneous guilt they cop their dismissal, hanging their head, like Gough who could have torn up his and rung the Queen.

They could now, after the Mirabella irregularity and the Fairfax forgeries, contest the whole election in the High Court, and not resign.

But it would be unladylike to do so. Though six million Australians want them to, they prefer to win the approval of some old maids in Pymble and not save themselves, and their country.

Eez a puzzlement.

Coming Attractions

I will be bringing out an e-book called, probably, The Ellis Two Thousand: Essays For Our Time, 2003-2013, selling for nine dollars and containing two thousand pieces, speeches, reviews and verses, from the beginning of the Iraq War till now, in around two million words.

Is this a good idea? I invite responses.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (58)

I have completed my review of What Maisie Knew, and recommend it.

Classic Ellis: Bad Policy and the Cruel Sea, 2010

Gillard, Bowen, Rudd, Scott Morrison, Abbott and Bishop will have a fair bit of trouble spinning this mini-Titanic on the shores of Christmas Island, and will have some questions to answer.

Will the orphaned children be sent back to Iraq? Who will look after them? Will the PM fly to the scene of the disaster? Why not? Will she visit the smashed-up survivors in their hospital beds? Why not? Will those that get through this be automatically admitted to Australia? Why not? Will some be sent back to Iraq? To Iran? Why? What if some Tasmanian small towns offer to take them in? Will that be okay? Or will they go, as always, to the back of the queue, far behind the Chinese millionaires we prefer?

Bad policy often ends up like this, in shipwreck, with the floating, bloodied bodies of children. ‘Stop the boats’ seems a pretty paltry slogan when we see, here, what it means. ‘The right sort of migrant’ sounds like fascism when its direct result is young mothers drowning among their frantic children. We already look like nitpicking racist bureaucrats to most Asians. After this we will seem like half-arsed incompetents, with blood on our beaches, baying the moon for Christ’s forgiveness.

Gillard and Abbott will say in chorus that this is no time for policy review, not while the shipwrecked victims are grieving and cremating their dead, but of course this is nonsense. When the troops crowded into Dunkirk Beach it was decided, quickly, to take them out of there. When the first bombs hit Pearl Harbor, war was declared. When the second plane hit the Twin Towers, the hijackers’ action was condemned. No-one said, ‘This is no time to be making policy decisions, the survivors need time to get over the shock’. A kind of World War was proposed, and Kabul, of all places, obliterated in weeks.

So what sort of policy decision would please the voters this time? Sending everyone on Christmas Island home to their various killing-fields in Asia and the Middle East? I don’t think so. Detaining the orphans on Nauru for five years till their refugee status is established. Really?

What is missing in our offshore-detention strategy since the Oceanic Viking is any joining of the dots. Like, if people prefer Australia to Iraq, they will tend to want to come here. If they prefer Australia to the imminent Karzai-Taliban coalition, they will tend to want to come here. If they prefer Australia to living beside their parents’ killers in the ethnically-cleansed valleys of Sri Lanka, they will tend to want to come here. And nothing will deter them. Not even the rough rude seas incarnadined now by their children’s blood.

This being so, should we send them back to tyranny? Any tyranny? Any of them back to a tyranny? How can we? Should we send them back, as we did Akram al Masri, to be killed where his mother was killed, and his brother killed after him, saying he would be safe there, in the West Bank in a time of perpetual war?

The Prime Minister is ignorant of world affairs and shows little feeling for the foreign peoples, so it’s unlikely she’ll handle this well. What she should do is ask John Faulkner to handle it, and go along with what he decides. He’s the most respected man in the building, with the keenest conscience, and it’s likely (though not certain) the public will go along with what he decides, if he’s allowed to explain himself on a lone Q&A, and go about his business with a Four Corners crew in attendance.

Or she could ask Rob Oakeshott to handle it. Or Tony Windsor. Or Andrew Wilkie, or Adam Bandt, or, called back from Washington, Kim Beazley. Or Bob Hawke. Or Bill Shorten. Or even, yes, Chris Bowen, who seems imaginative enough. Or Nicola Roxon. Whose people were fugitive Jews.

But the one thing that is certain is Gillard should have nothing to do with it. And this goes double for Abbott, Bishop and Morrison, who will be doubtless saying this morning, ‘Boy, we sure stopped that boat. Let’s do it again. That was fun’.

Whatever the process, the outcome will only ever be some variant on my Caravan Park Solution.

This tragic event, perhaps, will bring it closer.

The Body Count

Nine of our sixteen most intelligent politicians — Rudd, Carr, Kelly, Bradbury, Yat-sen Li, Combet, Oakeshott, Windsor, Beattie, Bracks — ceased to be part of our passing show in the last three days; and I will miss them. Shorten, Albo, Plibersek, Bowen, Clare, Kim Carr, Wong continue, and Howes is coming soon. It is a lot of gravestones in the back of the truck, leaving soon for dark oblivion, and Gillard, more than Rudd, is to blame for this, if you leave out Murdoch and the cowardly Uhlmann, which you can’t.

Had Gillard stepped aside gracefully in March — for Shorten, Albo, Rudd, Carr — and had the election occurred in November it would have been a defensible post-Gillard record, with no boats coming and the economy in the clear.

But no. It was the prize, and she had it, and no-one was going to wrench it from her. And so it went.

And oh what a mess was there, my countrymen.

And so it goes.

Lines For Steve Bracks (1)

I am suing for Unfair Dismissal, and Bill Shorten is my lawyer.


It proves that Morgan was the most accurate, both as exit pollster and predictor.

This means it was right putting Rudd Labor on 54.5 and 52.25 and 51 and 50, none of which the ABC mentioned.

Criminally, I would think.

The Senate should investigate this. And has the numbers to do so.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (57)

I am up to twenty-seven in my quest for thirty-nine ways we could have won it, and recommend the last fifteen.

A Child’s Eye View: James’s, Doyne’s, Cartwrite’s, McGehee’s and Siegel’s What Maisie Knew

Had Lionel Murphy seen this film in 1973, or read the exquisite Henry James novella on which it is based, he might I think have paused a bit before bringing in his no-fault divorce law and with it mulching millions of tiny lives and causing, I would guess, by now, many thousands of suicides.

What Maisie Knew is about a little girl too young to know what is going on when her father and mother divorce, take meeker partners, quarrel over her custody, shout behind closed doors and in a courtroom achieve a two-way split, and neglect her anyway.

The mother, Susanna, is a jaded rock star in perpetual quest of her fans’ adoration, and restlessly and belligerently touring across the map and demanding her daughter go with her and sleep in buses, the father, Beale, a dodgy international huckster keen to leave her behind as he swindles and womanises through Europe and juggles his several surprised women glibly and unconvincingly.

On one of these, Margo, a Scottish nanny, he offloads Maisie in his Manhattan flat, then marries her as an afterthought, and buggers off for extensive periods on mysterious dirty adventures, coming back unexpectedly looking greasily disarming in the approved Steve Coogan manner. In this role Steve Coogan is very Steve Cooganish, and well cast.

As his first wife the immortal courageous actress Julia Moore gives her implacable, angry, ugly all. One line, ‘What am I, invisible?’, when her new bloke Lincoln is getting on well with Maisie, shows her multitudinous neuroses, her fame-fed arrogance, her crumbling hubris and her drugged and shrieking hellcat take-four-after-take-three thwartedness like no other. Somewhere between Mommie Dearest, Medea and Auntie Mame, she will be familar to Anthony West, Tony Sheldon and Gypsy Rose Lee, kids born in a trunk and forced to look on Mother’s blazing fame from the wings in the dark, every night.

As Lincoln, Alexander Skarsgard (the bridegroom in Melancholia) gives lanky earthbound working-class innocence as good as Jon Voight’s in Midnight Cowboy. His uncontrived, in-the-moment spontaneous awkward kindliness, best seen when he and Maisie mug at each other and tiptoe about like cartoon characters, shows a gift for film acting to compare with Jimmy Stewart, Hugh Grant and the otherwise incomparable Yahoo Serious, whom he resembles.

As Margo, who steals, uniquely, two of Susanna’s husbands, Joanna Vanderhan mingles innocence, motherly tenderness, Celtic resentment, sobbing despair and migrant confusion in a performance that, in other company, would be called a tour de force.

But she, and the others, are up against Onata Aprile as Maisie. Never has the debut performance of a six-year-old struck more gongs in the heart. Sloe-eyed, watchful, dissembling, sad and sometimes joyful, she is beautiful as the child-star Natalie Wood and as wrenching, up close, as Giullietta Masina in La Strada. As she stoically waits three hours to be be picked up, hopefully by somebody nice, our minds turn to the child soldiers and child whores and child brides of history, and of now, who weren’t picked up by somebody nice, and whose lives turned out more unfortunately. And we curse the species we are in and its selfish carelessness.

The script, by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwrite, is as good as a Mamet and as great as any I know. The hesitancies, hints and blushful rushings-on are as well-wrought as Chekhov or Downton Abbey. We know so much, so quickly. And we watch, mortified, what befalls good people and bad, helpless to influence the outcome.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel somehow directed it together. They deserve lifetime Oscars already.

See this film if you can.

Glad Tidings

It seems Mirabella is gone.

Can anyone tell me how Kelly, Murphy and Melham are doing?

Lines For Penny Wong (2)

They cheated the election, and we will withhold Supply until they call another.

Late Flowering Poison, Well Rewarded

I note that my Abbott Filth File saved six of the ten seats I sent it to.

Would I’d had the brains to send it out earlier; everwhere.

I can’t prove this, but I feel it.

In Six Words

God grant Bruce Hawker a brain.