The first public opinion polls since the return of Kevin Rudd show that the Labor party is in with a fighting chance of winning the federal election. So? To listen to some people who should know better, you would think this was the end of the world and that the election was already over and lost. Wrong on both counts. I am pleased to say that over the past six months I have had occasion to say that some Coalition supporters were over-optimistic, that their party’s lead in the polls was artificial, that they would probably win but by a fraction of the margin they expected and that they should get ready for a rebuff in the polls if Rudd returned. That has now happened and the result is what any knowledgeable observer of the political scene should have appreciated: that Rudd’s return would bring a surge in the ALP vote.
I cautioned at the time against excessively optimistic predictions of Coalition success. Now it is time to warn against an excessively pessimistic fear of failure. Both predictions were and are unrealistic and illogical and are based on neither fact nor the lessons of political history. Rudd will fade the better he becomes known, the polls will even out, and after a close run people will realise they will be better off with a change of government. In fact, now is the best of times, as people know there is a real contest, want some policy detail and will scrutinise the competing parties to find people of quality and character. That will bring out the best and brightest in the Coalition ranks and will bring success if it concentrates on good policy, unity, supporting the leader and responsible behaviour.
In any case, who said Kevin Rudd had changed? I doubt it, having seen the photo of him arriving in Djakarta last week and being greeted by a terrified Indonesian Foreign Minister. Kevin Rudd never has and never will be content just to shake hands and say ‘hello’ like any normal person; he has to embrace everyone like a prophet in search of a flock and take them on one of his journeys of self-discovery. Diplomats are now dropping like flies as they encounter one of the true horrors of international life: being greeted by Kevin Rudd with a bear hug of cringe-making discomfort. Little wonder the Indonesians do not want any boats from Australia — they know who might pop up as the cabin boy. Schoolchildren abandon their books and lunchboxes as the Pied Piper sings his siren song of the land of gingerbread and candy to which he can whisk them away. Hospital patients suffer relapses as Rudd materialises as a ghastly apparition at their bedsides. Innocent shoppers avoid shopping centres for fear of an escaped Rudd pouncing on them (no doubt the reason for the decline in retail sales). Is there no end to this nightmare?
I will be blacklisted by the Greens and the Peace Centre at Sydney University because last Sunday I attended a concert in aid of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Worse, I have also been seen at two functions of the Friends of Tel Aviv University, and we all know what happens to people with links to Israeli centres of learning. But the concert was worth paying the heavy price of being blacklisted as it was an opportunity to hear a brilliant young pianist, Alex Ranieri, before he becomes famous. He lives in Brisbane. I hope he is not crushed by Kevin Rudd in a shopping mall. Make sure you hear him soon. And buy some Max Brenner chocolates on the way to the concert.
I am a student of the new meanings of words, especially in the political context, where the new meaning is the opposite of what you expect. For example, the word ‘reform’ traditionally invoked the notion of an improvement, but these days it means little more than a change for the worse. Thus, Stephen Conroy trumpeted his changes to the media laws as a reform, when they were not an improvement but a serious restriction on freedom of the press.
The word ‘consensus’ now means ‘agreeing with me’; ‘divisive’ means ‘disagreeing with me’; ‘negativity’ means rejecting the latest piece of incompetence from the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government. The National Broadband Network has also just given a new meaning to the word ‘passed’, in that it has achieved its target of 250,000 homes ‘passed’. When I heard this, I wondered why the NBN spokesman did not simply say that 250,000 homes could now be connected to its expensive network, as I assumed this was what he meant. But, apparently, ‘passed’ does not actually mean passed and connected; the spokesman explained that ‘passed’ did not even mean that the fibre network did anything except meander aimlessly around the suburbs. It seems that it is not connected to anything, but despite that, it has still ‘passed’ 250,000 houses.
This bizarre piece of wordy gymnastics reminded me of the night Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards ceremony and introduced them by saying: ‘Welcome to Oscars night, folks, or as they call it in my house, Passover.’ Others might prefer the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the priest and the Levite ‘passed’ on the other side to avoid the poor victim beaten up by faceless men on the road to Jericho. At least, now we know what all those billions of dollars will produce: houses passed over and passed by, but not connected. What interests me is how much more will we have to pay before the NBN is actually connected to something or does something; anything.
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