Brown Study

Brown study

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

It is profoundly disturbing that the Liberal Party seems to have taken leave of its senses again and is about to undergo another bout of leadership instability. But, in the hope that it may not be too late for some plain speaking, here are some points that have occurred to me as I have watched the sordid and foolish attempt to destroy Tony Abbott and his government. First, the party should rejoice in the fact that it already has a good leader who really believes in the non-negotiable principles that should guide a conservative leader: reduced government spending, more individual self-reliance, strong defence and preserving our institutions. Do the alternative leaders have that same commitment? Secondly, if the foot soldiers of the Coalition think that a ritualistic sacrifice of their leader will give them a circuit breaker, they are wrong. I lived through the same delusion under Gorton and McMahon, Fraser and Peacock and then Peacock and Howard. Let me tell you, as Kerry Packer said after surviving his own near-death experience, ‘There’s nothing there.’ After 3 months the media, already convinced that they control the democratic process, will be equally convinced they can change the leader of any political party at their whim; they will be right and they will be off again after the next scalp, whether it is Turnbull, Bishop or Morrison. Thirdly, if this push succeeds, future leaders will not be leaders at all; we will have to make them up as if we were fingering our way through a box of Lego bits and pieces, choosing only the nice, coloured, comfortable bits in the hope that the result will not annoy too many people or involve too many hard choices. The qualifications will be: must love children, carbon taxes, big spending, human rights, changing the constitution and anything else that would make a Q&A audience cheer. True, a Lego Prime Minister will be made up of all the nice things, but you will get what you always get from Lego kits: plastic men acting out a fantasy world, rejecting what is too hard, achieving nothing, very popular in the short term, but discarded when next year’s fashion comes along.

Now, what about my job? I often sit in my study agonising over what sort of job I would like when I grow up. There are three contenders on the short list and scarcely a day goes by without new evidence emerging that tilts the scales to one or another of this holy trinity. At the moment, the trio consists of the following: arts administrator, celebrity refugee lawyer and one of those economists who pops up on the news making silly forecasts. The first position is very appealing as there is virtually no work involved except going to opening nights, saying ‘darlink’ to people you don’t know and extracting money from the government, as no one would dream of putting their own money into ventures they can con the taxpayer into paying for. Being a celebrity refugee lawyer comes a close second and is in many ways the job made in heaven. It means that everyone loves you, you mix with inspiring people like Julian Assange and David Hicks, you inevitably get the AO and are regularly invited onto Q&A where all you have to do is say you hate Tony Abbott, love Muslims and are ashamed to be an Australian. If you get those messages across, the lynch mob that passes for an audience will burst into hysterical cheering and let fly with another quiver of adoring tweets. The economist’s job is also attractive, but really in the same way that being a witchdoctor in a jungle tribe is attractive: you know the magic mumbo-jumbo, so everyone assumes you possess unique inside knowledge. The job also has a problem: as you go through the working day it must be challenging not to laugh at the fatuous nonsense you are expected to repeat. But so long as you can say ‘The result was in line with market expectations’, you can probably get by, as the market is so devoid of common sense that any eccentric prediction is in line with market expectations. The choice of spectacles and hair also poses more difficult choices for the economist: slim gold frames and grey hair suggest the goofy academic; heavy black rims and grey hair evoke the stodgy banker who always says no; no glasses and grey hair suggests too much boyish enthusiasm; tinted lenses hint at an unhealthy interest in insider trading and pyramid schemes. This peloton of three had forced its way through the pack and settled in for the home run. But a late contender has now emerged and once again the field is wide open. The new contender is that of a human rights commissioner, a position that threatens to leave all other contenders in the dust. It really is the job that has everything. First, you are appointed by the government on its whim; no qualifications, exams or elections to worry about. Secondly, once in, you are there for as long as you want; no matter how far out in the twilight zone between eccentricity and total madness your findings might be, to try to remove you from office is regarded as a total denial of human rights, love, children, compassion and all things decent. Thirdly, the pay is good; $400,000 a year for telling other people what they should believe in and awarding damages to double murderers for the indignity of being locked up is as good a deal as it gets. Your only other task is to issue the occasional propaganda sheet and call it ‘the report’ which will give it –and you- near divine status. My search is over.

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