This year has certainly seen some milestones. First, there was the fall of Robert Mugabe. Here, I must make a confession: I should have killed him when I had the chance. I know this does not fit easily with the Christmas spirit, but I am sure there must be a principle of mediaeval law that says it is permissible to kill a tyrant. I should have done it then and there, but I stuffed it up, as usual, and foolishly let the opportunity pass. As a result, the poor people of Zimbabwe were condemned to 35 years of servitude under one of the worst dictators of all time, with the exception of Caligula, Joe Stalin and Comrade Mao. As leader of the Australian observer group in 1980, I was sent to darkest Africa to monitor the independence elections in the then Southern Rhodesia. During that perilous mission, we interviewed Mugabe in Salisbury for two hours on his plans for the infant Zimbabwe. We had bottles of Coca-Cola provided to refresh us, but Mugabe made do with idly spinning his unopened bottle around in a sort of Coke-roulette. I have often thought that if I had grabbed that bottle and given him a quick whack, I could have saved the world a lot of agony and particularly the poor Zimbabweans. Well I didn’t, and that was probably the worst mistake I made in my political career apart from voting for Billy McMahon as leader of the Liberal Party. Mugabe was the most despicable rogue and should have been done away with at the earliest opportunity, what with his gross abuses of human rights, vicious treatment of rivals, including murdering them, inheriting one of the richest countries in the world and sending it spiralling into bankruptcy. I probably sound like a cross between Rudyard Kipling and Cecil Rhodes, but the blacks were better off under white rule. At least they were alive, had a good health and education system and a buoyant economy. The country had one blemish, minority rule, but they were moving steadily towards majority rule. And which was better? Half a vote under Ian Smith or none under Mugabe?
Then there was Christine Keeler, who died only recently. I must confess that I was responsible, or at least I have convinced myself I was responsible, for one of the best jokes about the poor lady. Most of you would be too young to remember the kinky sex and juicy spy scandal that rocked the world in 1963 and put the skids under the McMillan government. It was profoundly significant because it lifted the curtain, for probably the first time, on how the UK’s power elite behaved in private, and it was not a pretty sight. Christine Keeler was a call girl who had connections in high places, if you will excuse the expression, including the Russian naval attaché and a buffoon with a name to befit it, John Profumo, the minister for war. The whole thing was made for comedy. When we learnt that the Russian naval attaché was Colonel Ivanoff, the wits observed that the biggest security problem was getting Ivan off. But the best joke was a Q and A. Question: what newspapers does Christine Keeler take? Answer: one Observer, a Spectator or two, at least one Daily Mail, several Mirrors and as many Times as she can get.
But the Keeler affair was also a serious matter. Like Watergate in the US ten years later, it marked the beginning of a new era when politics started to become more brutal, more concerned with trivia and more intrusive into the personal; no wonder good people no longer go into politics and we get such dregs and time-servers as we have in Australia where governments and political careers almost always end in failure and tears and the public gasps in despair at the whole catastrophe.
My third milestone is that 2017 saw the parliament turned into a reality TV show. The whole same-sex marriage process was characterised by public hysteria and the widespread denigration, not of supporters, but the opponents of change. I also marvelled at how easily a majority of the public so lightly abandoned one of the great institutions that, with all its imperfections, held society together. Then there was the duplicity of Malcolm Turnbull and his followers who promised that if the people voted for the change, religious freedom would be written into the legislation. He abandoned his promise, of course, like yesterday’s paper tissue. At the same time and reinforced with his vulgar performance after the vote, I abandoned what little respect I still had for him. But far worse was the behaviour of members of the house of representatives and the conduct that was both allowed and encouraged to take place in the public gallery. I am a curmudgeon as I am often told, but I was appalled at the appeals to base emotions, the applause for the crudest emotional point-scoring, the sneering at minority views, the waving of flags and banners, hugging and kissing like a lot of schoolgirls, and allowing the public gallery to be part of the debate and the reality show. It was a profound change from the detached manner in which parliaments as institutions have always conducted themselves. But then, in a regimented exercise to destroy marriage, why not damage another institution at the same time and get two prizes for the price of one in the ongoing war on the institutions? I am writing now to the Speaker to ask if all this is now approved: flags and banners, interjections, appeals to the public gallery, singing and dancing and all the rest of it and will it be tolerated for any cause taken up in the future? How about a debate on refugees or the republic with rival camps and their banners and hysteria in the public gallery? Merry Christmas!
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