Here at Politics Central (motto: vote early, vote often) we have been in a state of unbelievable stress over the last two weeks. Some of us at the office have been so concerned about our mental health that we have come close to calling one of those numbers the pathetic people at the ABC put up on the screen every time there is a story about a major calamity like a lost cat or some vacuous celebrity giving vent to an inanity like ‘You’re doing my head in’. Everyone these days is either depressed or threatening to commit suicide because they can’t handle normal life or it takes more than thirty seconds to download their porn. Anyway, here at PC we have been at sixes and sevens over what looked like a real crisis instead of the normal inconsequential mush we have to handle. By a real crisis I refer of course to women and the unrelenting injustice being meted out to them, especially in Canberra. In case you missed it, all men are toxic and trying to rape all women and as usual it is the government’s fault and something should be done about it, preferably by spending large amounts of money and setting up more useless bureaucratic empires. Apparently fear stalks the land and women are now in a state of permanent terror as they run from their Ubers to the front door clutching their keys like knuckle-dusters to ward off hordes of lusting old men. The upshot has been the usual whinging and protests, which of course we would normally have been able to ignore because we have been through that sort of thing many times before and we know how to handle them before politicians take leave of their senses, exaggerate everything and create an even bigger problem than they started with. I went through it all myself with my ground-breaking work as Attorney-General, refining the definition of the leer.
But this time, I instinctively felt there might be serious trouble brewing on the women’s issue. It was not so much the size of the demonstrations or the great upsurge in creepy letters to the Age. Nor was it the venom that seemed to creep into everyone’s discourse. Nor, really, was it the unrelenting pomposity of the media, who seemed in a never-ending battle to outdo each other in outrage and articulating high moral principles for everyone to follow, except themselves. No, what really worried me was when I saw the PM’s quivering lip. Years of experience has taught me that in politics, where there is a quivering lip, can tears be far behind? And with tears, politicians are guaranteed to go overboard, waste more money than they usually do and squeeze the life out of the few remaining strands of self-help and self-reliance that have so far escaped the death hug of the politicians. And right on cue, down they came; a veritable torrent of tears coursing down the prime ministerial face. I was doubly worried when I saw that they were probably genuine. That was what really concerned me and some of my colleagues here at PC, that the PM would be foolish enough to let his emotions warp his judgment and tempt him to do something really stupid, like trying to solve the problem. That is the real danger with these issues, that a politician, usually under the lash of the opinion polls, will want to step in and cause immense trouble by doing things. This upsets the natural order of things, always costs money and diverts politics from its proper role and function which, as that renowned statesman Sir William McMahon noted on one auspicious occasion, is to get re-elected.
So, we spent two weeks cowering in the office, petrified that something serious would really be done to deter avaricious men from venting their evil designs on women, like telling them to stop. I must confess, I feared the worst: unwinding carefully planned tactics for pre-selection, promoting more women to the ministry before they were ready for it, levying more taxes to pay for childcare when mothers should be at home looking after their children. But every time I thought of the PM’s quivering lip, I knew we were in for something horrifyingly big.
And then, just in time, the cavalry arrived. Wiser heads prevailed. We had avoided the petrified forest and emerged safely into the sunlit uplands. Nothing would change after all. There would be a three-pronged solution to the problem which is three times as good as any other solution. First, there will be a summit, complete with stakeholders. As we say at PC: when all else fails, call a summit. They have everything: communiques, working groups, advisory councils, receptions, trips to Sweden, outdoing Frydenberg in expanding government and wasting money and, best of all, no result. In fact, a momentary lapse searching for a pointless result can undo months of patient summitry. As I have said to many a young intern here: I can get five years of avoiding a decision out of just one summit.
Then, the summit will be supported by that old favourite of mine, the Taskforce. For a while, the taskforce looked as if it might be overtaken by the working lunch, the interdepartmental working group, the seminar and even by the latter’s go-ahead young nephew, the webinar. But, to its credit, it has fought back and has now returned to its rightful place as a pre-eminent vehicle for achieving nothing in a highly competitive field.
Our taskforce will consist of four wonderful female ministers who, by a remarkable coincidence, all achieved their new titles on the same day and, by an equal coincidence, their titles all include the word ‘women’. Problem solved. A summit, a taskforce and four ministers. Nothing fills me with more pride than to see that reliable old principle re-established: in politics, veneer is far more important than substance and will get a better result.
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