The outgoing Greens leader and the new Labor foreign minister have a lot in common
There was something unsettling about watching Bob Brown ask Bob Carr his first questions in the Senate several weeks ago, but it only became apparent why it was such a creepy experience with Brown’s abrupt resignation last week. The reason, of course, is that these two characters are so similar. It was like Tweedledee criticising Tweedledum. Like B1 having a go at B2. Or Herge’s Thompson and Thomson trying to outfox each other. Oddly unconvincing. So it came as no surprise that Bob-with-a-B decided to exit the political fray in precisely the same manner as Bob-with-a-C so deftly did all those years ago. Brown’s departure uncannily mirrors Carr’s.
Bob did a Bob.
The key to successfully ‘doing a Bob’ is accurately gauging ‘the tipping point’ (no, not that one) that occurs in all political stories. This is the moment just before the chickens come home to roost; where your achievements have yet to be recognised as hollow, self-serving shams that have done far more to harm the economic wellbeing of your electorate than any possible long-term good. If you jump at the right time, the failures that you have instigated will be sheeted home to one – or indeed all – of your hapless successors. Doing a Bob requires a sense of timing as acute as that of any actor or sportsman. Nail it, and your threadbare achievements will be eulogised and your numerous errors glossed over, leaving a glowing legacy that you can put to good use while the electorate pick up the hefty bill.
Not surprisingly, both Bobs share many of the same physical and political traits, which they have used as powerful tools in their respective careers. Their height, the deep voices and the ramrod stance have given them both an air of statesman-like gravitas that their policies belied. The well-honed soundbites and attempts at humour have seen them both labelled as ‘good communicators’. Yet both are awkwardly unfunny. Think of Carr’s tortuous ‘cheap hypnotist’ routine, delivered in poor taste at a press conference on the Afghanistan massacre, or Brown’s ‘here comes the washing up’ shtick. Strangely, their deadpan expressions, ponderous pontifications and quirky obsessions have been confused by fans as ‘charisma’ or ‘intellect’.
Neither man has ever shown any understanding of the humdrum concerns of average working men and women, or the tedious nuts and bolts of a functioning infrastructure that the vast majority of the population rely upon for a satisfactory existence. Rather, the two Bobs like to imagine themselves as out-of-this-world figures, saving the oceans and, of course, the planet. Alien civilisations, on this earth and elsewhere, are of great concern to them both. Bob’s role as a peacemaker in the centuries-old schism with Islam is only matched in self-delusional silliness by Bob’s role as intergalactic seer. The United Nations is the latest hobby of one, a One World Parliament and expanding the Greens into Africa are the fantasies of the other.
When doing a Bob, make sure you leave a crippling tax or two in place after you’ve gone. For Carr it was the land and payroll taxes, which milked the boom years and have hampered NSW’s productivity ever since. Brown, of course, has gone much bigger. Interestingly, when you successfully do a Bob, you yourself can side-step the irksome imposts you have inflicted upon everyone else. Carr quickly bought his second home in New Zealand, out of reach of his own Treasury, while if Brown pursues his global dreams, they’ll be unburdened by his own carbon price.
Both Bobs hate dams. Bob Brown’s saving of the Franklin may be the shiny spot on his CV, but it led to the demonising of dams in this country, with hugely adverse effects on farming, industry and clean energy generation. Bob Carr was responsible for killing off the Welcome Reef dam, thereby condemning Sydney to water shortages and the farcical two billion dollars wasted on the Kurnell desalination plant. Both Bobs have saved a lot of trees, but at a significant cost, with the Greens agenda and Carr’s own national parks leading to increased bushfire hazards and, obviously, unemployment.
In order to do a Bob, you must make your decision to step down appear spontaneous and unplanned. For Carr, it was ‘over a bottle of Chardonnay’ that he chose to ‘spend more time with my wife’ and get ‘more recreation’. ‘I’ve got no plans, no job offers,’ he claimed, only to quickly snaffle up a lucrative job offer from Macquarie Bank.
For Brown, it was ‘during a trip to Africa’ that he decided he needed to ‘get out more with Paul’ for ‘bushwalking and photography’.
Catching the commentariat and press gallery unawares allows you to write your own legacy. ‘This has been a solid chapter in the Australian story,’ claimed Carr, ‘the Olympics, the environment, the massive capital works, the focus on education, comforting the families of the Bali victims and (securing) NSW against such an attack.’ Er, if you say so, Bob.
Brown boasts of ‘fairly taxing the resources boom and carbon polluters, to uniquely enable (funding) of a national disabilities insurance scheme, the Gonski education reforms, Denticare, renewable energy businesses, (and) a High Speed Rail linking our major cities.’ Really? We shall see.
The good thing about doing a Bob is that what politically occurs after you’re gone is irrelevant. If your less-talented colleagues start fighting amongst themselves, it only makes you look better. If they do badly in the next election – which by definition they will – it only makes your wins more impressive. Which is, of course, the key point in doing a Bob. What this apparently selfless and generous tactic enables you to do is to go out never having been voted out, thereby setting yourself up for the inevitable heroic comeback further down the track, preferably straight into a cushy job of your own choosing at the taxpayers’ expense that offers you a chance to indulge your fantasies on a far grander stage.
Want the world at your feet? Do a Bob.
Rowan Dean is associate editor of The Spectator Australia and a columnist with the Australian Financial Review.