One of my lesser-known achievements as a statesman was to introduce mobile telephones into Australia when I was Minister for Communications. I do not advertise that milestone very much as it was probably the worst decision made by anyone in government since Napoleon decided to march on Moscow. My only defence is that I raised a modest objection to the idea that people would be silly enough to carry a telephone around with them. As the public servants who duped me into approving this absurd policy were leaving my office, I entered a gentle caveat by saying sotto voce: ‘This will never catch on, you know.’ But others knew better and here we are today with millions of mobile telephones and their ghastly progeny of text messages, iPods, apps, emails and all the other horrors that are brutalising human communications and turning people into zombies.
But the tide is turning and if the toll of victims of these monstrosities continues to rise, it can only be a matter of time before all thinking members of the community abandon mobile telephones entirely. On the other hand, the leading victims are all so ghastly that I am secretly pleased that I helped get rid of them by putting into their hands the instruments of their own destruction.
First, there was that discredited socialist satyr Dominique Strauss-Kahn; if he had not had a mobile telephone, he could not have dashed back to his posh hotel to retrieve it, only to be arrested by the New York cops and charged with rape, so at least there is one fewer socialist roaming the streets or running for office. The unmentionable Peter Slipper must have done nothing over the past year except dress up and send out thousands of salacious text messages that clearly cooked his goose. There was even some valuable collateral damage from that one, for it led to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon being utterly discredited by George Brandis for her ham-fisted intervention in the Slipper litigation. Then there is Craig ‘Credit Cards’ Thomson, whose undoing has come about through excessive use of his own very mobile instrument with interstate roaming.
The same tragedies are unfolding in the US. The appropriately named Congressman Weiner had to resign when suggestive snaps he sent to girlfriends on Twitter were, as they say, exposed. Another congressman, Mark Foley, took a dive for sending sexually explicit emails to congressional pages who were males, so at least he avoided the charge of misogyny. And in the UK there is the monumental phone-hacking scandal that almost cost Rupert Murdoch his empire and a custard pie. So be warned, politicians and others: get rid of your mobile phone — before it gets rid of you.
Recently, there have been two significant political developments which, of course, passed unnoticed by the press. The first was the final amalgamation of politics with the entertainment industry. As you know, politics has long been drifting perilously close to entertainment, with its glib superficiality, preoccupation with trivia and refusal to accept any opinion unless it is holy writ handed down on tablets from the ABC and approved by the Greens and the celebrity-refugee-lawyer mafia. That is why politics must have a changing cast of actors through reshuffles and leadership challenges, ever-changing scenery in the form of overseas trips, openings and closings and a script full of quivering lips, welling tears and cringe-making apologies, so that every instalment will have a suitably maudlin finale.
Now it has all come together with the return to ABC TV of Kitchen Cabinet, a cross between Yes, Minister and MasterChef. Well, I had better not put it like that, I suppose, lest Ms Gillard launch an anti-misogyny jihad against me. Perhaps MistressChef might be better, or even PersonChef. Anyway, in Kitchen Cabinet, politicians unwisely invite Annabel Crabb into their homes, where they swap recipes and gossip, and giggle like schoolgirls in a domestic economy class. I suppose that if they want to make fools of themselves and sap what little is left of the nobility and gravitas of politics and government, that is their own business. You might expect fools like Peter Garrett to take part in this sort of vaudeville, but I had hoped that Coalition MPs, in whom so many of us are placing our hopes for the future of Australia, would think better of it. Is going on Kitchen Cabinet really the best way to show that they are responsible, sober, cautious and devoted solely to getting ready for government?
The other thing political development was that I did the right thing and went to a Liberal party fundraising dinner. It was reasonably pleasant, except for one blemish. The sitting member (I hesitate to use that expression, since Craig Thomson has given it such an unsavoury connotation) made a speech and criticised the Labor government for the carbon and mining taxes. But then he/she said that she/he was opposed to these tax ‘initiatives’. Initiatives? An initiative is an enterprising and forward-looking act, not the stifling burden on enterprise that these destructive taxes amount to. It alarms me that any member of the Coalition parties could even subconsciously see a new tax as an initiative. But I suppose I am as much to blame as the speaker because I did not walk out in protest, as we are all apparently now supposed to do when we hear something untoward. And at least he/she was not as bad as General Morrison, who warned us the other day about the threat from ‘credible peer competition’. I think he meant enemies.