Little did I know how far-sighted I was when I wrote last week that Julia Gillard’s disasters in public administration now seem so endemic that we must expect more of them during the election campaign. The ink was scarcely dry on that profound thought when the Prime Minister announced, on 30 January, that the election would be held on 14 September, thus making her announcement the most trumpeted suicide note in history. She must surely have taken leave of her senses to abandon what the Americans call the Rose Garden advantage of incumbency and elevate Tony Abbott to where everyone will now see him as the alternative Prime Minister. Early public opinion polls suggest that that is now how they see him and that they like what they see.
The only explanation I can think of for such erratic behaviour is that her judgment was clouded by the equally erratic behaviour of her paramour the day before in his bizarre advice that a man in need of a prostrate examination should seek out a small, female, Asian doctor, thereby revealing himself to be dangerously equivocal on the subjects of sizeism, gender and race. As is often the case, an analogy from Yes, Minister comes to mind: it was noted that five years of patient diplomacy can be so easily undone by one Prime Ministerial visit. Today, it seems, a year of calculated smearing of Abbott and cultivation of the myth of misogyny can be undone by five seconds of idiocy from a Prime Ministerial beau. But even that was not enough of a crisis for our Prime Minister to get her through the week, for three days later she had to face the ignominy of having two of her senior ministers resign. Not being able to resort to the excuse, much loved by sacked company CEOs, that they were resigning to explore other business opportunities, they used that other singularly unpersuasive excuse, namely that they wanted to spend more time with their families.
It stretches credulity to breaking point to suggest that the Elysian delights of that state of domestic happiness had apparently eluded them and that, by a remarkable coincidence, Gillard announced the date of the election at the very time it occurred to them to return to the bosom of their families. They say that between a conspiracy and a stuff-up, you should always choose the stuff-up; true, but when Gillard is involved and the choice is between a carefully planned, consultative, constitutionally responsible, finely-honed and politically astute exercise in statecraft on the one hand and a shipwreck on the other, always choose the latter.
Applying that principle, the only rational explanation for this chaos is that the two ministers concluded the election is already lost and it is pointless and too debilitating for them to carry on the charade that they might win. In fact, the shipwreck analogy is very apt. Christopher Pyne used what I thought was a better analogy: the last days of Hitler, revealed in the brilliant film Downfall, as the madman reeled from one crisis to another, terrified by advancing enemies and deluded into believing that phantom armies would rise up from nowhere to save his worthless hide.
So if the sensitive nannies who govern us cannot handle Downfall, although every devotee of YouTube apparently can, they can have Captain Francesco Schattino of the good ship Costa Concordia, who must have been thinking on that fateful night in January 2012 the equivalent of what apparently goes through Gillard’s head every time she conceives another brilliant manoeuvre for her leaking vessel: ‘I’ll just steer over there towards that island and see if I can hit a rock or two.’ After this last week and with Craig Thomson’s trip to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court yet to come, I venture to suggest that all that is needed now to rid us of this dreadful government is unity behind Tony Abbott, positive policies and a statesman-like demeanour from opposition MPs. I think they can deliver all three.
We should note with regret that Robert McClelland has announced he is retiring from the parliament. Everyone is agreed that he is a decent man, has been a good member of parliament and was a sensible and practical minister — everyone, that is, apart from Julia Gillard, who sacked him. It is hard to see why, for he is one of the few ministers who has come through the Rudd/Gillard era with his reputation intact. He enhanced it in my eyes when, as Attorney-General and guest speaker at a conference on commercial arbitration, he announced that he did not know anything about the subject and had therefore asked his department to prepare answers to some likely questions. As the questions were bowled up, he read out the answers from his ministerial brief. I thought it was refreshingly honest, very informative and much better than the posturing from ministers that you often get at such performances.
A public-spirited citizen has sent me a newspaper cutting from overseas reporting the confession by the minister for finance in Zimbabwe that his country has the equivalent of $208 in the bank. If that is their surplus, at least it is better than ours. His other revelation is that the inflation rate in Zimbabwe is now 230 million per cent. It is good to see Africa moving out from the shadow of colonial oppression and into the sunlit uplands of freedom and prosperity.