Diary - 28 September 2010

Natasha Stott Despoja opens up her diary

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Natasha Stott Despoja opens up her diary

We celebrate my husband Ian’s 45th birthday at our beach kiosk, Joe’s. Our Adelaide western suburbs community rocks up (long after the kiosk has closed) with BYO bottle and plate. We are such a close neighbourhood that we holiday together, babysit each others’ children and mow each others’ lawns. We meet for coffee at Joe’s every weekend. Friends from out of state think it is a Home and Away set, such is the camaraderie and familiarity. Joe knows everyone’s name. We are a mix of different professions, incomes, family status: cops; a judge, council workers; retirees, former and current MPs, a sign-writer, a yoga teacher, home-makers, businesspeople. And we are from everywhere; so much so that our annual ‘Australia versus the world’ beach cricket match sees those of us born here wonderfully outnumbered.

Ian’s friends from all around drop in: former Senator Nick Bolkus and treasurer Kevin Foley discuss the State Budget brought down by Kevin during the week. We cut a cake decorated with a Union Jack, to remind Ian of the ‘old country’, and dance to music under the stars until it’s time to put kids and ourselves to bed. Before we meet for coffee in the morning.

I am speaking to the AVCAL (venture capital and private equity) conference on the Gold Coast. Everyone is interested in balance-of-power politics, which is nothing new to those of us who held or shared the balance of power for most of our political tenure. Delegates celebrate over a Polynesian-themed dinner at which Ed Day from Brookvine jokes that ‘rangas outnumber women’. As a feminist and mother of a redhead, he has a point, but the sector seems well aware it needs to work on diversity. We are travelling as a family, and have found that there is only so much Movie World you can take.

In Sydney I meet Jessica Rudd, who is a great mix of her parents. Her debut novel, Campaign Ruby, is a Gen Y comedy of manners par excellence. It’s a light-hearted, skillfully written political romp with a prophetic political backdrop: an election called early by the country’s first female prime minister, Gabrielle Brennan. Brennan was Treasurer, but she and her ‘co-conspirators’ depose her predecessor with an alacrity that takes everyone by surprise. Yes, Jessica may be a psychic freak who foresaw the events that have unfolded but she is also personable, witty and (like Ruby) wears great shoes as I check out her pair of red sparklers.

Friday afternoon is baby ballet. It is supposed to be all about my two-year-old daughter Cordelia, but I cannot resist showing off my ‘good toes’ and ‘bad toes’ to Miss Bebe, who is all too familiar with stage mums. Cordelia gets her first pair of ballet shoes: she is too big for my first pair, which I treasure. No wonder I am onto my sixth knee operation.

Parliament resumes. Has anyone (apart from Professor Marian Sawer) noticed the number of women in the House of Representatives has gone backwards? When it comes to women’s representation, we now rate below Afghanistan. Did I mention this before?

I have a deep and abiding admiration for the Australian Defence Forces. There is a proud tradition of military service in my family, through past and present association. My great uncle, Malcolm Boyd, served with colonial troops during the Boer War. My grandfather, Horace Stott, enlisted as a Lighthorseman and was at the evacuation of Gallipoli. My aunt, Betty Stott Gill, was one of the few female army signallers based in New Guinea towards the end of the second world war. My Swinfield and Aimers cousins are either current, or recent, officers in the services. Conrad is wearing my souvenir HMAS Kanimbla cap. I think it would be a proud future for him indeed if that is a sign of things to come. But the war in Afghanistan gives me chills. Young people sent to wars and other expeditions: some of them dying, and others so altered by their experiences that they and their families suffer forever. And yet those dealmakers for our democracy bartered with their powerful status for Question Time changes and extra time for private members’ bills. Surely there were bigger things to discuss?

One thing about human nature is that it does not live in crisis for long. We have this ability to transform things to ‘normal’, no matter how horrendous they are, if they go on long enough. It is possible that following the heady days of the beginning of this government, its peculiarities will settle to be accepted and life will go on. I am not minimising the grief and anger felt by the Opposition, who will surely make life as uncomfortable as possible for the government, as oppositions do. But survivors of even great catastrophes manage eventually to focus on private sadness rather than the cataclysmic moment. We are not programmed to live at a high pitch of uncertainty. People crave routine, and adapt to all manner of things to find it. On top of that, the situation we have found so extraordinary since August has been dealt with constitutionally, without fear and certainly without protests on the streets. We might all settle soon to a humdrum hung parliament, with multiple parties and continual (and maybe fruitful) negotiations. Ideas might even flourish in the Houses of Parliament, rather than party strategies. A government’s determination to get its way at all costs without consultations may, like a two-year-old’s tantrums, give way to reasonable bargaining. Then again, maybe the arch-manipulators will not give up and the House of Cards collapse. It does not do to be too optimistic: just travel hopefully.

Natasha Stott Despoja is a former leader of the Australian Democrats.