Spectacle beats substance in political circus

10 February, 2014 Uncategorized0


Spectacle beats substance in political circus

Posted 3 hours 20 minutes ago

The circus is in town and the antics of the Abbott and Howes sideshow is providing plenty of laughs and tears, writes Mungo MacCallum.

Last week Australian politics ceased to be a contest of ideas or even of emotions. Principal players from both sides decided to turn it into sheer entertainment – a circus, in fact.

So roll up, roll up, to the greatest show on earth. Well, in the Australian silly season anyway. Gape with astonishment as our performers undertake stunts too outrageous, too improbable, too just plain crazy for the rational mind to contemplate.

And here, entering from the right, the boneless wonder, the master contortionist, please put your hands together, or perhaps keep them securely on your wallets – yes, it’s Tony Abbott.

Marvel as he ties himself in seemingly inextricable knots explaining why a handout of $16 million to Cadbury is sound economics but a rescue package of $25 million to SPC Ardmona would be totally irresponsible.

Now watch as plastic Tony takes up his first position: SPC Ardmona is a subsidiary of a profitable multinational. Well, yes, but can’t the same be said of Cadbury? Yes. And Tony’s twisting again – this time it’s the reverse wriggle, asserting that Tasmania is different because it has the highest unemployment of any state. True, but as Dr Stone points out, the rate in Shepparton, where SPC Ardmona is based, is even higher.

So Tony’s at it again with the convex convolution: The handout to Cadbury was not about a bailout but about tourism, which makes it OK. So promoting tourism is more worthwhile than saving an industry and the jobs that go with it?

Wait, Tony’s still on the move. Now it’s the warped wangle: Workers’ conditions at SPC Ardmona were absurdly generous, so it was all the unions’ and the management’s fault. However, as it turns out, the Cadbury agreement with the union United Voice was, if anything, even more lavish. Can Tony untangle himself from this position?

But we have an interruption, from Tony’s own side of the tent. What was that, Sharman Stone? Hypocrite? Lies? The only real difference is that Cadbury is in a marginal electorate and SPC Ardmona is in a safe one? Not only that, but the Cadbury pledge was before an election and SPC Ardmona after a comfortable win. Would the crowd please stop chanting “pork barrel”. Well, I think we’ll have to leave our screwed up star for the moment, he seems unable to remove his head from his bottom.

But don’t go away, ladies and gentlemen, there’s more, because entering from the left we have the high-flying whiz-kid from the AWU, the amazing trick cyclist, Paul Howes. And yes, Hot-head Howes is ready for his unprecedented balancing act; perched on the highwire of lofty ambition, he will attempt to juggle the unions, the employers and the ALP while at the same time pretending to be serious about his unsupportable position.

And please stop laughing. There, he’s away, possibly with the pixies. He’s tossing up the unions, accusing them of corruption and unsustainable wage demands. Now Flexible Tony, suddenly sensing the distraction he needed, has extracted his head and is cheering wildly. And now Preposterous Paul has the employers in the air, challenging them to come to a non-aggressive consensus. And what’s more, he wants Tony, who is in the process of launching a Royal Commission to expunge the unions from the political landscape forever, to come to the party too.

What was that, Tony? A very 1980s idea? Not quite medieval enough for you? Never mind, I can just detect a murmur from a barely visible figure on the left – at least I think he’s on the left. Bill something? Oh, you think Tony can’t change his spots. Well, it must be the only thing our India rubber man can’t change, but we’ll take your word for it.

Back to Perilous Paul – oh dear, he’s teetering – someone must have told him that with union membership down to about 15 percent of the workforce, the unions couldn’t deliver consensus even if they wanted to, which they don’t. But look, despite the showers of excrement coming from all sides, Paul is completely undeterred. He’s pressing ahead, he’s heading the press, he is satisfied just to be the centre of attention.

And he wants a new baby grand – no, I’ve misheard that, what he actually wants is a new grand compact. Perhaps one combining recovery, reconciliation and whatever the other 1983 thing was. Rhubarb, was it? But never mind, Posturing Paul is now putting on another new persona – yes, he thinks he is the new Messiah. More, he thinks he is the new Bob Hawke!

Paul, you’re presumptuous. To steal a great put down: I knew Bob Hawke, I drank with Bob Hawke. And let me tell you, Paul, you’re no Bob Hawke. Oh, now I’ve done it – Paul has plummeted. But don’t worry ladies and gentleman – I’m assured that it’s only a bruised ego, and Paul has recovered from plenty of those in the past. By tomorrow he’ll be as good as new, back to his insufferable best.

And how’s Twisted Tony? Well, he’s in the hands of a large man who appears to be a sort of trainer and is offering him some advice. I think I can make it out … the age of entanglement is over? No, entitlement – but Joe, say it ain’t so. No more handouts for the miners, the financial planners, the polluters, the private schools, the private health funds, the big banks, the rich mothers … oh, Joe just said it ain’t so. Well, we never really thought it was.

But before we close down the tent and get back to business – and politics – as usual, let me remind you that the carnival is not over.

In fact the big one, the twin ring circus with the all-star case of hundreds, is back in Canberra. Yes, this week parliament resumes. Our little sideshow was just the curtain raiser. Happy stunting, and send in the clowns.

Mungo Wentworth MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. View his full profileĀ here.


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