I’ve heard it said that Canberra Town is fast becoming our sturdy nation’s political Capital. But you wouldn’t have believed it possible if you’d been sitting in the parliamentary visitors’ gallery last week.
For any of our readers who missed the action, because (unlike this correspondent) you have a life or because you’re doing something unusual like contributing to Gross Domestic Product, let me fill you in.
Sir Isaac Bickerstaff
On Thursday 18 August, it was revealed that a genius in the Federal bureaucracy had triggered an enormous flap among the chooks in the House. Apparently, this upstart popinjay (whose identity must remain a state secret to protect him/her from becoming the darling of the Monarchists) suggested that some of the more lowly of Her Majesty’s servants (to wit, the parliamentary security guards) were getting a bit up themselves, and had actually had the temerity to refer to certain politicians and their staffers as, wait for it, ‘mate’. On several occasions! Within earshot of the so-called public!
It gets worse.
Not only did these happy-go-lucky Horatii at our Democratic Bridges call their betters and masters ‘mate’, there was a nasty suspicion that, at times, they did so sarcastically and with Malice.
Well! The response was swift and brutal – as one would hope with such Jacobins. The Secretary of the Right Venerable Department of Parliamentary Business and Canapes (RVDPBC) issued an edict and the offenders were rounded up, taken to a private place and flogged.
All well and good so far – tight ship, decorum, thrashing, and all that. But then the pollies inserted their oars. There were debates and motions and cries of ‘unAustralian!’ and demands that everyone must call everyone else on the planet ‘mate’. Unedifying in the extreme. Imagine for a moment, our illustrious but picayune PM, in his tracky dacks after an early morning jog, shuffling up to Her Majesty, next time she crosses the equator for a quick campari and slap of a sheep’s rump, and saying to her, ‘G’day mate’. Horror! No, this way, doth madness and egalitarianism lie. And it’s one short step to a republic.
I’m pleased to report that at the New Matilda office they have the right idea, having banned the word ‘mate’ altogether. It is now a requirement set down in everyone’s Australian Workplace Agreement that if one has to refer to another staff member at all, then one should call them either ‘Bro’, ‘Habib’, ‘You Leh’ or ‘Stooge’ but never under any circumstances ‘mate’ or ‘luv’. And ‘cobber’ is absolutely outrÃ©. I would have preferred some of the older, tried and true sobriquets like ‘Sirrah’ or ‘Gentle Sir’ or ‘Impudent Puppy’, but one needs to know when to let the youngsters enjoy a limited measure of control – I am not, after all, a tyrant.
But this brings me to the burden of my tale. Let us re-examine some of the incidents in this sorry narrative. What was the darkly mysterious public servant who started the whole kerfuffle doing dobbing-in his brothers in arms? Angling for a promotion into the ranks of the sturmtruppen at DIMIA, perhaps? Sports and games officer at Baxter? Ambassador to Myanmar? We all hope he or she goes far. And soon.
But the real story is back on The Hill. For two days we had a special insight into those worthies who govern us. And what an extraordinary group of men and women they are. Consider the vehemence and alacrity with which both sides of the alleged divide between government and opposition threw themselves into the debates around the word ‘mate’. Count the long hours they must have put into crafting and honing their portentous speeches and persiflage. Imagine the midnight oil being burnt by pollies, advisers and servers of the public alike, so that they may (or may not) be called ‘mate’ upon entering their august and multi-marbled surroundings.
All this can only lead me to the conclusion that these people have way too much time on their hands.
If this performance is the best this lot can do, at a time when the rest of us are cowering in our McMansions, huddled around our fridge magnets, wary of the millions of be-turbaned Mohametans, wandering our streets with impunity, then perhaps it’s time for a slight redirection of resources.
Allow me to make a Modest Proposal. Taking a leaf out of that lovely and serious Dr Brendan Nelson, perhaps we should campaign for Voluntary Parliamentary Democracy? It costs something like $400 million per annum to run our parliament – upkeep of the building and surrounds, various related services plus parliamentary salaries. A pretty penny, you’ll agree.
All of us who believe that this money might be better spent elsewhere should surely have the option to reallocate our share of it. Voluntary Parliamentary Democracy fits perfectly with so many other great advances we are about to receive gratefully and repeatedly from our revered Helmsmen.
In just the same way that Dr Nelson argues that a student attending university should not be forced to pay compulsory fees to support the private fantasies and sad delusions of apprentice politicians and wannabe rowers at alleged universities across the land, why should the rest of us foot the bill for the current flock of ‘representatives’ in Canberra. I have no problem with them puffing themselves up out of all proportion, abusing or cuddling each other, or even calling each other ‘mate’, or ‘mountebank’, or ‘spyrochete’ for that matter. Just let it be on their own time, and money.
Or, if you prefer a softly-softly approach, a slight modification to this version of Voluntary Parliamentary Democracy could be that one is given the option of directing one’s taxes towards the parties or individuals one very much liked. For instance, rather than a blanket amount going towards Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (HMLO) one could direct one’s taxes exclusively to Her Majesty’s Real and Effective Opposition (namely Petro Georgiou’s coterie, Harry Evans, and those nice Boys from the Bush like Barnaby Joyce and Julian ‘Fingers’ McGauran).
Should work a treat.
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