It is one of the great truths of history that a great idea is frequently derided when first revealed. They laughed at Pasteur, they laughed at Galileo, and now they are laughing at the farsighted Liberal MPs who last week replaced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with a smiling life-sized cardboard cut-out.
Not that I am suggesting that people shouldn't laugh at them, of course. Their adorable little skit demonstrated an impish humour and razor-sharp wit rarely seen outside of David Koch's joke books, and I'd hate to discourage such avant-garde comic creativity.
No, what I am saying is, why shouldn't we examine the potential for cardboard cut-outs to play a useful role in political life? Why should Mark Vaile be the only inanimate object in parliament? After all, cardboard cut-outs would save money; they would ease the enormous strain placed on Parliament House's canteen by the average MP, and they would slash travel costs, as politicians could simply be mailed to their destinations.
The Liberals believe that only Labor should be represented by paper-based simulacra, but they would be wise consider the possibilities for their own party. If Alexander Downer had a cut-out to do his heavy parliamentary lifting he could slip away without fear of reprisals, in order to get out among the people and make a difference by having lunch. If someone could knock up a decent pulpy smirk to take Peter Costello's seat in the House, the former treasurer wouldn't have to lug his laptop in every day in order to pursue his new career selling items from John Howard's bathroom cabinet on eBay.
Having served Australia so selflessly for so many years, shouldn't these men be allowed a little 'me-time' without being shackled, slave-fashion, to their 'jobs'? Why shouldn't Downer be able to slot Lexie-2D in and trot off for a spot of DJ-ing with the wife?
Although some would protest about the deleterious effect the Cardboard Solution would have on Question Time, this could easily be solved by fitting each cut-out with a small tape player containing a recording asking the Minister to explain their plan to upgrade bubblers at rural primary schools. It might actually pep things up a little.
It's not even as if the Liberals would find it difficult to make their cut-outs. They could use the leftover cardboard from the masses of tissue boxes they've gone through since November.
That might sound harsh, but I do understand the opposition's anger. They make a good point: it is extremely unfair that Kevin Rudd does not come to parliament on Fridays, and it's understandable they should yearn for the days when John Howard was prime minister and didn't come to parliament on Fridays. Why should other parliamentarians have to sweat it out in the primitive, almost Dickensian surrounds of Parliament House, while the PM lives it up out in Walgett (slogan: 'Pleasure Dome on the Barwon')? And it seems unfair that Liberal members should be ejected from the House, when we all know they were merely saying aloud what everyone else in the country doesn't care about.
No, it's not their attitude that leads me to condemn the likes of Tony Abbott and Steven 'the Flaming Fist' Ciobo — anyone would get agitated at the thought of spending a whole day every week dealing with backbenchers' issues. Most people get agitated at the thought of even talking to backbenchers, including other backbenchers. What I object to is their tactics. They brought a cardboard Kevin into the House, when with a little bit of initiative they could have set up an entire cardboard parliament and all buggered off to Walgett.
This does raise another interesting point, though: where exactly do you get life-sized cardboard cut-outs of politicians? Did the Liberals make their own? Do they have a really big inkjet at party headquarters, churning out cardboard Rudds, cardboard Gillards, cardboard Garretts? Admittedly, the latter would only be useful if someone ever works out where Peter Garrett is actually supposed to be, but one can't help but wonder just how many of these the Liberals actually have, and whether they plan to deploy more cut-outs in parliament, or whether this is just a one-off. For that matter, where is the cardboard Rudd now? Has he been thrown roughly into a lonely Canberra skip, or is Brendan Nelson even now kneeling before him in his bedroom, whispering, "Tell me your secrets"?
I like to think that cardboard Kevin is still out there, among the people, doing good. Spreading the cardboard word, getting that message across. I like to think that maybe the cardboard parliament can become a reality. Because cardboard doesn't bicker or abuse or smear or whine for months on end out of a childish inability to accept defeat, or use the phrase "working families" without the slightest provocation.
So it's probably not going to fool anyone.
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