Coming Down from the Summit


How does one come down from an experience like the 2020 Summit? It can’t be easy. A returning summiteer must feel a lot like an Olympic athlete who, having tasted ultimate glory, tries his hardest to slot back into the grinding 9 to 5 routine of work and family life, but finds that all he can think about is Cate Blanchett breastfeeding. Likewise, the 2020 delegates must now attempt to return to the mundaneness of everyday life, having for one weekend, God-like, tasted the ambrosia of furious policy-making.

How do they do it? Once having felt the pulsing intellectual power that coursed through the very beings of all in Canberra for those two days, how do they go back to household chores and grocery-shopping? How do they leave behind the mental caviar and truffles of the summit, and adjust themselves to the boxed sultanas of their humdrum lives? How will Kate Hands be able to go back to paint administration and her bellowing plumber husband? How will Hugh Jackman go back to the tedium of pretending to be a supernatural mutant and having brunch with Halle Berry?

Yes, our summiteers face many challenges, and as is the case with all of life’s issues, the central one is sex. It has been suggested by experts such as psychologist Amanda Gordon that the excitement generated by the raging torrent of ideas roaring through the collective consciousness of the summit could lead to certain baser, more carnal consequences. To put it bluntly, the summit was a turn-on, and all that raw brain-generated sexual energy could have devastating implications for the relationships of those involved.

Think about it. If you were trapped in a stuffy room all weekend with Warwick Smith, wouldn’t you be feeling more than a fraction frisky by the end? Wouldn’t you find yourself with a powerful urge to sidle up to him and whisper, "Warwick, I bet you’d like my productivity stream"? Can’t you put yourself in the shoes of a summiteer and imagine the erotic charge of slipping Tim Fischer a perfumed note detailing your ideas for the bush?

As Gordon says, ideas can be "the sexiest thing in the world", and we’ve all had experience of that. Coincidentally, my first child was conceived following a long discussion about the development of the bionic eye. To the discerning human, nothing is more arousing than a good idea. Our last prime minister, remember, derived an intense pleasure from the idea of tax reform, and our current prime minister derives a full-body jolt from the idea that he is the current Prime Minister.

The 2020 summit, you see, was a great churning saucepan of heated debate, and we all know that when debate heats up, so do pants; we learned this from all those movies where two people get into a blazing argument, shout angrily in each other’s faces, then start kissing. And this is the sort of thing that could so easily come out of 2020; we can easily picture Maxine McKew and Senator George Brandis engaging in a ferocious face-to-face row over the merits of a republic, before hurling themselves into a breathless, passionate embrace. Admittedly, we don’t want to picture this, but we can.

And the problem with all this is that the summiteers may find themselves getting carried away. As Gordon suggests, all those middle-aged thinkers may succumb to the flattery and the intellectual wattage and the seductive power of governance, and find themselves doing something they regret. Marriages may crumble, families may be destroyed, all because Kevin Rudd pushed ideas-porn on people whose moral compasses couldn’t handle it. How would a summiteer feel, coming home to their normal, non-summiteering family, trying to spark up a conversation about the need for a comprehensive national hospitals policy, only for their spouse to start babbling about mashed potatoes or this morning’s Probus club meeting? Wistfully, they begin to think: "Mukesh would have understood"; or, "Nicola looked pretty hot in that pantsuit". And slowly, inevitably, the process of societal breakdown begins.

It’s worth remembering that former PM Bob Hawke held his own summit in 1983, and a mere 12 years later he had split from his wife and started cavorting about in bathrobes with a sexy blonde young enough to be his reasonably elderly daughter. No doubt Hawke was turned on by Blanche d’Alpuget’s ideas (eg, "I want to write a book about you") and turned off by Hazel’s dull conversations about paracetamol.

Can Australia afford a future where its "best and brightest" descend into a frenzy of bestial, discussion-based rutting? Can we afford to succumb to a never-ending cycle of philosophy and philandering? How can we feel safe if our politicians and captains of industry are roaming the streets looking for their next brainbang? More importantly, how can we stop it? Clearly, simply relying on the intelligentsia’s sense of propriety is inadequate; if Bernie Fraser has any scrap of self-control I have yet to see evidence of it.

No, we must simply do our best to cool their ardour by attempting to stem the intellectual flow. Given that thinking gets the juices flowing, we must try to stop the thinking. With some summiteers, like Miranda Devine, this is easy; with others, it will take a greater effort. We must work as hard as we can, making reality shows, publishing men’s magazines, and of course writing letters to tabloid newspapers, making every possible effort to stifle thought. We can all play our part, however small: call your local MP and ask him or her to do something about young people; hit Glyn Davis with a stick. As long as you can divert a mover or shaker’s focus from thinking about how to better society, you’ll have made a contribution to the cause of family unity and community stability.

And if all else fails, we’ll hold a Stupid People’s Summit, so we can all get some of our own. I bags Natalie Bassingthwaighte.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.