I guess the main question I’m asking myself is why? Why did you do it, Malcolm? Why would you go back to them? After all the abuse, after all the mistreatment, after all the pain and misery, after all the brutal, bruising bastardry you’ve been subjected to, why would you go back, just when it seemed that you’d freed yourself and were ready to move forward into a brighter future? Just as we were breathing a sigh of relief at the news you’d broken the cycle of violence and were prepared for a new life, you allowed yourself to get sucked back in. Why?
Look, it’s not that I don’t understand the realities of abusive relationships. I know they can be difficult to get out of. I know you can love a man, or a political party, even as they’re hurting you. I know how easy it is to forget the abuse, and focus only on the good times.
And believe me, I know there were good times. I can imagine the first time you met the Liberal Party — you, a bright young plutocratic ingénue with dreams of glory; them, a dashingly handsome conservative cabal. Eyes meeting across a crowded room, a sudden irresistible attraction, as the Party whispered in your ear, "Your small-government ideology looks divine tonight"; and you replied coquettishly, "Is that a pro-business workplace reform program in your pocket, or are you just over-playing your Senate majority?" Yes, politics is rarely sexier than it was the day you and the Liberals hooked up, a passionate embrace that ended in the warm, sticky afterglow of preselection.
But even as you puffed on that post-preselection cigarette, surely there must have been some nagging doubts already. Oh, sure, it must have been great at first — the Party showered you with responsibility, told you that you were beautiful, made you environment minister, even allowed you to believe you might be — it hurts to say it now — prime ministerial.
But that’s what they do, you see, Malcolm. These parties are all the same. They flatter you to get you in, and then they turn on you. It’s all pretty words and significant portfolios at the start, and then, at some point, it turns sour, and suddenly it’s nothing but insults and backstabbing and Nick Minchin. It’s just what happened to Cheryl Kernot. She got seduced by a no-good party, sucked in by gifts and compliments and electoral relevance, but before too long the party tired of her, and she found herself on a one-way bus to Scrapheap Piazza, with Gareth Evans frisking about her unmentionables. It’s always the same. Parties never really love you; they just want to use you for your demographic appeal, and then throw you away.
Which is exactly what they did to you, Malcolm.
I mean, even before it all went bad, look at how they treated you. For three years, like so many philandering parties before them, they kept you dangling on their string with promises: "Someday we’ll be together"; "Soon, I’ll leave him soon"; "after the election, he’ll lose his seat, and we can tell everyone about our love". And of course you believed it, Malcolm, because you wanted to believe it. You so desperately wanted to believe that as soon as that shuffling old duffer was out of the picture, happiness would be there for the taking. But then, he did go, and what did the Party do?
It hooked up with Brendan Nelson! Nelson! A man who burst into tears every time someone spilled tea on his suit, and who has for the last 20 years been in the process of being slowly devoured by his haircut. They strung you along, and just when all looked rosy, they laughed in your face by plumping for the Thunderbird puppet. You should have seen the signs then, Malcolm.
But you didn’t, and believe me, I know why you didn’t. You don’t want to end up alone. You don’t want to live out your days with no Party to grow old with, to hold you close, and care for you when you’re at your most vulnerable. You didn’t want to end up like Mark Latham, who stormed out when his relationship got too tough, and quickly slid into a depressing morass of bitterness and violence and working for the Australian Financial Review. You looked at him and you knew that was no life for you. You needed to feel loved; you couldn’t be happy spending the rest of your life attacking photographers and dreaming sweet dreams about strangling Kim Beazley. You’re a people person.
So you stayed loyal. And things seemed to turn around. Brendan proved to just be a passing, tearful fancy. The Party, finally, swore it was committed only to you, and that from now on, you would be a team. I bet you felt like it was all worth it, didn’t you Malcolm? I bet you thought: this will show all those people who said I shouldn’t put up with this treatment. This’ll show the naysayers and the sneerers. This’ll show my mother she was wrong when she said I could have done better if I’d given that nice Mr Brown a try. This will show them all.
And I think we all felt that way, for a while. The face you were presenting to the world was so radiant. Like a new bride in the first flush of euphoria, you stepped out and shouted your love to the rooftops. "Malcolm + Liberals 4EVA!" you cried, carving it on every tree from Anzac Parade to Belconnen as your heart sang with joy, and you started making plans for the future: the prime ministership; tax reform; a republic; maybe a nice little place in the Riverina.
But it was too good to be true, Malcolm. Like all parties, it turned nasty. It became possessive and controlling. It wanted you to always be doing what it wanted. It wouldn’t let you have your own identity. It’s a story old as time itself. You found yourself, like so many before you, in thrall to a brutish, violent, loathsome political party, one with no respect for you as a human being, that saw you just as another piece of meat to satisfy its vile right-wing urges. And when it was done with you, it went from bad to worse.
All you wanted was a little something you could call your own. A little climate change policy, nothing fancy, just so you could feel valued, so you could feel you had a life outside the party-room. But it wouldn’t let you. It got angry. It got aggressive. It was terrifying to see the Party lose it completely — ranting and raving, smashing things, making threats, hurling Barnaby Joyce across the room.
We feared for you then, Malcolm. We feared that such a dangerously unstable party, in a moment of temper, might do anything. And so we were so relieved when you got out. Finally, we said, Malcolm will be safe from the Party’s rages, its manipulation, its denial of long-term warming trends.
We thought it was all over.
And that’s why we say now, how could you go back? To the party that abused you? That humiliated you? That tossed you aside for Tony Abbott of all people? The party that said, we would rather a twitchy Catholic monarchist with a bathing cap and a hymen-fixation than you? That didn’t even wait until your seat had gone cold before they’d filled it with a man who was not only as mad as a squirrel, but who was constantly fleeing parliament to compete in triathlons?
You’re going back to that?
I know your excuses, Malcolm, the lines you’ll trot out: "They’ve changed"; "They only hurt me because they love me so much"; "I was asking for it"; "Nobody crushed my environmental principles, I just walked into a door".
Do you really want to be that man, Malcolm? Do you want to be a victim the rest of your life? Do you want to be the man constantly living in fear, cowering before the hardline conservative mood swings of this Liberal Party? I’m scared for you, Malcolm. I’m scared I’m going to find you one night, stumbling out of Parliament House, black and blue all over, crying, having left all your possessions behind in your frantic flight. Or worse.
Please, Malcolm. Don’t go back to them. You can get help. You can find your self-esteem again. You can overcome the horrors of Battered Leader Syndrome. You can make a new life.
You can be Malcolm again. Please do it, Malcolm. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for us.
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