What Next For Our Man Of Mystery?


The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The above lines, from the poem "Four Weddings and a Funeral Blues", by Anthony Albanese, sum up so eloquently what the country is feeling this week with the departure from public life of the man we had come to see as our protector, perhaps even our father.

It was with a heavy heart that we bade farewell to Senator Mark Arbib, knowing we would not see his like again. All we can do now is ask ourselves, "Whither Australia?" Where do we go from here, now we are no longer being watched over by Arbib’s eagle eye and tortoise forehead?

It’s difficult for me, without powerful artificial stimulants, to describe just how much Mark Arbib brought to the table in Australian politics, so I’ll let his Wikipedia page do the talking: according to it, Mark "worked part time at a Sizzler restaurant in Bondi Junction". Now doesn’t that just sum the man up in a nutshell? Let’s hope not, because this column is not finished yet.

My fervent hope is that in the rapid-fire, scattergun, squeeze-tube hurly-burly of political life, the Australian people don’t forget everything Mark Arbib did for them. I hope they remember, when they look back at the years 2008-2012 — generally agreed by experts to be the best years in Australian history — that all the wonder and magic of this modern era is a result of the tireless hard work and shifty nose-touching of the Boy From Chippendale.

So much of what we take for granted in politics is built on the architecture of the Arbib Doctrine. For example, before Arbib came along, everyone assumed that prime ministers got to face more than one election. I can barely even remember those dull days, they were so long ago, but it is certain it was a grey, flat time in our lives. "Oh, there goes another election," we’d say to each other. "Guess we’ll have the same PM for three whole years now — YAWN".

Contrast that with the excitement of the AA (Anno Arbib, or In The Year Of Our Mark) era, where every day is an adventure, and God knows who will be prime minister tomorrow. Will it be Gillard? Will it be Rudd? Will it be Abbott? Will it be Andrew Wilkie, bursting into the Great Hall with dynamite strapped to his chest and demanding to move in to the Lodge or the local football team gets it? You just don’t know — the entire Australian populace is like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates, waking up each morning with no idea where we are or what has happened or if the person in our bed and/or prime minister is going to kill us all. It’s delightful. And Mark Arbib did that. Also, before Arbib factions weren’t allowed to be armed.

If it weren’t for Mark Arbib, Julia Gillard would not even be prime minister, or at least, not with her current approval ratings. Can you even imagine such a strange parallel universe? We’d still be stuck back in the days of glass ceilings and old paradigms and neo-Hansonite obscurantism and all the things that made us sad before Arbib let the sun shine in.

Arbib made factionalism fun again, and for that we owe him a massive debt of gratitude. Without factions, Australia just doesn’t work. Kevin Rudd may have wanted to smash the factions, but if we didn’t have factions, who would do the hard yards in caucus? Who would crunch the numbers? Who would make the threats? Who would select the wildly unqualified ministerial candidates? Who would stab Kevin Rudd in the back? Now there’s a question I’d like to see Kevin Rudd try to answer — in English. If he can, am I right?

So we are agreed that Mark Arbib, through his hard-nosed factional wheeler-dealing, his passion for the cause of the working man, and his Grim Reaperish sex appeal, is everything we want in a politician and more.

So the question remains: why quit?

Why, at the peak of his powers, when he was poised to go down in history as the greatest Assistant Treasurer this country has ever known, and probably would have got a free ticket to the Olympics, did he choose to pull the pin on his career? It’s as if Jesus decided to nail himself to the cross, which raises logistical problems for a start — how did he hammer the second nail in? That’s just one of the worrying theological conundrums thrust upon us by Arbib’s shock move.

Of course he claimed to be quitting to spend more time with his family, but this doesn’t really wash. Firstly, politicians always say they’re quitting to spend more time with their families when actually someone’s just got hold of a photo of them in a pig mask being whipped by Alice in Wonderland. Secondly, nobody ever wants to spend more time with their family, because spending time with your family is horrible. And thirdly … WE are his family. Aren’t we? Didn’t you lead us to believe you’d always be there for us, your children, Papa Arbib?

No, there must be some other explanation. Perhaps Gillard, the iron fist in the velvet glove with the fingers cut out, put the hard word on him. Perhaps Rudd took his revenge and ordered him out of the Senate at knifepoint. Perhaps he decided he could no longer handle the pressures of the Sports Ministry whatever they might be. Or maybe it was as simple as somebody speaking the trigger word which let him know it was time to return to Washington to receive his next assignment. It’s just impossible to tell.

But I prefer to think that he simply realised he was needed elsewhere. One cannot hold on to an angel — they inevitably depart to where they are most needed. Who knows what democratic institution he will now move on to strengthen, what nation he will save from ignominy and degradation, or what orphans he will rescue from fires. But you can be sure that wherever there is injustice, oppression, or a transparent pre-selection process, Mark Arbib will be there.

Farewell Mark — the Senate was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

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