To the Rescue 

 
About three years ago my grandson Miles became increasingly nervous about the warming of the climate. He learned of melting icecaps, rising seas, drowning isles and the fate of our planet. He decided to act. He wrote to the man who was soon to gain fame as an onion muncher:

 

Dear Mister Abbott,

 

In Grade Two we are learning about the climate and the danger to our planet. Please protect the environment or all people will suffer.

 

Yours truly,

 

Miles

 

The Prime Minister wrote back:


 

The Prime Minister did act. Speaking of yet another great black hole in the ground he declared, ‘coal is good for humanity.’ And there the matter rested. The PM went on to his encounter with the onion in Tasmania and thence to the back bench.

 

 

Last week saw the election in the United States of a new leader who knows and cares less about the climate than my grandchildren. My youngest grandson Joel, aged five, learned the ice caps are melting, the seas rising, the polar bears are under threat, and the world is in danger. He felt worried. At bedtime last night he was afraid to go to sleep. His mother asked Joel, ‘What do you think you can do to help the planet?’ Joel thought a bit and replied, ‘I should become prime minister and protect the earth.’ There followed a discussion of the process of actually becoming PM. ‘The people have to choose you. They do it by voting’, said his Mum. Joel said he would offer rewards to people who protected the environment. His Mum responded, ‘In that case, I’ll vote for you, Joelly.’

 

 

With one vote already in the bag and with his program for saving the planet under way, Joel was ready for sleep. And all of us can now rest easier.

 

“I’m just a boy whose intentions are good; Please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Corp Australia

Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Corp Australia

A photo in the current issue of The Monthly shows Bob Hawke and John Howard seated together at a public event to honour the memory of a deceased Prime Minister. Their old faces deeply creased, their bodies close, Hawke’s right arm entwined with Howard’s left, the picture of two old men united in deep sympathy – and in Hawke’s case at least – showing characteristic demonstrativeness, as his hand gently grasps Howard’s thigh. The image arrested me. I thought of Yeats’ Lapis Lazuli:

‘There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies…
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient glittering eyes…’

In the same issue of the magazine I was arrested by an equally unexpected image: Noel Pearson the leading Aboriginal intellectual seated close to Tony Abbott, our Prime Minister. Pearson looks past the PM, gazing severely into the distance; Tony Abbott, smiling tightly, looks upward to Pearson’s face. I spent some time interrogating their expressions. In Pearson I found depth, a sober realism. In Tony I saw yearning. I wondered how it was the PM appeared to be the supplicant, the client, while the man from disadvantage wore such self-assurance.

Tony Abbott is co-author (along with predecessor PM’s and a succession of underlings) of our World’s Worst Practice towards human beings who arrive in Australia by boat and seek asylum. That policy is cruel by calculation; it is calibrated torture. Our practice is a precise antithesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, would-be-good Tony knows this and only by a sustained effort of moral contortion and will can he manage to unknow it.

Along with Morrison, Ruddock, Howard, Beasley and Rudd, Tony Abbott is an avowed believer. He belongs to a claque of believers who perpetrate this unchristian – indeed antichristian – policy. How do they all do it? What do the believers believe?

In Tony’s case the face I see is an innocent face. He gazes towards his grownup interlocutor, his expression seeking approval: he seeks a word or a sign: “Good boy, Tony, you’ve done well.” Like a small boy Tony seeks affirmation. By means of sustained effort he has gained this, successively from the ghost of Bob Santamaria and from Cardinal George Pell. From such firmly formed personages Tony learned notions of goodness. He would be good and thereby be approved.
The child looked for affirmation from John Howard and the Liberal Party. He sought our approbation too and, in opinion polls and at the last federal election we gave it. We became complicit in sustaining the ego structure of this needy child. Patently we no longer show approval to this immature person. He locks himself inside a tightening circle of insecurity, looking to spouse, offspring and advisors, some of them women, to whom he seeks mothering.

On Mother’s day I will muster all the compassion I am capable of and try to think kindly of Tony Abbott, the child leader who just wants to be good (just so long as we’ll approve).

Abbott and Abbot: The Ethics of the Fathers

One of the more accessible elements of the rabbinic literature is PIRKE ABBOT, a collection of maxims, proverbs, pithy sayings and principles of early post-biblical sages. Literally translated, Pirke Abbot should be ‘Chapters of the Fathers’, but ‘Ethics’ is generally preferred. By curious chance ‘Abbot (fathers)’ is a homonym of ‘Abbott’ (Prime Minister of Australia).

Pirke Abbot makes lively reading. It includes some very golden rules
for living. Such are the maxims of Rabbi Hillel, a sage beloved for
his humanity. He wrote: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when?’
My nine-year old grandson Miles, much troubled by predictions of a
world where temperatures would rise and life be threatened, noted our
government’s anaemic response to the matter and wrote to the Prime
Minister echoing Hillel – if not now, when?
‘Dear Mister Abbott’, he wrote, ‘Please protect our planet before we
run out of water and every living thing will die.’
Mister Abbott, as befitting the Father of his country, wrote back to
the child he’d sworn to protect:

letter from tony abbott

(In summary:)

Dear Miles,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. It is a very good thing that you are
interested in the wellbeing of our country. I hope you will continue
to show this interest in the future.’
The letter was signed (in ink), ‘Tony Abbott.’

Miles was not reassured.

“Mummy, he did not even mention the environment and what he was going to do about it.”
When Abbott succeeded Turnbull as leader of the Liberals, I felt
Australian politics might become more interesting. Here was something
novel, a potential prime minister who happened to be a conscience
politician. Noting Abbott’s sincerely held opposition to abortion and
the unpopularity he had courted in his restriction – on principle – of
an ‘abortion drug’ much sought by both doctors and patients, I
thought, ‘Well, I don’t like his politics, I don’t think he’ll last
long, I don’t much like his style, but I respect these signs of
integrity.’ Meanwhile the urgers in the Murdoch press drooled in a
chorus of relief at the eclipse of Turnbull and of the climate.

Of course, I had misjudged Tony. Moralistic but never simply moral, he
achieved a professional politician’s capacity for the flexible
backflip. His ‘style’ flowered into an idiosyncratic misreading of the
public mind that robbed the poor to enrich the already rich; and
culminated in advising the woman whose job it is to create knights to
dub her husband, a non-Australian, Knight of the Order of Australia.

At this stage the public gasped in disbelief, Abbott’s own party
gagged and even the Murdoch Urgers looked about for a successor to
anoint. Commentators commented – that’s what I am doing now – and we
all had a wonderful time frothing at the inevitable (if not imminent)
fall of this man of hubris.
Enter another grandson, Joel, aged nearly four: fresh off the plane
after three years’ exile in Britain this young citizen observed the
image of Tony Abbott appearing day after day for on the front page of
the paper.
He asked: ‘Who is that man, Mummy?’
‘He is the man the people of Australia chose to look after us, darling.’
‘Why is his picture in the paper?’
‘People are feeling cross at him.’
‘Why?’
‘You know how people in this family try to be kind to each other?
Well, people feel cross at that man because he hasn’t been kind to the
people he should look after.’
[At this stage I need to inform the reader of the Corrections
Protocols operating in Joel’s household: in the case that one child
having many toys withhold a toy he isn’t using from his smaller
sister, who then purloins said toy; and that older child then belt the
younger, the older child’s conduct is designated as ‘not kind’; and
that elder child is directed to take some time out. He is sent to the
staircase where he must sit and reflect upon his unkind action until
he feel ready to seek forgiveness and make amends]
Joel, regarding the image of the Prime Minister pictured descending
his aircraft’s steps in Canberra, said: ‘That man needs to go to the
time-out step.’
In the event, ignoring Hillel’s second clause of selflessness, the PM
followed only the sage’s first clause: ‘If I am not for myself, who
will be for me?’ He brought forward the party room meeting to deprive
plotters of time to plot. His party met and voted him not time out but
more time in.
Abbott vowed he would change. He’d listen. He’d become consultative.
Good government would ‘start today.’ No-one believed he could change.
I do not believe he can. But how miraculous would it be to witness
such change, how interesting to watch a small spirit grow and enlarge
and show kindness?

The Eve of the Eve of Yom Kippur

The house, emptied now of the insurrection that is a bunch of grandboys on school holidays, is quiet. These are the peaceful moments when the house exhales, the pulses slow and thought recovers.

Tonight is the night before the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, our Sorry Day. What am I sorry for? For what need I atone? Almost all my sins are those committed in words: I am sorry for the words shouted in anger at my grandrats, sorry for careless slights and unkind witticisms, sorry for speaking faster than my thinking.
And as this blog consists of words, I should search them.

I wrote (in How we Killed Leo) unkindly of Mister Scott Morrison. Elsewhere I have written uncharitably of Mr Shorten and Mr Abbott. All of these public people have private families who would feel wounded when writers such as I play the man instead of attacking the issue. I referred – wittily I felt – to our homegrown press baron as Murd. I should wash my mouth out. I am sorry for the hurt I have done those men and their families.

I remain sorry – and ashamed – that we Australians choose representatives who follow our baser instincts instead of those who might lead us and inspire our finer selves.

In the person of the successor in Sydney to Cardinal Pell, we might have found such a leader. On the morning after his accession the new archbishop spoke like one repentant for wrongs, transparent in confession, compassionate towards those hurt, and creative and courageous in his declared resolve to seek out his brother clerics in the Muslim community, ‘to find ways we can work together to heal our community’. This on the very morning we all read of the arrest of one Australian suspected of plotting to kidnap and behead another – any other – Australian.

A few weeks ago a Jewish democrat, tirelessly active in the struggle to improve our policies towards refugees, shared with me a bright new idea. “Howard,” he said, “Instead of attacking politicians I want to mobilise members and leaders of all of Australia’s faith communities to work together with government to create some softer policies that will be less cruel in their effects on those already here and kept in limbo.” Many, many are the Australians who wish our practices were not so harsh. Many are ashamed. Many have raised voices – as I have – in rancour. What I heard now was the echo of the quiet wisdom of Petro Georgiou, former Member for Kooyong, the man who spoke softly to a hard-faced Prime Minister and brought some humanity into policy.

As the prophet said, “Come, let us reason together.”

A Guest of Clive

When I mentioned to a friend I’d be attending a medical conference at the Palmer Coolum Resort, she said, “You can’t possibly be supporting that man.” I never chose the location of the conference but I looked forward to returning to the pleasant place where I had attended previous events. If staying at Palmer’s resort constituted support, clearly I could support him; but apparently I should not. Everyone I spoke to had a clear opinion: Clive was a selfish man, he was immature, he was a menace to democracy.
I realised I was lacking in conviction on the Clive Issue and this lack was at best surprising and probably deplorable.

We drove in to the resort. Green expanses of the famed golf course pleased the eye. A plastic dinosaur assaulted the finer senses. Sweeping around a bend we arrived to stillness. The resort was a human desert.

At the desk the embarrassed receptionist said, no, I could not have The Australian delivered to my door. Nor, she volunteered, could I have any paper other than the Sunshine Coast daily. Surprised, I stood for a moment. After allowing the penny to drop I grinned, made a remark recruiting the receptionist, inviting her to lower her guard, to confess something of herself.
In the silence she blushed. After a time she wished us a pleasant stay as if she really meant it. As if she were making amends.

In the course of the weekend we did have a pleasant time. Among the conference people we enjoyed free and vigorous intercourse. With our hosts we enjoyed warm but guarded dialogue that lacked the thrust and mutuality of intercourse.

Visiting Cuba in 1999 we were the guests of another large figure. Fidel permitted us to read his local daily, “Grandma”. No other newspapers were available. Throughout the country we found our hosts warm but reticent. The dinosaurs we found were motor vehicles from the 1950’s that exhaled black smoke. In a free exchange of toxins the locals smiled as prevailing winds deposited their pollutants on Miami.

In another free exchange four hundred workers have been released from the Coolum Resort to join Mr Abbott’s jobsearchers. Where forty bellstaff used to work, there remain three. Those three work hard, smile a lot and sew their lips.

Down in the village of Coolum Beach you can buy the ‘free’ press. I purchased The Australian, whose first headline you may see below. I searched the paper in vain for any comment – The Australian is not shy to comment – offering a broader view of Clive. Plenty of thrust but no mutuality.

IMG_0085.JPG

The Taxman Cometh

A letter from the taxman. I open it, urgent fingers fumbling. It’s a short letter on the official letterhead of the Deputy Commissioner. The Deputy Commish, as darkly powerful as Gina, as shapelessly feared as Rupert, as suddenly potent as Clive, has taken time to write me a letter.
The letter reads: “Returned herewith a document enclosed with your Bass payment.”

No ‘Dear Howard’, no salutation at all.

Above the name of the Deputy the letter is inked with a couple of initials preceded by the notation ’pp’.

What does the enclosure reveal of me to the Dep Commish? What does she now know about me from this item of my private correspondence?
I peer at the attached document. It is a cheque drawn on my bank account, signed by me, intended as a donation to an institution I like to support.

That institution has been accused of cultural pluralism. Rumours speak of a nasty Green streak running through it. It doesn’t hate Israel nearly enough, nor for that matter does it conflate Islam with Islamism.

With the new anti-mass-terror initiatives (which I wholeheartedly support. Honest. We really can’t let in all those RohyngianSriLankanTigerTamils), my support for the Institute will see me forfeit the presumption of innocence. And truly who can blame Mister Abbott-Shorten for trying to protect the country in all its nonasylumseeking (“a wonderful fabric”) diversity?

Once the terror police haul me in for questioning, they’ll shave my head and send me to the showers. There the CCTV cameras will home in on the (absent) foreskin. I won’t have a middleleg to stand on: circumcision will mark me as Aboriginal or as a Son of Abraham. Tantamount to rejecting Team Australia. Thank goodness ASIO will have all those extra millions to detect and arrest and question dodgy characters such as I; and laws to suppress any notice; and no need to charge me while holding me. Habeas Corpus has Habeat its day. About time.

I will flee the country. I will change my name, I will buy a dodgy passport; I’ll swim to New Zealand, claim asylum in the Ecuadoran Embassy.

Do they have the internet in Ecuador? If not you may never again find me on your screens.

Farewell, Shalom, Salaam.