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Wentworth Blues: Another Nail in the Scomo Coffin

A sign of desperation before the firing squad is jitteriness and the desperate sense that history needs revision. You were not the one responsible for the debacles and the cockups; everybody and everything else was. You knew who was guilty, and needed to tell everybody about it. You bluster, you boast and you stumble; you look more buffoon than statesman; more clown than king.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with his deputy Josh Frydenberg, had just witnessed an event without modern parallel in Australian politics: a by-election swing against the sitting government without peer, the unlosable seat that slipped through the fingers of the conservative establishment. More to the point, a seat in Sydney with a conservative pedigree stretching over a century had fallen to an independent, the former Australian Medical Association President Kerryn Phelps who managed to tick the necessary boxes of a social progressivism alloyed to the centre (think climate change, an appropriately adapted energy policy, lukewarm humanitarianism).

Morrison’s nerves were less those of Leonidas’ three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae facing the Persian forces than a cavalry charge before modernised panzer divisions. Beside him was the Liberal’s candidate, Dave Sharma, who seemed to become a puppet at points, drawn to the prime minister, then held tightly to avoid escape. “Today,” he explained, “is a tough day.” The prime minister droned, he explicated and he, tediously, hoped that his troops would be regenerated by a tonic of Liberal values.

It did not take him long to move into a manic exposition about the greatest threat of all: the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten. Ignore, suggested Morrison, the bloodletting in his own party, or that the previous prime minister had held the seat of Wentworth and was currently gloating in New York with a Cheshire Cat’s grin. Ignore the near fastidious bankruptcy of his government on matters environmental, on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on Nauru, on the dangers of fiddling with embassies, notably when involving the Israel-Palestine issue.

Then, just before dashing for the exit, he suggested that those values held by his own party were those shared with the war ravaged participants of the Invictus Games. “Tonight I had the great privilege of joining those, and I don’t want to make a political point of this, at the Invictus Games but Invictus is all about the indomitable spirit. But you know we’ve got an indomitable spirit in this party.”

For all Morrison’s tawdry and pedestrian efforts, he claims to be rather good on the marketing side of things, better briefed on the more instinctive side of the voters. He was part of a tourism campaign that produced the vulgar tits-and-bum “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign. He mined prejudice as Immigration Minister, becoming the standard bearer for the “Stop the Boats” policy of the Abbott government. (Refugees in detention centres in perpetuity good; refugees finding their way to Australia risking drowning, bad.)

In a vain effort to seduce the Australian voter, he has attempted to make analogies that would be far better kept at a gathering of withered, porridge-fed minds. Forrest Gump was recruited. “With independents,” Morris condescendingly lectured those on the Wentworth electoral roll, “you certainly don’t know what you are ever going to get.” It all had to with that “good old box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get when it comes to voting independent.”

Another contemptible effort on the prime minister’s part to mollify estranged Australian voters came through Twitter, featuring a video where he discusses the “Canberra bubble” and its hermetic repellence. “The Canberra bubble is what happens down here when people get caught up with all sorts of gossip and rubbish and that’s probably why most of you switch off any time you hear a politician talk.” With jaw dropping incredulity, he proceeds to explain that, “What’s important is that we have to stay focused on the stuff that really matters and is real.”

In discussing that reality, Morrison puts one foot up as he leans against his desk, ever workmanlike, and throws candied optimism at his pretend audience. The job figures have been excellent; and the legislation reducing the company tax rate for small and medium businesses to 25 per cent has been passed. “We’re just gettin’ on with it.” Except in areas where he is not, a point that Phelps hammered home during her campaign.

The Canberra bubble is vogue for politicians watching the rapid demise of their job prospects. “Outside the Canberra bubble,” tweeted Nationals MP Darren Chester back in August, “there’s 25 million Australians dealing with real issues today. I’m appalled and bitterly disappointed with the events in Parliament House today.” Chester could not wait to return to Gippsland “and spend time with some normal people.” Notably, his own party is considering going the way of the Liberals in what will feature the beheading of yet another leader in federal politics, this time the cadaverous pale-sheeted Michael McCormack. His own reality – survival before the bull of Barnaby Joyce’s next charge – is to increase his credentials by bribing the electorate: some 16 projects funded by the $272 million regional growth fund.

The gruesome reality for “Scomo” is that Shorten need merely hibernate till the next federal election, a bear waiting nature’s call to awake and feed. Forget dull, data heavy policy announcements, the yawn promoting press conferences, the debates that induce both soporific tendencies and amnesia. Forget the sloganeering from ALP President Wayne Swan, who boasts that the current cohort has the most comprehensive suite of policies any opposition has ever had. Perhaps, and here the Labor Party have form, the suicidal impulse that seems to manifest a few weeks prior to an election, can be averted. This is a government that has been generous to a fault in gifting the opposition the next electoral victory.

Truth be told, Sharma was composed and chivalrous, even if he did feel, subsequently, that the former member of Wentworth might have done better. (A Turnbull letter of endorsement? A smile of approval?) Qualities of graciousness and sporting acknowledgment are alien in the modern Australian political scene, and it is perhaps appropriate that he was rehearsing for his repeat performance come 2019, when the Morrison government risks being buried without honours or much fanfare.

No one needs to be romantic or even hopeful that this result will shatter the withering seal that is Canberra. Phelps is sincere enough to wish for a change in Australian politics, though it is clear that such desires can be misplaced. Canberra draws in fecund idealists and leaves them barren. It chews them, masticates over them, and spits out the undesirables. It also encourages the massacre of leaders in deranged orgies of bloodletting, witnessed by media spectators with ringside seats.

The current state of politics is corroded beyond recognition, picked bare by the party apparatchiks, focus group philosophy and a staleness that has turned many voters into the mould of apathy and disgust. Should the new member of Wentworth be firm, resolutely irritating for the voters of her seat, she would have at least taken that first step to make Parliament do something it has long ceased to do: be representative.

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  1. Christopher J Ward

    I am surprised to find myself agreeing with this writer in totality. Western society generally appears to have lost any civility politics that it might once have possessed. The toxic culture across Europe, the UK and the US has found a welcoming home in Australia. Dammit. How much would it cost this apology for a Prime Minister to have congratulated Dr Phelps and his speech had resonance with those of us who are familiar with the works of the unlamented Dr Goebbels? Perhaps he was trying to channel Ronald Reagan who eulogised about the look on a person’s face when they receive their first paycheck. That was in the days when people had a measure of job security and prospects. I know for a stone cold fact that my grandchildren will probably never own their own home and I’m proud of their mother for diverting her energies into the creative, where there is still a market. The electronic generation is visceral online and to wander around our cities seeing blank-faced people glued to screens of various size or furiously texting gives more than a small clue to where our fractured society is headed. As a social scientist, I consider this society to be fragmented, atomised, and suffering from all the other human characteristics that have made me dystopian, contrarian and increasingly curmudgeonly. The problem I have and I’m sure I am not one Robinson Crusoe is that I don’t see any political party having the answers. The chants of the mob in Wentworth at the ungracious event which punctuated the end of the effect of the Liberal campaign. Wentworth is supposed to be different from the rest of the country if you believe some of the crap that has been flying around the media. Really? There is a stench of fascism in the air and I like it about as much as when the mobs were demonstrating against Australian involvement in Vietnam. There comes a time when the people of a country become sufficiently immiserated and hopeless that they will fall for a demagogue who offers simple answers. I hope I’m not alive to see it. Much more and I shall have to consider writing for this website!

  2. Nw England Cocky

    A sensitive piece but too kind to the Liarbrals are Losers and the National$ prefer Adulterers.

    Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott (Independents) were correct; RAbbott was unfit to be Prim Monster, the Liarbrals remain unfit to govern and Australia is in a bigger mess for the benefit of the organised foreign owned multinational corporations like Adani, to come and asset strip Australia , just like happens in every other third world country.

    Thank you Liarbrals for failing Australian youth.

  3. nonsibicunctis

    “There is a stench of fascism in the air and I like it about as much as when the mobs were demonstrating against Australian involvement in Vietnam.”

    What an arrogant, misguided and demeaning statement.

    By all means, express your predominantly uninformed and misleading opinions but please desist from demonising those in our community who had the intelligence, compassion and insight to recognise a pointless and illegal war and demand our withdrawal from it.

    It is people of that ilk, if anyone can, that will save our nation from the scourge of elitism, privilege and the worship of materialism, wealth and status.

    Such statements remind me of those made by those who demean unions yet willingly accept the pay rises or improved conditions that the unions gain with the support of those who are paying members.

  4. Christopher J. Ward

    Yeah OK but some of us saved your butt and others so you could call us whatever you like. Believe it or not, I was unhappy about the Vietnam War but, being a global strategist by training, I was aware of the global political situation. People who opposed said war and other conflicts have every right to political action: that is why we are still relatively free. It may have escaped your attention but I was referring specifically to the chanting in Wentworth when this sad apology for a Prime Minister was doing his best to avoid congratulating anybody but his own candidate. Those of us who chose to serve this country and were then given the treatment by protesters on returning from overseas often wondered why there were so many ingrates going the rounds. In case you didn’t know, the returnees from Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and so forth were often encouraged to slip quietly away without uniform. I doubt very much whether the group that you implicitly appear to represent can stop what you seem to be worried about: elitism, privilege, materialism, wealth, status, and I would add health services, poverty, treatment of children, and I could be here all day listing manifold problems. My point about mobs is simple: a mob is a mob is a mob until a leader arises with simplistic solutions to all the problems listed and more. If you want national socialism or fascism stick with the mob and don’t impugn those of us who made it possible for you to take and play with the high moral ground. There was nothing then what I wrote that seeks to undermine trade unions and about the only point that I agree with is your last paragraph with the proviso that I didn’t make that statement.

  5. Keith


    War veterans still do not obtain the services they require, returning veterans are still treated badly. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs needs a huge shake up.

    At the time of the Vietnam War the Liberal government was well past it’s use by date; the Liberals did not listen to their constituents. The Vietnam War was lost, and the predicted dominoes did not fall. The conscription process was completely unfair, being conscription via lottery. The government provided no support to troops returning from Vietnam; that is, no support to those forced to go through conscription, or the enlisted service people. Protesting against the Vietnam War was the right thing to do. Giving veterans a hard time by the anti war people after the troops were pulled out of Vietnam was totally wrong, you are completely right about that point. At the time I had to go through the conscription lottery and like, nonsibicunctis, believed the war to be wrong.

    Postal votes sent out by voters in the last weeks of the election campaign still to be counted, will head more towards Kerryn Phelps I believe as the Liberals were becoming more dysfunctional as time went on.

    Blaming Turnbull for the defeat will not go down well in the electorate, the whole situation had been precipitated by the Dutton camp.
    The LNP need to get rid of their reactionary geurillas (Abbott et al) before they can hope to gain the confidence of the electorate.

  6. New England Cocky

    @Christopher J Ward: Too many good young Australians were killed or emotionally destroyed by Menzies inviting Australia into the Vietnam disaster to assuage his own conscience about NOT serving in WWI.

    I have held and read Menzies own Military Record during military service, and he resigned his Army Commission on the first day of WWI.

    HIs successors were too busy licking the backsides of successive US Presidents to recognise that Ho Chi Min and the Red Vietnamese Army were prepared to fight to the death of the last person to keep their country free from foreign domination by either China, who they had been fighting for about 1,000 years, and the USA (United States of Apartheid).

    War veterans need much improved services, not just a “Thanks boys, now back to civvie life for you!”

  7. Christopher J. Ward

    New England Cocky: “War veterans need much improved services, not just a “Thanks boys, now back to civvie life for you!” but that’s what they got. While the Invictus Games shows us a great deal about returned servicemen, there are many others who suffer, with little or no support. The human race, in general, has shown an immense capability for war and killing. 21st Century Australia is indeed fortunate that WWII had the desired outcome and while our people suffered and the casualty list from that war is horrific, do you think this country could have stayed out of the Pacific War? I’m afraid I don’t. I really take great exception to governments sending troops to any conflict and then when they are damaged, refusing to look after them. We’ve rightly had apologies to the First Nations, abuse victims and so on but when will there be an apology for the sh..ty end of the stick granted to those who returned, injured in any way?

  8. Bronte ALLAN

    Sadly, all the bloody Vietnam crap was “assisted” by the bloody Liberals of the day–“all the way with LBJ” (sic). And yes, after almost every conflict this Nation has been involved in, the returning service personnel have always been very badly looked after & treated. Still happens today! As for the Wentworth debacle, how great was it that one of the “supposed” very safe Liberal seats has fallen! This despite that old age groaner Bloody Hogwarts trying to provide some moral “support” (why flog a dead horse? to the Liberal candidate! He should have just stayed back in his Nursing home or wherever he haunts. Just hope that this sort of result happens at the next Federal election, & we can finally kiss (not!) all these inept, lying, flat earth, right wing, climate change deniers etc bloody goodbye! Another fine article Dr Kampmark!

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