Of bread, circuses and clanging symbols


Joseph Bryan, Kevin Rudd's, politicians, tax cuts, Stolen Generation, Northern Territory, 2020 Summit

But the reason that I've never actually tried out for the role has nothing to do with my total lack of gymnastic ability. And I'm sure I could look cute in pigtails if I tried hard enough. No, my problem is an embarrassing case of scruples.

Like most people, I have a phobia of politicians. But I'm treating it because, once you understand them, politicians really aren't so scary after all.

Consider the obvious fact that politicians are largely motivated by their need to get elected. This means that, left to themselves, they will adopt the policies that are most popular with voters. And the policies that are most popular with voters are those that benefit voters as unambiguously as possible.

Bread — handouts and tax cuts.

And circuses.

In one sense, symbols are important. In another, symbols are just symbols.

The ratification of Kyoto was an important decision, and a step in the right direction. I'm glad that everyone clapped on the floor of the conference. I'm particularly glad that US President George Bush had to sit and take it when Kevin came for a visit. However, these photo ops resulted in a circus, and Kevin and the team took several days off to surf the resulting honeymoon tsunami.

Saying "sorry" to the Stolen Generations is tremendously important and genuinely (as opposed to hysterically) historic.

Yet the totalitarian-populist suspension of civil rights for the Indigenous people of the Northern Territory continues. Again, we clung to the symbol for days afterwards, suffering a painful dumping as the wave hollowed out.

Don't get me wrong. Honestly, I've got nothing against circuses. I loved the idea of the 2020 Summit; indeed I approve of summits in general. I get the impression that the 2020 Summit left a lot to be desired (almost everything from what I hear), but I still love those summits. I love them because at summits (if you're not very, very careful) outbreaks of common sense have the potential to become epidemics. But I digress.

The workload of Kevin's "working family" cabinet was neglected for weeks in the lead-up to the summit, and it ought not to have been. The ticket price of circuses is eternal vigilance against this undesirable effect.

The sad truth therefore remains that, before I can attend those much-anticipated Kevin 07ers cheer squad try-outs with an all-important clear conscience, I have to say this:

You've come a long way, Kev, and I dips me lid for that. But let's not lose sight of the fact that it's a long way there, a long way back, and we're not there yet. You've been a great showman, but there are still elephants in the room (tent, whatever) and the truly wise ringmaster — one whose job security is assured — will not neglect them for much longer. After all, you're only ever as good as your last performance.