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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 27-May-2010

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 15

Wordcount: 890

Di hard with a vengeance, starring Princess Kristina


Government by haircut. Who’d have thought it? In the four years since Kristina Keneally felt impelled to assure Parliament she had “never worn a pair of stilettos” she has achieved a far far greater thing, to which many strive but few finally attain: ascension by hair.

I realised this recently after yet another Kristina-tract landed on our stoop. You know the format. Me with awestruck old people, me with people in wheelchairs, me with grinning black kids, me cycling, me hugging the homeless. And I’m having a one-more-shot-of-Keneally’s-blowdried-coif-and-I-throw-up moment when it strikes me who she’s channelling.

Perhaps it’s the combination of hair and throwing up that triggers my epiphany, since the glowing figure at its centre is the soi-disant bulimic Princess Di.

It’s the same stuff. Not quite up there in performance terms, but the same lip-gloss insouciance, the same doe-eyed “I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts” deep-lens look, the same flicky blonde hair.

The same relentless public empathy, as though just feeling for people will change the world.

Keneally makes much of her good deeds, but there is a touch of facadism about it. Like last week’s enormous hoo-ha about rejecting the Bickham coal nine (that just happened to be opposed by Alan Jones, Gerry Harvey, Phillip Adams and Bob Hawke) having already approved some 30-odd new or expanded coalmines in her 14 months as planning minister and doubled Port Kembla’s coal terminal capacity.

Like opening the new St Vinnies mental health building with Cardinal George Pell, while presiding over a state where parents of mentally ill or disabled children live increasingly in terror of what will happen to their children when they can no longer provide full-time care.

Like her huge display of welcoming the Pope on World Youth Day, backed up by public nuisance legislation to make Stalin proud.

I’m amazed that we tolerate this stuff. And, though I try to ignore it, my pattern recognition button bleeps red, suggesting parallels with

our extraordinary tolerance of the Catholic Church’s child abuse.

Child abuse is evil not just because it involves sex with children, although I’d certainly hesitate before trusting my kids to the too-tender hands of any priest, frocked or not.

It’s not just the cover-up, the knowing protection and perpetuation of these crimes, nor the cruel hypocrisy of the church’s response.

The worst evil of child abuse as inflicted by God’s agent is the napalming of the child’s sense of goodness. Children’s moral sense is intense but fragile. For any moral figure – doctor, father, teacher, but especially priest – to prove instead an active source of harm is profoundly destructive.

But for this harm to be inflicted repeatedly in the name of love, and under the public cloak of goodness, throws that child into outer space, with no idea of what good or love might mean and – worse – no capacity for trust.

For the church then to compound this damage by deliberately trivialising its crimes as the minor fallings from grace of ordinary humans and treating their victims as dramatisers is truly stomach-turning.

It staggers me that we so much as tolerate the church’s “you go to the police, we won’t pay” line, much less throw city-wide parties for its visiting chieftain and impose totalitarian restrictions to that end.

If any other corporation tried it – a childcare company, say – they would be flogged without mercy.

They’d be given the David Campbell treatment.

Which brings me to Keneally’s performance on television last Friday. Campbell’s long sexual secret was, she kept repeating, appalling, distressing. She paused, unsatisfied, seeking the right word. Then she continued. It was “in fact unforgivable that he lived with a secret”.

Unforgivable. The Premier’s use of the word was considered and deliberate. As irony would have it, however, she was scheduled to address the Writers’ Festival the next morning on the same subject, forgiveness.

My, what a bind. She could hardly bowl up and spruik the idea that hiding things from the public was unforgivable. Just think. They’d all have to resign. So she took the political option. She recanted. Suddenly “it was not unforgivable, what he did”.

But either it was or it wasn’t. If it was, she should have stuck with her condemnation. If not – if, as most of us think, Campbell’s secret was a private infraction deserving private resolution – Keneally and her cabinet should have stood by him, refusing his resignation and telling the media to get lost. But to accept his resignation, connive at his destruction and then forgive him as a Christian kindness is hypocrisy of the most self-serving kind.

What’s really unforgivable, though, is this. Campbell has been one of the worst transport ministers in a government famed for its uselessness. Successive bunglings have included the Iron Cove bridge fiasco, the CBD Metro and the F3 tailback, any one of which should have produced his sacking. But he’s been held in place by Sussex Street’s numbers machine.

As Keneally said, “his resignation has nothing to do with his performance of his job”.

So what did the resignation have to do with? With keeping her clean. The guilty are feted and the innocent(-ish) thrown to the dogs.


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