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bully for you


Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 06-Nov-2008

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 19

Wordcount: 857

Bullying and toxic favours provoke mood of disgust


Kevin Bacon did not cure cancer. Didn’t, in fact, give cancer a moment’s thought. But possibly, just possibly, Obama will bring us trains. Other people have trains. Dear Lord, can it be so hard? But I’m getting excited, hopping off before my stop. Let me backtrack.

Once, only once, I skipped school. It was (in my defence) late in the term, after exams. We left by one gate, got caught waiting for the bus, left again by the other gate, got caught again – by the same teacher, that was bad – waiting for the other bus, and landed in detention. There we had to write an essay entitled My Responsibilities. Mine, as I recall, wasn’t a long work.

I mention this because it reminds me of Belinda Neal, who gets accused of bullying, acts contrite, receives absolution and then, within weeks, is accused again – this time for bullying the MPs investigating the bullying. Then she reappears on the backbenches, dressed in pink, head bowed like some repentant but undisguisably square-jawed flower. Husband John loses a few kilos and all is forgiven once again.

But what should be recognised – what Belinda’s My Responsibilities essay needs to focus on – is it’s not about her. It’s not even about the Government of which she’s part, so much as the party to which she’s party. Or with which she parties, more accurately, since it’s the unholy combination of cosiness and arrogance that turns the voters’ stomachs, like kero in your king prawns.

On the cosiness front there are the power-hungry home-help duos – the Albanese-Tebbutts, the Neal-Della Boscas – and the bureaucratic fawners, such as Richmond, Domm, Kibble and Collins who float like plastic meringues from the top of one Stazi-esque acronym (SOCOG, OCA, SHFA, RWA) to another. There are the numbers men like Mark Arbib who drift between state and federal Labor, pulling favour-trails as long as a box jellyfish, and as toxic.

There are the hordes, the nameless plagues of party faithful who wait out the dry years underground until the night the Labor rains fall. Then they crawl in their zillions from every backyard and nature strip to mate frantically with the job-givers and king-makers before being sucked dry by the whiteface jokers, Tripodi and Obeid, who smile as they call the kill-shots.

But that’s not the worst of it. At 29 per cent, our Labor Government’s popularity is now the lowest since 1985, when Newspoll began. The disgust is not because it’s a Labor Government. That’s what they voted for. It’s because not one Government act since the last election – or perhaps the one before – suggests any remnant shred of principle. Because neither fairness, kindness, merit-principle, democracy nor “do unto others” is any longer present in detectable quantities. One principle remains in this government, and one alone: muscle.

We laugh at Russia’s codependency on the ruling sociopath, and maybe even America’s. But are we really so different? Has Bush set the tone?

We constantly Band-Aid bullying – in schools and workplaces, nursing homes and churches, government departments, ministerial offices and even in the army (uh, isn’t that what armies are for?) But in truth we now have a system based on bullying; run by bullies, for bullies. A system that not only rewards and promotes bullies, but covers up when they’re caught.

We know this. We also know the state is coming apart at the seams. We no longer seem to be able to run trains on time, even on existing tracks, much less build them. We now have hospitals where people miscarry in toilets, where you go in for a check-up and come out with genital mutilation, where your doctor may be unqualified and your nurses must beg bandages from the local vet.

We have a state where former premiers can translate Macquarie Street power into Macquarie Bank dollars with no one turning a hair. Where notorious developers say they’d rather deal with the stringent city council than the embarrassingly flexible State Government.

Set in Third-World terms, it’s perfectly plain that these are the marks of a tin pot economy and that there is a direct causality between the cosiness, thuggery and crumbling of civilisation.

But we also know that bullying runs in families. It is highly infectious, depends on and tends to be passed on vertically, so that the bullied bully. And although NSW has always had a mean, bullyboy streak, it has widened enormously during the Bush years.

America, under Bush, bullied the world into Iraq. It guzzled its way out of Kyoto and into Katrina. It took us all into subprime and the crash. America was the bad sheriff, but Australia its willing deputy. We were Sarah Palin to Bush’s McCain. And although Obama’s chalice may be poisoned, even his holding it should incline our decision-makers a little more towards decency, and away from thuggery. Hope springs eternal, or at least until the train comes.

Elizabeth Farrelly’s column will appear every Thursday in the Herald.


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