Friday, 1 July 2016
Elizabeth Farrelly waxing poetic in the 18 June 2016 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald on Malcolm’s decline:
Malcolm has long been rich, but the hollowness is recent, starting from his installation as PM. So, theory two: that the wealth and the hollowness are co-symptoms, both signifying something else.
Naturally, Malcolm denies it, insisting he hasn't changed "one iota". But the approval of 3.3 million voters he's lost in six months begs to differ. That's a lot, 3.3 million. Almost 18,000 a day. Malcolm has shed voters more assiduously than he shed kilos. How? By looking like the hero we craved, then yielding, one principle at a time, to grimy old politics-as-usual. Changed? From where we sit, we the voters, he's all but unrecognisable.
It's amazing how the inner change appears without. Malcolm used to be charismatic, in a cocky, I'm-so-rich kind of way. Now, he seems thinner by the day, and not from the Chinese tea and cycle vacs. The PM seems spiritually thin, hollowed out from the inside. So thin you can almost see the hand within, making the arms wave, the jaw move.
There's a macabre fascination in witnessing this evisceration, like watching someone's cosmetic surgery go horribly wrong. There's also pathos, as though the crows of fate, spotting a juicy flaw, lifted Malcolm high into the stratosphere only to watch him fall and break.
Some therefore defend him. What could the guy do, they reason, working for such masters? But I say you don't get to leave your conscience on the nightstand just because you're prime minister. You can sell off Medicare, outsource your concentration camps, but you can't offload responsibility. The fault, and the blame, are his.
True, it's not all about Malcolm. He's prime minister after all, not president – but really, that's the point. Lear is not about Lear. Macbeth is not about Macbeth. The great tragedies are about power, greed and ambition and how these seek out and amplify human frailty, especially that of the protagonist.
For here, as in any Shakespearean tragedy, the fall-from-great-height, and the tangle-with-irresistible-forces that generates it, are triggered by the protagonist's core weakness. His fatal flaw. Ambition.
The rest is all there. There's no shortage of Gonerils and Edmunds behind the LNP arras, God knows. Any number of garrulous poisoners, tuppeny swordsmen and passive-aggressive manipulators among the LNP's profit-junkies, poor-haters, tycoons, homophobes, hardheads, opportunists and climate deniers. Abbott, Bernardi, Joyce, Madigan, Frydenburg, Leyonhelm, Dutton ...
They're pulling Malcolm's strings, much as he denies it, waggling his jaw with or without his consent to mouth hypocrisies without number.
Of these, the most obvious and damaging is climate change. On Saturday, Malcolm's Collaroy condolences linked storm damage to climate – within weeks of approving Reef-destroying coalmines and having taken Australia from 20th worst to 3rd worst carbon-polluter, ahead only of those bastions of social and environmental enlightenment Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.
Sunday, Malcolm Instagrammed excitedly about heritage-listing Centennial Parklands, despite his abject silence as local MP over the ongoing destruction of the Anzac avenue and of parkland hectares in his electorate. Monday, he pretended the Orlando massacre was a "hatred of freedoms" and an "attack … on our borders" rather than recognising it as a homophobic hate crime, despite having made headlines attending Mardi Gras a few weeks earlier.
He mouths support for gay marriage, then proposes a plebiscite that will likely fail. He once crossed the floor on climate change, but now he holds to a policy-vacuum shaped by backroom sceptics and deniers. Two years ago, on UK television, he described Abbott's stop-the-boats policies as "harsh measures … some would say they're cruel…" Now he backs Peter Dutton's "illiterate and innumerate" comments as "outstanding". He once (in Spycatcher days) stood for civic conscience and free speech. Now he speaks with hobbled tongue.
It's not that I think Malcolm is personally unsympathetic toward climate change, sexual diversity, indigenous cultures, asylum seekers or trees. Maybe yes, probably no. I suspect his earlier views were more genuine – but that makes it worse.
Some say he just never stopped being a lawyer. Lawyers get used to being hired guns, shooting for the bad guys. They become adept at ignoring their own principles to further causes in which they have not the slightest interest or belief. Indeed, the very idea of belief disappears, very often, from their mental lexicon.
Either way, it means the deal he did with his party was indeed Faustian, exchanging self-sovereignty for the throne. Why? Ambition. Like Macbeth, Malcolm had everything – wealth, love, family, respect – but he wanted more. But where Macbeth is tempted by the witches' insinuations of greatness, the character Malcolm, you recall, is the rightful king. Malcolm is entitled.
The delicious irony is that the LNP's determination to reshape Malcolm actually makes them 10 times less electable, as backroom deceivers, and him a hundred times, as a marionette.
But who is Malcolm's noble fool, dispensing unheard wisdom? Who his Cordelia, sweetly absorbing others' guilt and dying in consequence? In both cases, we are. Us. Dead as earth.