POLITICS has been a laugh a minute these past few weeks — well, it has if you have been able to suppress that queasy feeling that your mirth borders on hysteria induced by the stark reality that, home and away, our destinies are being shaped by self-serving, malevolent, corrupt or, at best, incompetent leadership.

The latest cause for a mirthless chuckle was John Howard pissing in the wind — twin national flags, as usual, his backdrop — telling us we must stay in Iraq if we are to preserve Australia’s national honour and the power and pride of his boss’s nation, the United States.

Forget the now US-inspired suffering of the people of Iraq, and the Christian West/Taliban-inspired suffering of the people of Afghanistan. PM Howard was dealing with a home-growing problem: he was making yet another desperate attempt to hang on to the votes of those who went along with him on Iraq at the last national poll.

Breathtakingly ludicrous was his patronising assurance that he didn’t mind that people disagreed with him when, back in 2003, he deceived them into putting up with his decision to partake in Bush’s criminal “shock and awe” barrage of the evil Saddam Hussein’s homeland.

All he was pleading for now, he said, was their patience and support in helping him (to blunder on) with his (misguided) policy that, he tells us, will help undo the disaster that Iraq has become; a disaster that (he will never admit) is a consequence of his own actions and those of Britain’s Tony Blair and the leaders of all those nations that sensed there were US political credits in joining the greatest military and economic power in its latest state-sanctioned bout of global terror.

In polite company, we might resist a smug chuckle at seeing our national leader squirm. More likely , we might be weeping copious tears (of sadness and of anger) and chastising ourselves that we ever allowed such a self-serving, ruthless, personally ambitious man to take such inept command of our nation’s fortunes.

Briefly, a few other “if it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable” events of recent times:

• Defence Minister Brendan Nelson’s Hornet decision as an interim measure to protect our national security.

Among other uncomplimentary comments came one from an old RAAF warrior who’d “been there, done that”. Describing the Hornet as a “dog”, he said that if Nelson’s action was not so incompetent — and potentially harmful to national security — it would be laughable.

When one remembers the shambles in which Nelson left his education portfolio, it inspires little confidence to know that all this nation’s military weapons are now in his hands. I wonder what Horatio would have thought. Doubt he’d be laughing.

• Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews saying how reasonable are the terms his government demands of aliens for them to prove they are worthy of Australian citizenship.

My reading of the standards suggests it’s a good job millions of Australian-borns don’t have to take an annual citizen-worthy test. Andrews, a man who calls himself a Christian, uses words that are yet another sharp reminder to those with a bit of caring for their fellow humans that the Howard regime is really much more interested in attracting types like those that for so many years held South Africa in the grip of a brutal apartheid. I manage only a bitter laugh here.

• The government’s latest Pacific-solution decision to deal with the Sri Lankan “illegals”.

With Andrews in the vanguard, and resorting to the hired help of mendicant Nauru, yet again, in the cowardly fashion that has become a hallmark of the Howard era, the federal cabinet was weaselling its way out of Australia’s obligation under international law to treat with compassion, and at firsthand, those who claim, as refugees, the right to our protection.

Julian Burnside QC, a man known to choose his words most carefully, certainly was not laughing when he described Andrews’ decision as “contemptible”.

• Really mirth-inducing, was the mind’s eye image of our little flak-jacketed hot warrior — a Japanese “security” (read economic) deal signed and sealed in his pocket — slipping, first, furtively into Afghanistan, and then into Iraq, all the while almost suffocated by security as well as a smoky old RAAF Hercules. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of a few air force types enjoying a jape at the expense of their commander-in-chief’s equilibrium.

Like his ugly friends running America — who skulk about the planet, protected by the mightiest military force in history — Howard, when he undertook his “war zones” jaunt, more likely had the latest Australian political polling on his mind rather than the welfare of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

His stealth outdid that of the military planes we don’t yet have; and his decision to slither in and out of each country was in character with the manner in which, over the past decade, Australia’s international reputation has slipped to one of highly questionable integrity on the humanitarian and environmental fronts.

On reflection, Howard was probably very wise to arrive unannounced in Afghanistan. The people of that unconquerable nation have never been well disposed to uninvited guests; and, evidently, Iraqis feel much the same.

• Gunns making the Tasmanian government dance to its tune more overtly than ever. Seems it doesn’t matter who’s at the top of the political ladder here. It’s hard to imagine the leader of a Liberal administration knee-jerking any less obviously, or more obsequiously, than did Labor’s Paul Lennon.

• Santo Santoro! Very laughable, yet not at all a laughing matter. And not much to be said, other than Honest John’s “I reminded him” of the ministerial code.

• Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd dallying with the man synonymous with WA Inc.

What’s laughable here is that every politician, on both sides, is piously saying it shouldn’t have happened. I would imagine there are few pollies who have not met someone, at some time, who has ended up behind bars.

My understanding is that, in a democratic, judicially fair society, people who have paid for their crimes are entitled to resume their normal place in society. There’s lots of goose-and-gander going on here. I certainly can think of a few who should be behind bars who frequently rub shoulders at politically rarefied altitudes.

And, anyway, if you are an aspiring PM, surely it’s important to talk to anyone and everyone who might help you in your understanding of the country you want to run?

I laugh a little sheepishly on this one. Never thought I could be so naive.

• And, last week, out came The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot, as recorded by his son “Benjamin”.

This very timely update on a story of alleged betrayal tells us that the man who found this lost gospel (with the help of a professor recommended to him by a prominent cardinal) is none other than the renowned novelist Jeffrey Archer, a man whose coat has many colours.

Although, superficially, this gospel is really something to laugh about, I’ll resist the temptation at least until I have digested the contents of Mr Archer’s translation of the Aramaic via the Greek.

Yes, it’s best we all keep laughing, albeit hysterically. The alternatives are food only for the deeply pessimistic, which is where I come from.

When I was a kid in the 1940s, there was a radio comedian by the name of Tommy Handley. His program was ITMA (for “It’s that man again”). As I remember it, there was a character by the name of Mrs Mopp, who “did” daily for a bunch of bureaucrats (among whom, I think, was a Colonel Chinstrap, or some such name). After a good old mournful whinge lasting several minutes, Mrs Mopp always made her exit in identical fashion, saying, “It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going”.

Mrs Mopp had it right: when the world’s all wrong, be cheerful; don’t let the war crims, bullies, child abusers, human-rights violators, bigots, liars, cheats, frauds … get you down.

Just keep politely trying to persuade those who can’t see through all the political sophistry to vote them out of political life when they stand for re-election.


Bob Hawkins

In polite company, we might resist a smug chuckle at seeing our national leader squirm. More likely , we might be weeping copious tears (of sadness and of anger) and chastising ourselves that we ever allowed such a self-serving, ruthless, personally ambitious man to take such inept command of our nation’s fortunes.