ANYONE who thinks being an MP is not full-time employment has no right to sit in a parliament. Yet Mr Smirk is still there idling away his time on the back bench, writing books and collecting royalties. And now, though it doesn’t sound as if he has any serious intention of giving up his seat any too soon, he’s taken on a part-time job.

One report had him saying his second job, as a member of the World Bank’s new anti-corruption committee, wasn’t going to make him rich; and that he didn’t view his parliamentary duties as full-time. (I bet more than a few out there would be willing to put in a full working week to pick up the $700 Mr Smirk will get for each day he puts into his job on the side.)

Mr Smirk’s insensitive observations don’t surprise. We have to remember that this is the man who said nothing through all the years his leader was shredding our nation’s moral fibre and leaving babes in arms to spend their childhood behind razor wire. He is also the man who, when his boss was doubly dumped — by the nation and his electorate — suddenly didn’t want to run a party that no longer had a PM as its leader.

That Mr Smirk doggedly sits on in parliament must be an irritant to Mr Iam, the man who, by all of four votes, nudged out Dr Plod a couple of weeks ago. Mr Smirk says he’s got no leadership ambitions, and he doesn’t want to be a shadow something-or-other, yet still he sits there.

Could it be that, with Mr Plod out of the play, Mr Smirk is waiting for Mr Iam to discover just how much great lumps of his party don’t like him?  And if in less than a year Mr Iam is making as much of a mess of his party’s chances as he did of the hopes of every republican, Mr Smirk, by continuing to sit tight, might find himself implored by his parliamentary colleagues, down on their knees, to take the job he has never had the nerve to demand.

If Mr Smirk really cares for his party, the least he should bugger off and, maybe, check to see if the World Bank will upgrade his duties to full time. I imagine it would considering that its statement on his appointment said he was an “international statesmen”. I’m sure his party would like to see Mr Smirk out there statesman-ing rather than continuing to be a disruptive shadow hanging over the person whose job it is to make his party fit to govern again.

US voters at least know that after January next their feeble-minded chief will no longer be at the helm and thus exposing their nation to yet another devastating cock-up.

It was bemusing to watch Dubya trying to calm a nation on the edge of a chaos caused by the short-termism of greedy investment bankers. Less than two weeks before, he had been reassuring Americans that, basically, everything in the financial/economic garden was lovely. Last weekend, he was cold-shouldering everyone on Wall Street and playing defender of all the little people on Main Street.

He wasn’t on watch when the twin towers went down; he couldn’t find the brain behind the US’s most embarrassing mainland disaster when he belted the hell out of Afghanistan’s mountains; he was totally wrong about Iraq’s WMDs; and he was off with the fairies when New Orleans needed him most. (Some think he may have got the surge decision right. It will be interesting to see what happens come the de-surge, if Uncle Sam ever feels confident enough to do so.)

On the global financial crisis, he might just be a little bit right this time, but he may be long gone from office before any proof is in the pudding.

And, in Britain, there’s a punch-drunk PM (who doesn’t seem to have done anything particularly awful apart from being a monumentally boring fellow) copping all the contempt and vitriol voters should have heaped long ago on his ego-driven, waffly predecessor.

All in all, Anglo-Westerners and what’s left of their democracy have not much to celebrate. The millennium that started so optimistically has become shambolic.

At home, for years ahead, it looks all downhill — if only on a gradient nothing more awesome than a skier’s kindergarten slope. The government is hobbled until its hundreds of inquiry reports are in. And then, even if it makes a correct call on each of them, it is likely to be denied the right to do much about them thanks to a man who sits in the Senate because of a preferences balls-up at the election before last, and another senator consumed by a (not unreasonable) hatred of gambling machines yet clearly prepared to demand much more than his one-man-band status warrants.

And, in the main opposition party, despite the elevation of Mr Iam, there is too much left of the “man of steel” era — the years in which Australia lost so much of the international respect the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating years earned for their nation — for it to stand much chance of rapidly cobbling together a new and respectable platform.

The main opposition party is notorious for its failure to seriously care for those most in need; and Mr Iam, whose confused advocacy of a mixture of individualism and teamwork seems somehow contradictory, knows it will be a long slog to get on side all those parliamentary party colleagues who don’t rate him.

In America, the prospects are even bleaker, though there’s no saying there won’t be a few more miragic revivals before it accepts that it has to live as one among three equals — or loses the plot completely and decides the only way to maintain global control is to blast Russia and China to smithereens.

For a new CiC, US electors face a choice between a little old bloke who accidentally became a war hero by getting captured by the North Vietnamese (and surviving) and a not-quite-black-enough, not-quite-white-enough opponent who, by the day, is looking less likely to be able to overcome the burdens of race and his alleged lack of experience.

The US, like Britain and Australia, is heavily racist, so it will be in the realms of the miraculous if Americans can be talked into putting the son of an African (not even an African-American) into the White House.

If Black/White Man doesn’t get the job, the largely feeble US media’s spin is likely to be that he didn’t have the experience, not that he was black. It will be said that he didn’t have the savvy of the long-term legislator he was challenging, and not even the experience of that man’s deputy (a gun-toter who, of course, may yet prove a Calamity Sarah for her party). For the moment, even if there is something highly suss about her modus operandi, unlike Black/White Man, she can claim public leadership experience (as a town mayor and governor of a state that is energy-rich and the one that has Russia for a neighbour).

In Britain, the prospects are no brighter: an unabashed clown is running London, Olympic city 2012; a debonair opposition leader is tearing holes in the government’s confidence; and the PM is so preoccupied with his own survival that he has no chance of getting on with the job of running the country. Expect changes, soon.

Ah, democracy, you’re such a bitchy thing. It seemed to work when people were long-suffering, stoic, loyal (though not flag-wavingly so). Today we have the democracy so brilliantly encapsulated a year or so ago by Fairfax’s Leunig: two heavily armed US grunts, one with a pistol to a turban-ed and kneeling man’s head, the other, rifle at the ready, saying, “Have some democracy. We’ve got plenty of it we don’t use any more”.

This is what our democracy has come to. Yet we, the West, are still demanding that it should be the way of peoples who cannot even get the concept of it into their heads; peoples some of whom are doing their best just to keep loony religious extremists from imposing divine law without having to contend with the chaos that often accompanies imposed democracy.

We impose democracy on people who ask for it (say, Kosovars) and ignore the democratic rights of others (say, post-Milosevic Serbians); yet we cannot countenance it for, say, South Ossetians and Abkhazians because it means denying it to Georgians, who actually thought they had it — until their huge neighbour rudely reminded them of who is boss in their neck of the woods.

We impose democracy on Iraqis — at an ever-mounting cost of hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced and exiled — mainly because we know democracy is vital to the lifeblood of our capitalism. (I see Shell at last is getting its oily, sorry gassy hands into the Iraq fuel pot.) Capitalism, of course, at this very moment, is in such a mess the White House and Congress are resorting to socialistic measures to rescue it.

We want to impose democracy on Afghanistan, a country in name only and whose peoples have not a clue about what it involves; and, even if they had, wouldn’t want it anyway, especially when outsiders are thrusting it upon them.

We have barely lifted a finger to help oil-less Zimbabweans crying out for relief from the terror of Zanu PF, leaving the task to a man from further south who, back at home, seems to have lost the plot on most things, democracy among them, and has now been asked by his party to bow out. (So far, he looks to be departing with dignity.)

And so goes on the inconsistencies and hypocrisy that afflict the morality of what we are frequently being reminded by the US chief and his secretary of state is the “free world”, a term that should have died with the end of the Cold War. (The very use of the expression is a manifestation of the time warp America under its present leaders is operating in.)

Each day, in the name of the War on Terror, we lose individual freedoms that do nothing to lessen the threat of acts of terror. The War on Terror is finger-in-the-dike stuff — and there are many more active practitioners of terror than the man (if alive) thought to be living somewhere in a mountain cave. Serious international police and intelligence co-operation would be far more productive than military might.

In Australia, our democracy often appears to be a shambles. Governments struggle just to run on the spot while they put out brush fires sparked by incompetence, anti-social behaviour by MPs and unhelpful opposition tactics; resources are being wasted; sensible targets are being dodged or watered down; indigenous people still suffer appallingly, psychologically and materially; water, mismanaged ever since the white man got here, continues to be so; our media ranks are being whittled down or subverted by a mean-spirited corporate thuggery that has forgotten that a free press is what keeps a society functional and transparent . . .

And yet, for all that and more, we have in Australia a way of life that has most of us ready to kiss the tarmac whenever we disembark on return from wherever.

We’re not travelling as well as we could be. There is plenty of fixing to be done. And a lot of everything will always be wrong. But, relatively, we’ve got it better than anyone else. We should be thankful for that and put an end to our carping and whingeing about petrol prices, taxes, pensions, health, education, transport . . .

We don’t want to become the thug society, which is Britain’s lot. We don’t want to be a nation of loony flag wavers, which is the lot of Americans terrified into eternal fearful vigilance by the fearmongering of the ossified, incompetent loonies they elected.

And we need to be grateful for the system we have despite its blemishes — and to use it to right the social wrongs that still plague our less-than-perfect but oh-so-preferable society.







Bob Hawkins

In Australia, our democracy often appears to be a shambles, federally and in the states. Governments struggle just to run on the spot while they put out brush fires sparked by incompetence, anti-social behaviour by MPs and unhelpful opposition tactics; resources are being wasted; sensible targets are being dodged or watered down; indigenous people still suffer appallingly, psychologically and materially; water, mismanaged ever since the white man got here, continues to be; our media ranks are being whittled down or subverted by a mean-spirited corporate thuggery that has forgotten that a free press is what keeps a society functional and transparent …