It was on election night that Barry O’Farrell said he would only talk to Gladys, and as far as I can see he’s kept this promise, maybe expanding it in practice to the extent that he now only speaks to people like Gladys. He blanked Kerry O’Brien in a moment that can only be regarded as regally pompous. Admittedly we were used to something rather less grand under Morris, Nathan and Kristina: those ALP governments were tenuous and flimsy, the outcomes of a ramshackle pluralism produced in moments of factional ceasefire and disrespected at every turn. It is hard to believe that the same office is now held by Barry.
Barry doesn’t do pluralism. There’s something of Manning Clark’s young green tree in O’Farrell’s approach, not forgetting that Barry was down in Acton at ANU when Manning was at his most polemic. Barry’s approach is that no dead wood will be retained, no stunted limbs or hollow trunks, no diseased or parasited crowns. He wants a world of freshness and vitality, polemically driven toward the economically vivacious and predatory Australia we see around us everyday. Barry not only loves the big end of town he wants to gentrify it, redoing the landscaping and planting new trees. And then he wants to let those young green trees reach for the sun.
As a moment of political renewal it is de rigueur. I can’t help but be reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s St. Francis of Assisi moment in 1979 (“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony”) signifying the death of one electoral episteme and the birth of another. That this bright new day will bring forth new growth and we will all be saved from the horrors of the old days. In practice there’s nothing actually new, the gist of the policies is that they are not fresh, not young, and not green.
There’s the culling of public servants and public responsibilities. There’s the exploitation approach to natural resources and economic development (I call it the Alvin Purple method). There’s the crushing of worker protections and the bureaucratisation of tough love for teachers, nurses and fireys. There are the deals about recreational shooting in National Parks and the equivocal (mis)management of social services, which is bad luck if you have bad teeth; or are disabled; or have recently been released from custody.
If you’re not full of vigour; if you’re not looking to invest; if you’re not looking for a state on the move and looking for ways to go faster then Barry isn’t talking to you. He’s not even interested. To engage with a roadblock is to stop and get all worried about things that can’t be helped and not be moving forward. Just accept it, he doesn’t want to talk to you. He’s only talking to Gladys.