MUNGO MACCALLUM. Downer finally puts fishnet stockings behind him.

Jan 9, 2018

So here we go—2018, the year of delivery.

Or was that 2017, or maybe 2016? No matter – 2018 will be the year Malcolm Turnbull’s government seizes the initiative, surging forward to cement its underrated achievements to take control of politics and the economy. 

Employment will surge, growth will recover, debt and deficit will dwindle, living standards and real wages will rise, energy supply will be cheap, clean and reliable, and, most crucially, Newspoll will turn around.

And in anticipation of this triumph, squadrons of pigs are lining up on the airstrip for the ceremonial fly past. Okay, back to reality.

The Prime Minister’s troops insist that the end of last year was pretty good – well, he didn’t fall out of his bathers at Bondi, so that has to be a plus.

True, there was a momentary glitch when a glimpse of the old Malcolm emerged to suggest that it just might be time to consider the reviving of the republic idea. But that was predictably kyboshed within hours – what he really meant that it might be time after the next election, after the death of the queen, perhaps after the end of the century.

And there are still skirmishes to be fought: the theocrats are lining up with their concealed demands for Christian advantage at Phillip Ruddock’s secret inquiry, and Tony Abbott has foreshadowed  yet another showdown over climate policy. And somehow the dual citizen fiasco has to be resolved.

But the big one is the economy, and for the punters that means tax cuts – and that could well be the immovable object confronting Turnbull’s far from irresistible force.

The long-held dream of corporate cuts remains in limbo – given that it has been seen by the voters with a total lack of enthusiasm for nearly two years, it is unlikely that the Scott Morrison’s insistence that we must now follow the lead of Donald Trump like an obedient dog trailing its vomit will move the reluctant masses, let alone the recalcitrant cross-benchers in the senate. For the moment the big end of town will have to  go on living with its rising and in many cases record profits, not to mention its dedication to tax minimisation. Nothing to see here.

The one that matters is the promise of personal income tax cuts, and having set that starving hare running, Turnbull will have to chase it down in the next budget – the expectation entails its fulfilment.

However, experience proves that the punters will show little gratitude – either the handouts will be seen as too little, niggardly and derisory, or, they will be condemned as utterly unaffordable, profligate and desperate. Not promising; better hold those pigs after all.

But aside from the pessimism, a dash of light relief in the new year.

It’s always good to see Alexander Downer back in the news. He gave us endless amusement in his all-too-brief role as leader of the Liberal Party, in which he effortlessly surpassed Billy McMahon as the worst in living memory.

Having resigned a nanosecond before he was dumped in favour of the recycled John Howard he was rewarded with the plum job of Foreign Minister, in which he rejoiced by bullying and harassing the career diplomats who had previously failed to appreciate his peerless brilliance.

Highlights of this stint included the spying and undermining the emerging and desperate nation of Timor Leste in a pursuit of oil reserves so shameless and unfair that they were eventually sent for renegotiation to the International Court of Justice. He was also able to assure the Royal Commission into the Iraq Wheat for weapons scandal that he could not recall – more than 100 times – any knowledge of what was going on in his department.

But it should be noted that he was not particularly prejudiced against foreigners or public servants – he cordially despised everyone except those he believed were his compatriots in the Mother Country – England, the land of moping Tories. So it was inevitable that he should be shunted off to schmooze the rich and fatuous in the Court of St James in his determined ambition to become a genuine upper-class Pommy twit.

And given that it was all on the taxpayers’ expense there was also time for a little rough political trade, which is no doubt why he found himself on the piss in an exclusive Kensington pub with a young, brash and exciting American wannabe, Donald Trump’s supporter George Papadopolous. And in spite of (or perhaps because of) the heavy drinking, Downer’s memory had miraculously cleared from the fogs of Canberra: he heard and remembered that the Russians had a dirt file on Hilary Clinton that he was hoping to get hold of.

Having nothing much else to report, our High Commissioner sent the story off to Canberra, where the analysts in Foreign Affairs department, which knew more about Downer than they really wanted to, was understandably cautious; they sat on the information for a couple of months. But when credible reports of Russian interference to boost Donald Trump’s election appeared in the American press began to emerge, the mandarins decided they had better share the gen with their Washington cousins.

And the Yanks, presumably not so familiar with Downer’s reputation, took it seriously; it was at least one of the factors that triggered the ongoing FBI investigation which has now ensnared Papadopolous to the extent that he is willing to roll over, with ominous consequences for the Trump camp. There is no direct link to the Donald himself – not yet.

But when the New York Times  revealed Downer’s involvement it was regarded as significant: a senior conservative Australian politician, a faithful and complaisant ally, blowing the whistle on POTUS could not be dismissed as mere scuttlebutt. In Canberra, the embarrassment was acute; this was never meant to be on the record. And it certainly won’t help the state of the already fraught relationship between the two administrations.

But hey, it was a fine addition to the annals of the politics of alcohol – a vast improvement over Kevin Rudd’s wimpy remorse after his visit to Scores nightclub, if not yet up to the gold standard of Malcolm Fraser getting legless and trouserless in Memphis. And at least it has meant that finally Alexander John Gosse Downer may be remembered for something more than donning fishnet stockings.




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