Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Unions: The IT Factor
Politics: Bargain Basement
Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Corporate: Two Sides
International: Unfair Dismissals
History: A Stitch in Time
Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Road to Bangalore
The Westie Wing
Ian West gets up calmly from his desk, takes the lift, walks down onto Macquarie Street, heads down to Circular Quay and around to the Opera House, and disrobes at the Man O War steps.
Placing his clothes in a neat pile on top of his shoes, West wades into the water, butterflies over to Kirribilli, hauls himself up onto the freshly clipped lawn of the Prime Minister's second residence, and scales the picket fence.
West walks up through the neat tiers of the backyard to the foot of a tracksuited figure, who sits on the back porch, mumbling something as he pores over a map of Australia and the goodly works of Geoffrey Blainey.
"Get out of my yard," the figure says as he looks up at this unwanted guest, reaching awkwardly for the verandah duress alarm.
"Good morning Prime Minister, I mean you no harm and with respect it's not your yard - it's owned by taxpayers, it belongs to them. Until you decided to squat here, it was a guesthouse to showcase this beautiful harbour to visitors," West says.
"Who are you? Do I know you?" the shrillness in the PM's voices subsides a little, as he assesses this man standing before him, skin dripping salt water on the manicured lawn.
"My name's Ian. I've just been reading the latest missive from you on Australian values, and I wanted some advice," West replies. "Perhaps we should take a walk around your backyard? It will only take five minutes."
Janette appears, garden hose in hand, tending to the roses. "Darling, is everything all right?"
"I read your, Little Blue Book of Australian History, it was quite interesting," West says as a kind of peace offering.
Startled by the call from his wife, John Howard looks firstly at his beloved, then fixes his gaze on West, "Yes, yes fine dear." There is a firmness in his voice meant at once to reassure Janette and to betray his fear of the intruder.
"I see you stood your ground on holding hands in public with Janette," West says, "You old fashioned romantic, you." Ian looks at the PM like they're long lost friends re-united.
"Okay, but I'm not in the habit of strolling around the yard with a naked intruder. Put this on," and the PM tosses down a white terry toweling dressing gown.
The PM crab walks down the stairs in his new hush puppies. West faces away into the light morning breeze, looks south over the water and pulls on the gown.
"You're one of them aren't you? A soft left ideologue," the PM suggests grimly.
"I may be. But Mr Prime Minister, as you can see, I'm not wearing any black armband. And frankly, there are more pressing issues we need to discuss, like the backyard.
"I'm worried we won't ever win this war on terrorism. People tell me they actually feel less safe now.
"You said at the Quadrant anniversary address that it's not a struggle against Islam, but a struggle against a perverted interpretation of Islam. I was wondering what you mean by 'a perverted interpretation' - did you mean it like they've read it too literally, or they're using those values for their own twisted political purpose, or something?"
The Prime Minister was trailing behind West, a few steps off his left shoulder, as they made towards the back gate.
"Well clearly our way of life is under threat," the PM responds. "Things like democratic freedom and liberty under law - they are things worth fighting for."
"I totally agree," says West. "Our backyards are very important. What's happening in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Nauru, Fiji, Solomon Islands?"
"Alex is looking after that - some uppities in the colonies is all - nothing will come of it." The Prime Minister looks down at his hush puppies in the soft grass.
"Really?" West exclaims. "I see you've been looking at the map of our great southern land. I remember in 2004, you whipped out the map and said, 'We will decide who comes to this country and on what terms'.
"You said Australia was under threat again, this time with people coming through the back gate. I note that since then, you've annexed some of our backyard.
"Ten years ago, Mr Prime Minister, you sat clutching a map of this nation and told Australians they were in danger of losing their backyards to Wik land claims. Last month you said the Noongar ruling in WA was 'of considerable concern'.
"Aboriginal Australia has endured much over recent times. I won't cite the statistics of disadvantage, survival and challenge - those figures normally used in the arguments by each major Party to highlight some past injustice or justify some future action.
"Those figures don't describe the full spectrum of impact of all the years of abuse and neglect, and they don't tell some people what they don't already know, if you know what I mean."
West turns and points to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, "Nearly a quarter of a million people walked over that Bridge six years ago and all you can say is the original people here don't deserve a treaty or an apology. Seriously Prime Minister what are you going to do about it?
"Those amendments to the Land Rights Act which you have ultimate responsibility for - and which you say will create economic development opportunities - will see owners of land hand over their real estate and that of their children for little or no benefit.
"I mean you wouldn't advocate the same thing for your family would you? Sell your land to educate and clothe your kids or build a house. It wouldn't make sense, would it?"
"Not entirely no, but that's not the point," the Prime Minster responds.
"Land ownership - you say that's the most important thing for Australians - except for Aboriginal people," West says, scratching his head quizzically.
"Well again, young man, I would say that the black armband view of history hasn't helped the situation, and we need to move away from failed models. Aboriginals need employment, and greater choices and opportunities to contribute."
"Again I agree, Prime Minister. Our backyard is looking a little, shall we say, second class. The problems have always been in our backyard, wouldn't you agree?"
The Prime Minister becomes willful. "Not entirely, no. It's the front yard where the important stuff happens, where the guests come in, where you showcase your mastery of the domestic sphere with hedges and flags, and maybe a tyre swan painted white beside the driveway. The front yard's where you keep the neighbours in awe with the latest roll-a-door."
His arm arcs across in front of him describing a magnificent suburban achievement with flourish.
"I remember conversations with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher - two truly visionary beings committed to the success of the individual, making unambiguous statements of belief and purpose - and the proud owners of magnificent homes, with lovely front yards."
The Prime Minister turns and calls to Janette, "Didn't Maggie have a lovely rose garden?"
"She certainly did John, she certainly did, and she did it all on her own with no help from anybody," Janette says as she whips the hose trailing behind her and continues to water her garden.
Ian West casts his eyes around the yard. Beyond the clipped grass he sees a broken path overgrown with lantana that seems to lead to an older section of the backyard.
Squinting, West thinks he sees some figures moving around. "What the hell is that?" he thinks.
Then he sees them.
Warren Truss is walking around with a Hessian bag flogging weeds.
Malcolm Turnbull is fiddling with some broken hoses, leaking taps and faded washers.
Brendan Nelson lies in a dirt hole playing with some plastic army men and tanks, making engine sounds as he swoops a model plane across his make believe landscape.
Amanda Vanstone chases a group of people into the annexed part of the backyard, while Joe Hockey and Kevin Andrews wrestle in the dirt.
In a quiet corner, a robed Tony Abbott, blood trickling down his leg, is in deep conversation with Brethren members.
West sees an old phone box dumped in the corner - it's Helen Coonan staring out through the broken glass.
Through the overgrown weeds, West spots Alexander Downer lying in a dinghy, a paddle slung across him. He looks red faced and exhausted, and is being taken by a current out to sea.
West surveys the scene of dilapidation. "Yes Prime Minister, the front yard looks lovely I'm sure for your special guests - but the backyard is where the practical stuff goes on ..." The Prime Minister cuts him off.
"Well the backyard is also the place where the problems are, have been for decades and decades - well before we got the place you understand. Most of the problems go back to the last owner. Not really my problem. I certainly don't intend fixing it or apologising for what's gone on here."
The pair reach the back gate.
"I suggest you leave before you have a nasty accident," the Prime Minister says.
West looks out over the harbour once more. "Mr Prime Minister, I'll finish with this. Up until the last few years, no one in their right mind took you seriously. You were just a little man dealing with some big personal and family issues.
"We were wrong not to take you seriously. That has been our only mistake. The people of Australia knew you lied on so many issues, but it didn't affect them personally.
"You want to sit there in the front yard and blow into your dog whistle - go for it old man. Things are different now, your lies are getting dangerous. I can assure you that these days we do take you seriously.
"We're having a real good look at what you've done with the backyard here, buddy. Enjoy your pretend life as the King of the Bogans. We really do hope you live a long life - one long enough to see your work undone.
"Remember when you put shit on Paul Keating's big picture, when he tried to espouse a view of Australian values and it's place in the world. You said he was arrogant, you said Australia cared about the small things, the practical things.
"Well what have we got now Mr Prime Minster? Third world mortality rates for indigenous people, seven interest rate rises, petrol prices sucking out families incomes every day of the week, our national water systems collapsing, AWB giving terrorists $300 million, David Hicks getting poorer judicial treatment than Saddam Hussein, people convinced Sydney or Melbourne will be a terrorist target in our lifetimes.
"And you want to pretty up the front yard. You want to talk about political correctness, while this backyard grows wild.
"Now you're talking about sowing your seeds on the other side of the harbour. Thanks for the offer, Prime Minister, but we'll pass on having your weeds grow in Macquarie Street."
And with that, West lets his terry towel gown slip to the ground, takes three running strides and clears the fence and dives into Sydney Harbour to return from whence he came.
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2059 or email [email protected]
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