A word of advice to Mr Abbott: beware of dugongs bearing gifts
THE lamentable psychology of our species became clear to me on a sporting field at the age of seven. We were choosing players in a game of schoolyard footy in Shepparton. I was captain of the Skins and it was my pick. A portly lad stood in front of me waving his hammock-fleshed arms, shouting, ''Me, me, me. Pick me.''
It was a giddying dilemma. I knew the downside of choosing this dugong for my team was that the Shirts would run rings around his saggy arse until he cracked it and limped off with a feigned hammy and spent the rest of the match beached on the boundary heckling. The upside was that this moody dugong's father owned the local ice-cream shop. Forty flavours … a vast palate of bliss. There could be no subtlety about my choice. No pretence at charity. Every kid present knew if I chose the dugong I was trashing my team's chance at victory to buy myself a summer of gratis pistachio. It was a question of who would take the bribe first, me or the captain of the Shirts. I picked the dugong. I placed him at full-forward. We were pantsed.
I'd like to say those free litres of ice-cream tasted like ashes in my mouth. But Shepparton has a long, hot summer, and it was on those days when the asphalt ran and I lay under trees licking double-headers that I first realised conscience was a beast easily tamed by Cherry Italia, and that a man could do some truly evil things and the subtle tinctures of Butter Pecan would assuage his guilt perfectly.
I write this just by way of letting Tony Abbott know that if he chooses Clive Palmer for the team he will be able to live with himself. What he won't be able to live with is Clive Palmer. He's a political dugong and when the LNP endorses him, the ALP will dance around him lairising and laughing. That's the downside. The upside is he comes with a summer of bliss guaranteed. If Abbott can resist those 40 flavours, he is a better man than me. Clive's money is, after all, relatively cheap. He doesn't want the whole party. He just wants to get in the game, like my portly lad did. He will not sit in opposition, though. He will snap a hammy and limp away before that snore-fest.
Oh, and he will need a ministry. Clive would be restive as a backbencher. Let's forget the risible notion that he might be perturbed and energised by the paltry local grievances of the shoeless mango-suckers who make up the electorate of Lilley. In fact, let's never mention those people again. I'm sure Clive won't. What Clive wants, apart from the ability to sell your minerals without including you in the bonanza, is revenge on Wayne Swan. Because that man has cruelly chosen him as the exemplar of the bloated oligarch when, hell, he could just as easily have chosen Gina or Nathan or Twiggy. But once electoral revenge is had (and it might be, this being Queensland), what then?
Sitting down, shutting up and toeing a party line are the things he is least good at, and he is not good at a great many things. What people don't realise is that Clive Palmer is above all else, a humanitarian. On Q&A the other night, while pooh-poohing global warming, he made it clear he was only selling coal to the Indians and Chinese so they might enjoy the standard of living we do. So that good fathers and mothers could put food on the table for their children. His billions were a mere byproduct of his charity. And anyone who stood in the way of his altruistic passion was racist and cruel. His combatants on the panel failed to answer the charge of racism. But then, chillingly transfixed as they were by the six-shot magazine of his shirt buttons, I half expected them to put their hands in the air and surrender. Is it wrong for me to want the LNP to endorse Clive just for the periodic lashings of schadenfreude we will be served? Clive says a lot of contradictory and wrong things but a man fortressed from the world by wealth can't know that and can, anyway, afford wrongness like it was a Ferrari. A politician can afford far less wrongness. So, it will be fun. Because of all the political oddities that have come out of Queensland, none is more certain to have his career truncated in a hilarious snafu than Clive Palmer. And, no, I haven't forgotten Joh. Nor Pauline. There was nothing but politics for them. But politics is only a sideshow for Clive, and some of the malign minutiae of public life, like accountability, transparency or simply not being king, will exasperate the man before too long.
■Anson Cameron is a Melbourne writer.