GASP: Novel excuses

The story surrounding outed bibliophile and dancefloor enthusiast George Brandis shows that in Canberra, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Memo to self: invite George Brandis to my wedding.

With all of the money he’s saved on travel expenses from previous nupitals, just imagine the grandiose gift the first law officer of the nation will bestow upon me and my betrothed.

In fact, invite all the pollies. With their generous publications allowance my gift table will be looking like a second-hand book stand worthy of hipster credentials.

For Brandis’ part I imagine he will re-gift us something like Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain?

Oh Mr Attorney General, how did you know?

The self-appointed “minister for books” will have no shortage of choices though after it was revealed his taxpayer-funded personal library is worth around $13,000.

That’s a lot of $9.95 Penguin paperbacks.

Members of Parliament are given an allowance to purchase publications relevant to their official business, with newspapers, current affairs magazines and historical or political books generally accepted within that definition.

Certainly, the Coalition’s social policies — particularly as they relate to women and homosexuals — make a lot more sense upon knowing Brandis’ personal library includes boundless tomes on ancient empires such as Byzantium, Jerusalem and Rome.

Ah, the good old days when women knew their place and the gays had the decency to be gay in private.

What wasn’t disclosed was the wonders of literary fiction the Coalition tapped in the formation of its many and varied election policies. Once you see just how much his personal archive shines through in Coalition policy, you’ll never again begrudge a taxpayer bill for an elected official’s personal library.

For boat people there’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, for gun control there’s A Farewell to Arms, for detention centres One Hundred Years of Solitude and for regional Australia The Call Of The Wild.

The now government’s election mantra of “underpromise and overdeliver” has all the hallmarks of Great Expectations, while the rush to capture the Asian food boom surely stems from a literal interpretation of The Golden Bowl.

And the coalition has spent many a rainy afternoon nose deep in Gone with the Wind, trying to understand all of the climate change hysteria.

Across the political divide, interim Labor leader Chris Bowen was just vexed no one told him he could buy books.

“Members of parliament are entitled to allowances to buy newspapers and magazines but I didn’t realise you could use it for books until I read it in the paper this morning.”

He’d probably never have found out if he didn’t get the paper for free either.

Certainly, making sense of Labor’s tumultuous last six years would have been easier with copies of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Fault in Our Stars.

But back to my wedding. I joked about Barnaby Joyce turning up, but he very well could.

The deputy leader of the Nationals was suitably miffed by all the insinuations of misconduct this week, especially when he was thrown into the dubious mix for travelling to the same fateful wedding as Brandis on the taxpayer dime.

“They’re all private functions at which you spend most of the time talking about politics,” Joyce said, likening the events to the power-broking potential of a football match.

Luckily, at the wedding in question, Joyce found some time out from his high-level diplomatic negotiations to read a poem called Fair Dinkum Love (you can’t make this stuff up). As for Brandis, he tore himself away from pressing discussions over Labor’s rorting of expenses to deliver the bridal toast.

Asked if Brandis then did in fact “tear up the dance floor,” Joyce said his “recollection was not that astute”.

Say it as eloquently as you like Barnaby, we all know what it means. I believe that in your electorate, it's called “blind as a welder’s dog”.

And there we have it, the truth really is stranger than fiction — even when that fiction is subsidised by the taxpayer. Beloved Canberra, you really are our living, breathing Confederacy of Dunces.

One-line wonders

“It’s also true that after the visit to the governor general, and particularly with Wayne Swan here too, I do need to acknowledge, there was much more alcohol drunk.” Julia Gillard tells Anne Summers how she spent the night of her deposition. Perhaps less time selling the ‘real Julia’ and more with ‘boozehound’ Julia would have changed her fate.

“Sometimes, in search of a political fix, you can lose sight of the big picture.” Australian Workers’ Union boss Paul Howes. Not looking at anyone. Definitely not looking at anyone in ‘Bris’. Absolutely not looking at a former PM in ‘Bris’.

“I was pointing at him; I don’t think that he fell back into his seat. I absolutely did not punch him.” And here we were thinking Julie Bishop’s death stare was the most powerful force in Australian politics. Allegations that Tasmanian deputy premier Bryan Green punched a spectator at the AFL grand final may cause a rethink of that train of thought.

“If you’re a supporter of the institution of marriage, it is beyond me why you wouldn’t want more people to be participating in it, rather than less.” True to the Labor values of a ‘fair go’ and equality, aspiring leader Anthony Albanese wants easy access for marital misery for everyone.

Tweet of the week

Graph for GASP: Novel excuses

It was good to see where the Prime Minister’s mind was when he tweeted this on Tuesday afternoon (AEST) with less than five minutes until government of the world’s largest economy was officially shutdown. Say cheese.

The last gasp

AWU boss Paul Howes’ call for the Labor Party to take a binding position on same-sex marriage quickly morphed into a debate on the merits of conscience votes within the traditional party structure this week.

"For Labor to have a conscience, we must not allow a conscience vote on this fundamental issue of righting a wrong that exists in our society. Frankly, if you find yourself believing otherwise, then it is my strong belief that you do not belong with us,” Mr Howes said.

While his stance divided the party — and was flatly rejected by both leadership aspirants Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese — it could be a dose of exactly what Labor needs: a backbone. Someone to say ‘this is what we stand for, like it or leave’, rather than the populist pandering of the last six years.

Howes’ tough position is likely indicative of his desire (and that of the party apparatchiks’) to take a tilt at elected office at some point in the future, even if its not replacing Bob Carr in the Senate in the not-too distant future.

In the short-term though it reignited the same-sex marriage debate, complete with all the usual hysteria and hyperbole.

In its wake, much commentary centred on the notion that marriage was still defined as a “union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Still of course, in actual measures of time, equates to just over nine years, given this definition of marriage was only brought into legislation with the Marriage Amendment Act of 2001.

The much-quoted Marriage Act of 1961 does not offer an explicit definition of marriage. Even if it did, it may be worth taking social notions from the period with a grain of salt, given the White Australia Policy had not yet been fully dismantled in 1961.

In fact, former prime minister John Gorton, then a Liberal Senator, said in the debates preceding the passage of the Marriage Act of 1961: “I am inclined to think that reason why marriage has not been defined previously in legislation of this kind is because it is rather difficult to do so. Marriage, of course, can mean a number of things. For instance, it can mean a religious ceremony; it can mean a civil ceremony; and it can mean a form of living together.”

Half a century later, the difficulty prevails — and it’s not aided by the many misconceptions being freely peddled in this very important debate.

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