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Newsletter 361

Published October 23, 2020
Gladys and Daryl: A romance ruined by the ICAC

It’s strange there aren’t more comments on Donald Trump’s choice of music for his superspreader rallies. If I were a QAnon conspiracy theorist I’d think there was something fishy about a orange-tinted, bouffant-headed President dancing around to the Village People song, The YMCA – a frothy gay anthem from pre-AIDS days. Is Trump hinting that he’s not the man we think he is? Is it a last minute attempt to cultivate the gay vote? Lots of stuff here for homophobic electors to mull over. Remember the Village People’s other big hit – Macho Man? Surely that’ll be the next tune on the rally circuit. We know that irony isn’t the President’s strong suit.

Alas, Trump has probably never even realised the sexual politics of The YMCA, as he jiggles around, hoarsely declaiming that he’s made America grate again.

Speaking of politicians with no sense of irony, it’s startling to read NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing: “the people of this state know I have never done anything wrong, I never have and I never will.” Gladys seems to have forgotten the old adage, “Never say never.” As I write this, the headlines are full of her unfortunate liaison with former Liberal MP, Daryl Maguire, who is being done like the proverbial dinner, at the ICAC hearings. Although Daryl has already admitted to using his office to sell favours, in an effort to get himself out of a debt, the Premier’s involvement is a more vexed issue.

I’ve always believed people’s private relationships and sexual preferences are their own business, so long as they don’t have an adverse impact on others. The problem with Gladys’s affair is that she chose a very dodgy character for a romantic entanglement. While it may be embarrassing to have your private emails read out in court, it’s a different matter being caught lying under oath or destroying evidence – both accusations that are currently on the table. Then there’s the Premier’s meeting with three publicans, arranged by Daryl, when the relevant Ministers wouldn’t play ball.

If the Ministers in this most secretive and ‘business-friendly’ government wouldn’t meet with these guys it doesn’t say much for their standing. So why did Gladys do it? Just to placate her boyfriend seems to be the answer. This is exactly the way the government would like to spin the entire thing: “Gladys is a very nice person who made an unfortunate mistake, and was only trying to humour Daryl, not particiate in his devious deals. So let’s give her a break.”

Can you imagine if this were a Labor politician? The Libs and the Murdoch Press would be baying for blood. Regardless of whether Gladys is a saintly character or not, she has presided over a government that has made a habit of doing deals with no transparency and no regard for the greater public good. Look no further than the Powerhouse Museum debacle – which is still continuing, but also the Light Rail, the Sports stadiums, the Newcastle rail link, Westconnex, the Council grants affair, and on and on. There’s a broad, sweeping vista of entitlement, secrecy and arrogance.

It probably seemed to Gladys that – in comparison to all the big, nasty deals that were going through in broad daylight – Daryl’s machinations were pretty trivial. Just say, “Yes dear, of course,” and it’ll all fade away. What’s being painted as a small, personal error hardly worthy of notice, is a symptom of a cultural problem within the Coalition: a belief that being in government means you can do exactly what you like, with no accountability whatsoever. The only rule is to avoid being caught in some illegal activity – hence a code of secrecy that mght be modelled on the Mafia’s Omerta.

So while Gladys may have accidentally made a bad choice in her private life, she has made numerous, deliberate bad choices in public life. She may be suffering a degree of embarrassment, but the citizens of this state will suffer materially for generations from the policies she has supported and brought into being. It would be an honorable move to step down, although her likely replacement would be Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, himself recently implicated in scandal. There’s no end to it in this state.

With so much scandal in the news the art column this week takes a more lofty approach, looking at Lindy Lee’s survey, Moon in a Dew Drop, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was surprised, not only by how well this exhibition held together, but by the story it told of an artist who struggled for many years to understand who she really was, and what she wanted to do. As the pieces gradually came together there’s a growing sense of self-confidence, and this is reflected in the greater ambitions of Lee’s work. Over the course of almost four decades she has gone from making photocopies to creating remarkably successful public sculptures. Unlike Gladys, it seems that Lindy’s success comes from a genuine self-awareness that has enabled her to work wthin her limitations and then transcend them.

The film column looks at the Cinema Reborn season of films by Jean-Pierre Melville being held at the Randwick Ritz. Melville (1917-73) was one of the great auteurs of French cinema, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-familiarising myself with his movies in preparation for introducing Le Doulos, at 4 pm on Sunday, 18 October. It’s been a pure pleasure to watch these stylish films with their stoical Resistance fighters and tragic gangsters. Although Melville’s crooks are rather more sympathetic, it was an excellent preparation for another week of NSW politics.