Newsletter 365

Published November 16, 2020
Christian Porter explains Tinder to Alan Tudge

Although Donald Trump is still keeping us entertained with his Guinness-Book-of-Records-busting sulkathon in the White House, Joe Biden surprised the world with a sudden burst of vitality as soon as he’d won the election. With two powerful speeches in two days, and a quick jog to the podium, Biden looked like a man rejuvenated. It’s wonderful what a taste of power can do.

The big, close-to-home story this week was the 4 Corners report on the ongoing sex comedy at Parliament House, Carry On Minister. It painted very unpleasant portraits of Attorney General, Christian Porter, and Minister, Alan Tudge, but I wonder if it’s the ABC that will eventually pay the price.

Although ‘balance’ in the media is largely a fiction it’s a fiction that should be taken seriously. If the reporter, Louise Milligan, had included an example from the Labor ranks it would have provided a semblance of even-handedness. It shouldn’t have been hard to find a candidate. Instead we were treated to a grotesque account of Christian ‘Chilla’ Porter’s yobbish behaviour during his university days. Alas, he wouldn’t be the only MP to have acted like a jerk at uni. The inordinate detail became a form of retrospective character assassination.

The whistle-blower and former staffer who told about her affair with her boss will not get much sympathy from the Libs. She may claim to be exposing the unequal power relations that exist between male MPs and younger female staffers, but that’s hardly a revelation. It’s part & parcel of the sense of entitlement and born-to-rule mentality that distinguishes this side of politics. Under Scummo any sense of accountability or transparency has been vanquished (cf. his proposal for a toothless federal corruption watchdog), so I can’t see him reading the riot act to his erring ministers. He is far more likely to inflict another round of spiteful cuts on the ABC.

Nevertheless, while I’ve got reservations about the way the ABC handled this story, there’s no denying it revealed an ugly side of Coalition culture (if that’s not a contradiction-in-terms). The very fact that Chilla spent an evening in a public bar canoodling with a staffer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, shows a breathtaking degree of complacency and self-indulgence. We know the evangelical Scummo is the worst sort of prating hypocrite, but his minister didn’t even bother to conceal his dirty deeds – although he has denied everything in defiance of eye-witness testimony.

While this storm was raging around Parliament House the National Gallery of Australia, just down the road, was opening Know My Name – a huge survey of Australian women’s art. Was the timing good or bad for the gallery? It may be that the government would prefer not to draw any more attention to ‘women’s issues’ at present, but what they should do is leap on the bandwagon, treating it as proof of the enlightened feminist attitudes that prevail in Canberra under the Morrison adminstration. I can just imagine Scummo claiming: “No-one has done more for women than me. Suburban housewives, will you love me?”

This week’s art column is another round-the-galleries effort, looking at solo exhibitions by Joshua Yeldham at Arthouse and Dagmar Cyrulla at Wagner Contemporary. I’ve finished off with a glance at a survey of contemporary Indonesian art at John Cruthers’s 16 Albermarle Project Space. There’s a strange pattern developing, whereby the newspaper gets me to write a short, instant impression of a museum exhibition, and then holds back on a more considered piece until some future date.

Last week I wrote a small article on the Arthur Streeton retrospective at the AGNSW, which I’m posting as a blog this time around, but I’m not sure when they’ll want the proper review. I’ve just written a similar quickie on Know My Name, which will set back any larger review for an unknown number of weeks. As the show runs until July there’s no apparent hurry.

The situation at the movies is getting more dire by the day. I had originally thought to review Radioactive, the new bio-pic about Madame Curie, but I could hardly get beyond half-way, it was so woeful. The Curies – and science – deserved better. Instead I fell back on American Dharma, Errol Morris’s controversial interview documentary with political extremist, Steve Bannon, streaming on Morris has copped a lot of flack for this film as he’s widely accused of letting Bannon ‘off the hook’. Having watched the interview twice I can understand the claim but don’t think it’s justifed. There’s no doubt Bannon is a sinister character with a fluent line in self-mythologising, but he is prepared to admit almost everything and even boast about it. He obviously doesn’t follow the standard Australian government procedure of relentlessly protesting innocence regardless of the disposition of one’s trousers.