Newsletter 409

Published October 4, 2021
Saint Gladys puts a brave face on her departure

I was intending to leave the politics aside for this week, but at the eleventh hour Gladys has tendered her resignation! Even though it was easy to see this coming it still has a bit of shock value. I thoroughly believed Gladys would fight on to the bitter end, swearing she’s done nothing wrong, and eventually having to be escorted out of Parliament House by two burly policemen wearing riot gear.

Instead, she’s dipped out just before the ICAC investigation gets down to business. At least she’s consistent in protesting her innocence, and casting scorn on the ICAC for forcing her to abandon her flock in their hour of greatest need. Yes, the departing Premier is still posing as Our Saviour, St. Gladys. She still has no idea how her signature came to be on those documents authorising $5 million of tax-payers’ money to be spent on boyfriend, Dagwood’s clay-pigeon shooters’ Taj Mahal in Wagga Wagga.

As for the pork-barrelling scandals, what’s wrong with that? “Everyone does it”.

Best of all may be Gladys’s earnest pose as the heroic, maternal type who was determined to see us through the lockdown. How soon we forget that it was her inaction, her willingness to do a ‘soft’ lockdown to please her mates in the business community, that got us into this interminable mess. The result is a much greater economic catastrophe for the entire state.

Looking at the comments that followed the Sydney Morning Herald’s newsfeed, I was staggered by the quantity of people who told us how sorely Gladys would be missed; she was “our rock”, a “great leader”, a “huge loss”; it was “a sad day”; she was “the best premier NSW has ever had” and so on. “Thank you Gladys,” they chorused.

When my stomach had calmed down I began to reflect on how very easy it is to manipulate public opinion if you stand in front of the cameras, day after day, telling us what a wonderful person you are, while pointedly avoiding any questions that might be a trifle embarrassing. This giant wave of sympathy from the public is enough to destroy any faith one might retain in the common sense of the electorate.

Regardless of the failures of the NSW Opposition – who are hardly more than a rabble nowadays – I’m staggered that people can’t see how self-serving and quasi-authoritarian the Coalition government has become. They have spent billions on pet projects that should never have been attempted – from the Light Rail to the ongoing, disastrous saga of the Powerhouse Museum. There has been a string of scandals, a total lack of transparency, and an arrogant disregard for accountability. Gladys has finally been ensnared in a corruption inquiry but it could have happened to any number of her ministers. She ruled over a government that believed it had a mandate to do whatever it liked, regardless of cost or public opinion. Her downfall is a huge endorsement of the ICAC, which outgoing Premier, Mike Baird, tried to cripple by reducing its funding. Gladys carried on the good work, but has still got caught up in their investigations. She’s going out the door snarling and snapping at the anti-corruption body as if it were a criminal organisation rather than an organ of justice.

No wonder Scummo has done everything he can to scupper a federal version of the ICAC. About half of his cabinet would find themselves hanging out with Gladys, awaiting their day in the dock. On the other hand he might take heart from the gullibility of a general public who seem prepared to swallow any old act that is served up. As this has always been his view of the electorate we can expect a spin attack from both ends as election day approaches.

This week’s column is devoted to painting and music. Not ‘art and music’, as that topic was too unconscionably vast. Not even ‘music inspired by works of art’, which proved to be another massive trove. I’ve limited myself to ‘paintings inspired by music’, relying on the reluctance of artists to admit that a picture is based on the direct experience of a specific piece of music. Whether it’s through a dread of appearing ‘illustrative’ or simply to retain a little useful mystification, artists like to keep it vague.

Inevitably that means looking at the trend towards abstraction which begins in the Romantic era, long before there was any such thing as “abstract art”. We can look back today and see premonitions of Rothko in the work of Friedrich and Turner, but it would have required a visionary critic to predict, c.1800, that abstraction would one day become an orthodox artform.

The film column reviews the new Amazon Prime offering – Birds of Paradise. It’s a ballet film, a buddy film of sorts, and much else. Too much for its own good, if truth be told. The good news is that I’m beginning to receive notices about forthcoming mainstream releases again, so within a month or so my options should have improved.

Perhaps it’s only Gladys’s departure making me feel optimistic. It had begun to seem that politics nowadays always favoured the brazen, but apparently the system is not quite as bankrupt as the Premier and her cronies imagined.