The more I look at Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd these days, the more I think that ancient Greeks were right, at least for some: the afterlife is indeed a dreary realm of shadows, where the weak and witless souls of the dead wonder around aimlessly mourning their earthly lives. As the spirit of Achilles tells the visiting Odysseus, at least according to Homer, it’s better to be the lowliest slave in life than even the king of the dead.
What the Greeks did not think of their dearly departed was that they were malevolent and threatening. Perhaps it’s because they never had the chance to meet some of Australia’s former Prime Ministers. Here, we shift geographically and folkloristically north from Greece to the Balkans and to the image of the undead wreaking havoc on the living. Turnbull has already attracted the moniker “miserable ghost”, but the recent behaviour of Ruddbull is more reminiscent of insatiable blood-suckers hell-bent on revenge on those who slighted them in life.
While Rudd keeps haunting the social media and lately the halls and committee rooms of the Federal Parliament on his crusade to bring down Rupert Murdoch’s evil empire and save Australian democracy from any viewpoints to the right of ABC, Turnbull has today donned on his tinfoil hat while inveighing into the “Cabinet Minister rapist” controversy, telling ABC Radio that “we don’t know for sure that she took her own life, we know for sure that she’s dead.”
Turnbull was of course referring to the still anonymous (though seemingly known to many, judging by Twitter) complainant, suggesting – and it is as difficult to find any other interpretation as it is to believe Malcolm could speculate on it in the first place – she might have met foul play, murdered in order to silence her and her accusations against the similarly still anonymous (though very much now identified) alleged rapist.
When Turnbull first waded into this drama a few days ago, urging strong action, I instantly realised who the alleged rapist is without having to scour the social media for theories – clearly it was someone that Turnbull was trying to get even with for playing a part of his downfall. This significantly narrowed down the possibilities. No doubt Malcolm would have been delighted to finger (so to speak) either Dutton or Cormann, his two betes noires, but since neither of them could have been the rapist, that left only one contender. Not wanting to be the first Australian publisher (to use the broad Murdoch/Facebook definition that saw The Daily Chrenk banned by Zuckerberg last week with the rest of the Australian media) to name the accused, let’s call him X.
I get that Turnbull holds a grudge against some members of his Cabinet who he says betrayed him so and cost him his job at the top. The fact that he blames everyone else for his fall from grace but himself is not beyond understanding either, even if it borders on narcissism. But suggesting that a senior Australian politician is not only a rapist but also a murderer who tried to cover up his past crime, that’s something else. Not only is this penchant for conspiracy mongering at odds with the carefully cultivated (and by and large true) image of an intelligent, sophisticated man of the world, but the sheer unhinginess of it all (a Q-like “not only I don’t like him, he also eats babies” approach to political differences) reveals a deep personal flaw and serves to once again confirm to many Turnbull’s unsuitability for a high office as well as the wisdom of removing him from it.
The situation in Canberra is ugly and sad as it is, without injecting insanity into it. As a former federal staffer, I was in a receipt on an email earlier today from Ministerial & Parliamentary Services about the new confidential psychological support phone line for current and former political workers. There has been plenty of horror in politics, but luckily for me, nothing like that. No doubt, being a man significantly improved my chances of avoiding trouble, though this is not an absolute rule, as could be attested by four of my (male) friends and acquaintances who had been at one point or another propositioned by a former (male) Cabinet minister, two of them as staffers at the time of being hit on. I can happily report that none of them have been traumatised by it and won’t be requiring counseling. This is not to trivialise many more serious incidents, some of which have been subject of media interest over the past two weeks. Canberra is a strange world that thrives on a fair bit of stress and even more alcohol, a world where people are removed from the familiar surroundings and deposited for one third of the year in a surreal environment inside a small and incestuous bubble. But perhaps the biggest contributing factor is the larger-than-average number of egotists, narcissists and psychopaths involved at this elite political level. It’s Las Vegas for weirdos and oddballs, the good, the bad and the ugly, where sometimes power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, as Henry Kissinger once remarked, but more often it’s the ultimate opium for many participants. But for all that I suspect as a working environment Club Fed does not necessarily see more beastly and/or predatory behaviour than most other industries. To the extent there is a widespread problem – and I will leave it to others to debate – it’s a social rather than purely political one.
Whether Rudd, now looking less like the Milky Bar Kid and more like am angry, hypertensive Colonel Sanders, with his lover-scorned act against Rupert Murdoch, the supposed architect of his political demise as well as all the other evil in the world, or Turnbull, throwing paranoid hand grenades at his former colleagues, Australia is badly in need of political exorcism. Sadly, it looks like we shall only get ourselves rid of these unquiet spirits when all the anger, hatred and frustration they hold inside finally gives them apoplexy. Until then, they – and us – have to keep on suffering.