So here we are in the marzipan room (that green) of the Big House. And rising to speak is the Treasurer looking like nothing so much as the amateur lead in a re-enactment of the Tennis Court Oath. Only it is not revolution perfuming the air but a wafting of ambergris and civet gland to mask the musk of anticipation and, in Wayne Swan’s case, naked fear.
As he takes his position at the box, you wonder, not for the first time, just what is in the box and why next to it there looks to be the complete calf-bound works of Bulwer-Lytton. Finally you want to know who is responsible for the arrangement of bods in the camera’s frame.
No fuglies please and could we cram as many women in as possible. The caring face of government. Now the Treasurer speaks and in speaking assumes the mantle of the lay preacher. Big Challenges and Working Families are the antiphons to which the faithful respond with ‘hear, hear’.
Except they lack the rhythm of the backwoods call-and-response gathering. There is no swaying or falling to the earthen floor. No screaming. There is no charming of snakes. Still and all, as he bangs on about the ‘fair go’ and other meaningless signifiers of the national psyche, the viewer’s vision begins to distort in the approved manner of the Pentecostals. But Swannie’s voice has begun to crack and who wouldn’t lose their bottle facing the basilisk stare of Julie Bishop?
Like hyenas, the Opposition members sense weakness and they send up a howl at the mention of “responsible economic management”. Anyone would think that the Terror is upon them and innocent citizens are due to be strung up a la lanterne in the streets of the national capital. In dramatic terms, it is all going off script for a document being sold as the blueprint for the Vision Splendid. It must be why Kevin Rudd is looking plainly sick.
At which point the Reverend rallies to bang the pulpit with the incantatory words the Building Australia Fund. “Hear, hear,” the faithful cry, and then it’s slaps on the back from the front bench and kissy kissy from Julia G. Is that all there is? (As the lady sang.) As a piece of theatre it’s a flop, even given the exquisite difficulty of making good telly out of a spreadsheet. Thirteen long years for anticlimax. After many a summer dies the swan.
Later, Swannie is more at home submitting to the verbal waterboarding of Kerry O’Brien. Already he is talking confidently of the BAF, which is what the Building Australia Fund has become in the space of half an hour. (BAFfling.) The message is: there is no Wayne without pain. Or is that the other way about? This, Swannie grins like the dungeon master, is a budget of unusual cruelty.
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So unusual that KO’B is having trouble identifying the bruises and abrasions. Malcolm Turnbull, for his part, comes on like a Puritan elder decrying the hedonism at the heart of a policy of profligacy. Which is odd when you clock his tie, a gorgeous article apparently woven from the gills of rare tropical fish (the shimmer). In former times it would have attracted the full force of the sumptuary laws.
And then, all of a sudden, “we are out of time”. Malcolm would probably say that the Treasurer has spent it irresponsibly. To think that we passed up the opportunity of watching Australia’s Got Talent.