Seldom has an Australian politician received the kind of accolades accorded to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh after the disastrous floods that engulfed her state.
From being a political pariah, whipped by the media and scorned by the voters, she had surpassed St Mary McKillop as a model of virtue and rectitude. The transformation has been one of those rare political miracles that is just too good to be true. Much too good, and it probably isn’t.
Bligh’s apotheosis was built on a consummate display of control and compassion, laced with heavy doses of good old-fashioned jingoism. Her all-pervading media blitz turned her into a kind of Mother Queensland — and, incidentally it was a pleasing coincidence that the two states first affected by the floods and the Commonwealth that overrode them, all have women as head of government and head of state.
But Bligh outshone her rivals, the sun to a roomful of flickering candles. Her own governor, Penelope Wensley, made only cameo appearances. In New South Wales Kristina Kenneally and Marie Bashir tried hard, but were clearly not in Bligh’s class. And from the bowels of Canberra, Quentin Bryce, a native banana bender and in fact a former governor of Queensland, barely troubled the scorers.
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Julia Gillard was the face and more importantly the chequebook of the Commonwealth, but was deemed by her critics to have come in as very poor second. This harsh judgement may have been a little unfair to Gillard. OK, she did not and could not compete with Bligh for the starring role of guide, comforter and protector, but she did come through much of the materiel Bligh needed to make the role convincing.
No expense was spared; cash was instantly forthcoming with the promise of more as it was needed, all relevant ministers were deployed in the service and the army was sent in. While Bligh emoted, Gillard acted; it was a support act, sure, but it was a necessary and effective performance. However, her critics , and they were all but unanimous, insisted on portraying it as if she was the bad cop and Bligh the good one. And they did not hesitate to use the disaster to further their own agendas; writers in the Murdoch press especially thought it would be a great idea if all work on national broadband ceased immediately and the funds and manpower transferred to the rebuilding of Brisbane and its environs.
Which brings us to he very real problems that Bligh now faces, and the reason the canonisation is likely to be a very brief one, so much so that it is unlikely to save her and her government by the time of the next election. As the Premier herself is now being forced to admit, a great many Queenslanders now face a very unpleasant and long, drawn-out future. The adventure of the floods is over — well, for the present; there is no guarantee this so-called once-a-century event will not recur, perhaps even in the next few months. The clean-up will be prolonged and frustrating, and the rebuilding process even more so.
One problem, of course, is the shortage of tradesmen; almost everyone with a licence is making a fortune out of the mining boom. But even if unlimited labour were available, the sheer scale of the operation makes it impossible to fast track. As the days drag into weeks drag into months drag into years the voters will lose patience and start looking for someone to blame, and their target will, as always, be the government.
Indeed this is already happening; the early line is that the severity of the flooding could have been at least partly mitigated by better management of the Wivenhoe dam. The buck is unlikely to stop far short of Bligh’s office. Her handling of the crisis to date will probably continue to be held up as a model for others to emulate by at least some of the pundits in New South Wales and Victoria, But in her home state, the Murdoch-owned Courier Mail is unlikely to be so charitable.
And let us not forget one so far united side effect: the floods not only deprived a great many voters of their homes, businesses and treasured possessions; they also meant that almost nobody has had an annual summer holiday. This just could be the final loss which breaks the electorate’s back.
It has been truly wonderful to watch the convulsions of the right-wing conservatives after the Arizona shootings.
Suddenly words and images don’t matter any more. The crazed rhetoric of Sarah Palin and her Tea Party associates about reloading and targeting was utterly irrelevant: it was just some deranged individual. Oh sure, and of course those Moslems aren’t in any way influenced by the propaganda of al-Qaeda and the teachers in the medressahs, the suicide bombers are just nutters who would be nuts anyway.
Indeed, the whole political apparatus of propaganda ands spin is a waste of time; it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever. And think of all that money wasted on advertising; everyone know all those words and images do absolutely nothing to change people’s actual behaviour. So let’s hear it for freedom of speech and robust political debate — but only, of course, from the Right, which is, by definition, right.
OK, the malaise does in fact go deeper; there is an underlying violence in mush American culture, and the universal availability of firearms means it frequently manifests itself in deadly ways; it is unlikely that the killer would have created quite so much mayhem if armed only with a baseball bat. But hey, remember the slogan: Guns don’t kill people, people do.
Or here’s another one: Got a problem? Get a gun. It’s really very fortunate people are totally unaffected by such exhortations.