Sydney Theatre Co are staging a recreation of the 80s classic Yes, Prime Minister. Philip Quast, as Sir Humphrey Appleby, does an admirable job of obfuscating truth behind diplomatic bureaucratic Rudd-speak, the first soliloquy of which is so long, so convoluted, and so thoroughly perfect it brings the house down with applause and laughter. Although set in Britain, the issues confronting the PM resonate loud and clear with Australians: illegal immigration, climate change, energy security and financial cooperation with neighbouring nations. And of course, scandals, skirmishes, and the ever present spectre of Machiavellian plots from colleagues. the only reality for the PM and his advisors is what the Daily Mail will say next morning, and how to survive the next election. Computer models, whether they be of financial systems or climatic systems, are only to be trusted if they tell you what you want the public to hear. In this disconnected but powerful world, public perception IS the only reality that matters.
Sir Humphrey’s proposal of a carbon tax nearly lifted the roof with laughter and jeers, yet when the dialogue turned to protecting the rights and opportunities of this generation’s children and grandchildren, the audience fell strangely silent. I wondered why that was.
Certainly the carbon tax is an easy scapegoat for outpourings of cynicism, and with the tide of public concern retreating from climate change faster than the Arctic ice cap, that connection is easily made. But why the lack of amusement when any connection was suggested between climate change and what we might be leaving our grandchildren? It was as wittily written, and as pithily delivered as the lines on a carbon tax, so – no explanation there.
Is it because the audience – perhaps a representative sample of ‘us’* – felt a pang of guilt? Or that we just didn’t see our grandkids as appropriate objects of derision? If it is the latter, then this play, in fine Shakespearean style, has uncovered a deep vein of hypocrisy in our collective psyche. That is, we say we care bout our progeny’s future, but thrash the crap out of anybody who dares ask us to do something costly to protect it. Maybe this is where the majority of Australians are at the moment.
It’s a fair distance between this position and the one we took in ousting John Howard’s regressive policies in favour of Kevin Rudd’s progressive policies, back in October 2007. And even further from the Anzac spirit that saw thousands of young people devote years – and too often their very lives – to what they saw as the service of their fellow countrymen, and the future of freedom.
Are we so devoid of selflessness that we, like ‘typical politicians’, cannot see past the next tax return, or parliamentary term? Do we care more about our superannuation than the natural and economic environment our children’s children will grow up in? Surely not, Prime Minister.
*Note re ‘us’:- Theatre goers are probably not typical Australians. Ticket prices are five or ten times higher than cinemas, which surely keeps most average wage earners away. I’m lucky – for some reason I have been the beneficiary of several rounds of spare tickets, mostly at the STC, which is very nice. But I do buy a few as well – I’m not a complete freeloader! The relative proliferation of theatres in the eastern half of Sydney, where average incomes are highest, is testament to this imbalance. Sad – because live theatre can do things cinema cannot. Suburban theatres exist in the north, west and south, but are too few, and audiences too thinly spread – and so the pleasures and gems of the stage remain hidden from most Australians.