I have seen the future, and it terrifies the shit out of me.
I bought a copy of the Monthly magazine, issue 2. No, that’s not what’s wrong. It’s good. John Birmingham, Janet Turner Hospital, Inga Clendinnen, Helen Garner… I haven’t bought a dead-tree mag in nearly a year, but it’s worth it. OK, so most of the writers are older. Go and complain to someone else, we’re not going to crawl away and die.
There’s an article in there (republished here by the Labor Herald) on the Young Liberals’ national conference in Hobart, January 2005. We witness the struggle for dominance between the leader of the “wet” faction, James Stevens, and the testosterone-soaked bullmoose of the Dries, Alex Hawke, the boy most likely to succeed.
Even pit bulls can seem harmless when they’re puppies. They still have the little triangular tails, plushy fur and clownish slapstick demeanor. You need to know the risk they pose once they’re older. Pit bulls like Alex Hawke aren’t even very cute when they’re young, though. Like John Howard, some young Libs seem to have been born old. And vicious.
Alex, a short 26-year-old with a muscular build, is feeling off-colour. He had a late night…
…Still, if he hadnít said anything you wouldnít notice. What is most striking about Alex is his intensity and self-assurance. Itís hard to imagine even a hangover getting the better of him.
…Alexís political education started early. He remembers having to stage a class election in grade six. The teacher, apparently, highly commended his poster and slogan. ìShe basically said: ëAll this other stuffís crap, this is the guy you need to be looking at.íî He did not win, though. ìThe voters were wrong,î he says facetiously.
By year 12 it was time to run again. ìIíd figured there were more people not in the in-group than were in the in-group,î he explains. So, with an uncanny understanding of wedge politics, he visited every single person ìdowntrodden of in-groupsî and told them: ìLook, these guys get everything. This is our chance to stick it to them, and Iím going to be your candidate.î He was elected in a landslide. ìWe rigged the ballot,î he admits now with remarkable candour, ìbut thatís a different story.î (My bold).
He rigged the ballot. In year 12. And openly admits it at a political conference.
This is possibly our future leader. If not, possibly a Goverment minister with a portfolio to administer. James Stevens and Gareth Wards’ agenda isn’t too frightening: for instance, James is pro-choice and in favour of reforms to make workplaces more family friendly. But by the end of the conference, the Jameses and Gareths are rolled by Alex Hawke, Mark Powell and their supporters on the right. Hawke is now the national Young Libs’ president.
Alex’s most offensive statement is perhaps about abortion.
He also warns me that ìabortion is not going to be off the agendaî, then adds, with a smile: ìItís going to be back, probably bigger and better.î
Bigger and better. This isn’t Barnum’s circus, this is other peoples’ lives. But of course, to him it is a circus. It’s something to be played to his advantage in the media. Principles are for pansies.
They carry on awfully about it
We talk about a range of issues. On the stolen generation, he tells me: ìThere is no generation. I think Keith Windschuttle has got it exactly right.î Alex is sitting with his back to the casinoís windows, and it is strange to look out at Hobartís harbour and mountains while hearing him profess agreement with the thesis that Tasmanian Aborigines have only themselves to blame for their annihilation. ìThere has been this deliberate attempt to rewrite history. To say we came here and raped and pillaged and murdered ñ and they do, they carry on awfully about it ñ is quite appalling.î
. The article portrays Alex as part of a tougher, lower-middle class cohort, but he’s already taking speech lessons from the other Alex
On the other side of the ferry sit Alexís supporters, including burly Mark Powell, Queenslandís Young Liberal president and the Right factionís candidate for federal vice-president ñ another aggressively contested position. When invited by a senior party figure during last yearís federal election to brainstorm issues important to young people, Mark allegedly responded that all the forests could be bulldozed and replaced with concrete, for all he cared.
But isn’t this excessive macho posturing just youthful excess? Would it benefit them to be mentored by older, wiser heads? Well, no…
Next up is Gareth, James Stevensís supporter… a commanding figure due to his height, pale features and obvious acumen. ìMy great concern,î he says, ìis that the two speakers who have spoken so far have been men.î Sitting behind me are Senator Minchin and his ex-staffer David Miles, a right-leaning Young Liberal who is now manager of government affairs at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
ìWhat crap!î Minchin whispers. Then, as Gareth continues talking about abortion as a womenís health issue, Minchin asks: ìIs he gay?î
The behaviour of these people just makes me happier to be a lefty bleeding heart socialist wanker, although I’m unhappy that we may live under the yoke of these people in a decade or two.
…Are these our best and brightest? It seems fair to say that in the world outside youth politics, many of these individuals would not turn heads. They are not particularly charismatic, nor do they possess obviously powerful intellects. Nonetheless a palpable self-importance has attached itself to the main players and their hangers-on…
Some Young Liberals will emerge from the weekend more bruised than others. One person tells me: ìThe games the candidates played over the last 72 hours were pretty low. Both told us different stories to make us think badly about the other side.î It is a practice known as shit-sheeting. ìThere were a lot of personal comments, personal degradation about other people, other delegates. People were told they were going to be thrown out of the movement.î
And I’m under no illusion that the right wing of younger Labor party members are any better. This could be our future, post-Howard. God help us all.