There's this game we used to play; way back. It was called Who do you do? Each person had to choose between two equally appalling options, or die. Usually fortified by copious amounts of red wine, we absolutely had to make a choice between two individuals, however undesirable, even grotesque, they might be. The greater your anguish, the more fun your friends had. At its simplest, you would be offered desperately unattractive people: if they were an anathema politically or a religious zealot or some other kind of oddball, so much the better.
I was reminded of this game this week while listening to news of the latest spat between Campbell Newman and Clive Palmer: the former is State Premier and leader of the Liberal National Party in Queensland; the latter an eccentric billionaire, life member of and generous contributor to the LNP. Supposing in some bizarre constituency I had to choose between the two of them, I suddenly thought. Surprisingly, it wouldn't be that difficult. A harder choice would be between Newman and Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott; or Palmer and Federal Opposition Treaurer Joe Hockey. (In the UK, a truly awful choice, for me, would be between PM David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne.) And what about women contenders? Well, I've been trying to think of someone suitable to pair with Gina Rinehart. Or Julia Gillard. Or Federal Opposition Deputy Leader Julie Bishop.
I've noticed that since his election in March, Premier Newman has distanced himself from Clive Palmer on a number of occasions; either by claiming not to have spoken to him for ages or refusing to speculate when Palmer briefly flirted with the idea of running for State Parliament. Palmer loves calling press conferences, whether it's about his plans for Titanic 2 or a mega-mega resort on the Sunshine Coast, and unfortunately the media are willing listeners. This week, however, as the honeymoon for the LNP seems to be well and truly over, the large mining investor stepped up to pontificate on rather less trivial topics. He suggested that the State Government should stop hitting Aussie battlers by cutting their jobs in order to relieve Queensland's enormous deficit, and start investing for growth. An example would presumably be by approving Palmer's plans for a massive coal mining development in Central West Queensland so that the State receives lots of royalties in the coffers, right?
The reaction of Newman and his No 2 henchman Jeff Seeney was swift and vicious. They accused Palmer of sour grapes, having tried and failed to use his wealth and influence to lobby his LNP contacts in favour of his commercial and political interests. But he would have to go through the proper channels, they asserted, and would not be treated any differently from anyone else. Moreover, some of Mr Palmer's proposals 'frankly are inappropriate'. Newman and Seeney were on a roll: they almost sounded like environmental defenders for a minute.
Now, the public sector workers' union has claimed that Palmer is more in touch with public opinion than the Government. And Palmer is backing Labor calls for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate a potential conflict of interest in the fact that the lobbying company of a former staffer of Mr Seeney (when he was in Opposition) represents GVK-Hancock, who in June were awarded the right to build a rail link serving the Galilee and Bowen coal-mining regions. Clive Palmer was also in the running for that project. Oh what a tangled web we weave...
The Premier took questions on talkback radio yesterday morning. You could hear the barely controlled anger in some of the callers' voices. The cuts are hurting; but my sympathy is limited. At the last election, so desperate were Queenslanders for political change and to punish Labor for selling off State assets a few years ago, that they threw democratic process out alongside Labor's Anna Bligh by denying her party as Opposition enough seats to be able to effectively debate, let alone challenge, the LNP's disaster capitalism. Yet already the voters are squealing with discontent.
Most people agree that public sector pruning was necessary: to an outsider, the bureaucratic burden of many systems in this country certainly needs overhaul. And Queenslanders do not shy from pulling together under duress.
Another caller this morning – and I detected Geordie in his accent – agreed with a suggestion that the Government is not selling its policies properly. Don't just bang on about how awful the state of the State is. Explain how sacrifice will bring forth betterment, less debt and, ultimately, greater wealth. That's not what disaster capitalism is about, however. You have to convince often a demoralised people just how appallingly bad things are so that unpalatable and unfair measures are tolerated in order to restore the status quo. What this retrenchment means, in practice, is the consolidation of the system whereby the few benefit at the expense of the many.
So, at the next opportunity, be very very careful who you choose.