Editorial - 30 June 2010
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Who Writes this Stuff Anyway?

PM Julia Gillard


pdf file-available from Australasian Science


Who Writes that Stuff Anyway?


Brooks Atkinson's opening remark in his 1956 New York Times review of Samuel Beckett's 2 act tragicomedy Waiting for Godot.   ... It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. [E]xpect to be witness to the strange power this drama has to convey the impression of some melancholy truths about the hopeless destiny of the human race.



Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting on their road-side bench and still bickering.


Vladimir: Seen our dramatisation at the SOH?


Estragon: From backstage, they didn't want to scare the audience by having me up front. I reckon this bunch got it pretty right, even got the timing of the gags down pat.


Vladimir: Estragon, changing the subject, do you remember U Thant?


Estragon: Just -- UN Secretary-General about 40 years ago.


Vladimir: That's the one, served about 11 years from 1961.


Estragon: So, what about him, you consulting mediums now?


Vladimir: Please... nothing about his accomplishments as Sec-Gen, at least not directly, but the Silver Blond stopped by the other day on her way from the library and we got to musing about how cabinet ministers spend their days.


Estragon: Seems to me they spend most of it on talk-back-radio, being interviewed by anyone and everyone with a microphone or video cam, giving speeches both night and day which provide fodder for Don Watson's excursions into political speak and other nonsense non-communication. Of course the redhead got a recent upgrade in office accommodation, but I'm sure you'll get to that.  So what's with U Thant?

Vladimir: He didn't.


Estragon: Didn't what?


Vladimir: Didn't do any of that stuff.


Estragon: You're having me on... it's not possible, I remember he got re-elected for a second term.


Vladimir: I'm just repeating what she told me, she says he felt he had a job to do and he couldn't do it properly unless he did it full time, and all the PR minutia were distractions up with which he was not prepared to put, not to dangle a preposition or two.


Estragon: You bring up an interesting question, how do cabinet ministers manage their portfolios? In fact when do they have time to think?


Vladimir: Maybe they don't.


Estragon: Don't what?


Vladimir: Think.


Estragon: You're being facetious.


Vladimir: No, not really. Look at how Jay and Lynn satirise the working of English parliament in Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister. Don't you think the essence of their humour is the way they are able to craft the exaggeration to be damn close to the truth? The minister makes the media rounds, fronts lobby groups, occasionally interacts with his constituents who probably saw considerably more of him (or her) when he was a backbencher and especially so when in opposition. And when they do spend time at their desks in solitude they're so beat concentration does not come easily.


Estragon: You may have a point, there does seem to be a syndrome of "don't bother me with facts I've made up my mind".


Vladimir: That'd hardly make them unique, but you do get the impression that a good deal of the approach of holding reviews and requesting submissions directed to chosen terms of reference are devised to get material from which to pick and choose the points that are desired. But in any case it relieves cabinet ministers of analysing material and then thinking through consequences.


Estragon: But you know, if nothing else, Kevin Rudd had the reputation of being an extraordinarily hard worker.


Vladimir: Yes, but just how functional is a mind that's up 20 hours in 24 day after day and most of the time prevented from concentrating in seclusion.


Estragon: Seems to me, Vladimir, you're proposing at least a partial explanation for Ms Gillard's assessment that Labor is a "good government that has lost its way."


Vladimir: I suppose I am to some extent. Ah, Well, we'll see if Ms Gillard is able to learn from U Thant and spend time in thinking things through.


Estragon: I don't see it becoming apparent until after the general election, assuming Labor gets re-elected, and she then designates her cabinet and has chosen whom she wants as her advisors.


Vladimir: Well, seems to me that as Minister for Education she's had a mixed record. In Gavin Moodie's summation:


Estragon: Of course the devil's in the detail and it'll take some time before the eventualities become apparent. And what is lacking is an objective assessment by this government, as has been the case for its predecessors, of comparing Australia's overall education system with that of the best of its cohort and what they are doing to improve their systems.

     It's all very well for the Chairman of Universities Australia, Peter Coaldrake, to write: "[The higher education sector] has been a strong focus of policy interest, and there is a growing recognition of the importance of education and research as part of the development of the knowledge economy."


Vladimir: But a generational plan properly resourced to provide the intellectual infrastructure for an education sector from K-12 and tertiary level...


Estragon: ...Remains lacking.


Vladimir: Indeed.


Alex Reisner

The Funneled Web