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March 16th 2012 print

James Allan

A Helluva Plight

Dante reserves the worst torments to the lowest circle of Hell, the ninth circle which is the abode of traitors.

Way back in my university days in Canada I took a semester course on Dante’s Divine Comedy taught by one of my favourite philosophy professors. This particular professor liked to tell us that the greatest poets in the Western canon were Dante, Virgil and Shakespeare, though not in that order.

One of the things you couldn’t help noticing in reading Dante is that it is so much easier and more convincing describing Hell than Heaven. The Inferno’s nine circles of ever worse Hell can be painted in minute detail. Heaven, well, that’s pretty much beyond the wit of man to describe other than throwing out a few vague and wholly indeterminate allusions.

Even for those inclined to indulge in specifics, say a few dozen virgins, and you can’t help noticing that that’s not very many for eternity.

I thought of Dante a fortnight ago on my way to Canada as I watched this Gillard government seemingly implode, in super slow motion. I thought of Dante and our two rural socialist independents, Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott.

Surely by now all of us know that these two men will never desert their new master, the Labor Party. Go ahead, try to think of any plausible thing the Labor Party might do that would ever push either of them to move over (or back) to the Coalition and thereby trigger an election.  (I put to one side the possibility that with 3 or 4 months to go till the next election one of these two will realise that it might be in his interest to engineer a defeat of the government, on the surely incorrect premise that his voters might then forgive him.)

Spending blowouts on the NBN? Nope. The highest carbon dioxide tax, by far, on the entire planet, one that might cripple all sorts of industries with higher costs? Nope. A pantomime internecine power struggle in the Labor Party that will in time probably depose another elected PM? Nope. Continuing deficits? Nope.

And yet it was only a year and half ago that we heard these two men pontificate at length about the dawn of a new era of minority government-style governance that would see the streets flowing with milk and honey etc etc. But today does anyone alive in Australia not see this as a totally failed experiment, if I can be indulged to put the case as favourably as possible?

Indeed all that talk 18 months ago about how a super fast broadband network (or whatever, I couldn’t stomach Mr. Oakeshott’s television justifications) was compelling them to go with Julia can now be dismissed out of hand. This was a decision based solely on what was in their own personal short-term interests, namely which side was likely to go the longest before calling another election, with a possibly a bit of personal score settling thrown in. This was a decision premised on ‘me’ not ‘we’ and because of that there is no going back now.

It is pure pretense for either man now to hint otherwise or that he still has an open mind. And Mr. Abbott well knows that he can have nothing to do with either of these men whatever each might promise. They are tainted goods. They are untouchable.

Which brings me back to Dante and his wonderful description of Hell. You see Dante reserves the worst torments to the lowest circle of Hell, the ninth circle which is the abode of traitors. It is here that those who are disloyal to, who stab in the back, their kindred, guests, countrymen (or dare I say electorate?) are consigned. And their eternal torments are worst of all.

Of course few these days believe in such hellish torments or divine tortures. We will have to be satisfied with a big party next election night watching these two independents electorally annihilated, if indeed they both have the good graces actually to stand at the next election and take their medicine.

Of course human nature being what it is we all have a near infinite capacity to justify our own actions and even to half believe those excuses. I’m sure even Mssrs Oakeshott and Windsor may for a while be able to delude themselves about their motivations and choices, at least in the short term. 

But the rest of us will know better. So bring on party night, whenever that might be.