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April 08th 2016 print

Nikki Savage (as told to Jim Allan)

How To Be a Political Columnist

To make your way in Canberra, as I have done, the key is consistent inconsistency. If the PM you don't like pulls off a coup, denigrate that achievement. When your dreamboat PM sows confusion, division and fraternal enmity, hail that chaos as proof of his agile and innovative wonderfullness

niki savageAs a star political columnist for The Down Under newspaper many people ask me how I do what I do.  ‘What is the secret to writing the sort of books and opinion pieces you do on Australia’s political scene?’, they ask me.  My answer is ‘Keep it simple, keep it savage. And if in any doubt whatsoever, say that it’s always former Prime Minister Monk’s fault’.  Remember that, and you’ll have no problem churning out a few years’ worth of columns, plus a book or two.  Trust me.  It’s worked for me big-time.

Go back to last September, when the Liberal Party defenestrated former Prime Minister Anthony Monk and replaced him with new Prime Minister Macbeth Swirlbunk. Now think back to just before that September execution day (and apologies for using the sort of violent metaphor Mr. Swirlbunk dislikes, at least when he’s not employing them himself that is).  I had been making it plain for months to my readers in The Down Under that Mr. Monk wasn’t up to the job.  No, make that for years.  Heck, ‘Every Column All the Time’ had basically become my motto. You see, I’d discovered, my friends, that this ‘Monk Derangement Syndrome’ was the secret to good political writing.  The ABC absolutely loved me, and who doesn’t want to get up early on Sunday morning to spend some quality time with Larrie Leatherface, David Smarrm and the girls?

The trick was to blame every imaginable thing going wrong in Australia, and every reform not pursued, on Mr. Monk.  All the better if it were possible simultaneously to paint Mr. Swirlbunk as genius incarnate.  Believe me, that’s been the recipe for my success.  Let’s try it.

Stopping the boats?  Just say anyone could do it.  Well, maybe not Labor. Nor the Greens.  Nor the Europeans.  But anyone else could.  Okay, even Mr. Swirlbunk himself hadn’t seemed keen to stop them, or even to try to do so, way back when he’d been Opposition leader.  No matter.  Just claim that Macbeth would certainly have stopped those boats had he been the man to win the 2013 election for the Coalition, which of course he wasn’t – though I wish he had been.

Anyway, you can take it from me, Nikki Savage, that anything Monk can do, Swirlbunk can do better.  I know because, well, I’ve got a giant crush on dreamy Macbeth Swirlbunk.  I just love the way he leans left when he’s giving interviews to the ABC.  And my heart goes all aflutter when he talks about the economy.  Or when he casts that ‘come hither’ glance in my direction while cooing that it’s the best time for me to be alive, ever, and that maybe a bit of innovation is in order. And then when he whispers in my ear that if he had his druthers he’d love to be trading some emissions. Well, I am only human.

Who can resist the man, I ask you?  Who wouldn’t want Big Mac as a source of party gossip and leaks, before he takes the throne himself and after?  I’ll be blunt. Macbeth Swirlbunk has been the answer to all my prayers.  To my husband’s too, though let’s not advertise that, dear readers.  Certainly I never do.

Here’s another thing that’s played a big role in my penetrating political analyses over the years.  You see, I once said that I disagreed with Mr. Monk 90% of the time.  Go and look it up if you wish.  And given that sort of fundamental divergence of outlooks between the two of us, well, you can’t really expect me to give Mr. Monk a chance to respond when I blame him for every known Liberal failure in my latest book.  Can you?  I mean what sort of approach to journalism would that be?

Besides, I didn’t just blame him.  I also piled into his Chief of Staff, Ms. Louise Lincred.  If you’re going to live up to a last name like mine you need to go in hard, dear readers.  If someone reports hearsay about a supposed affair between Monk and Lincred – a little L and M as it were – well, you can’t really expect me to put that allegation to either of them before using it.  Straight into the book it goes, dear readers.  After all, it’s not as though new Prime Minister Swirlbunk was going to defend Ms. Lincred or was ever likely to criticise me for what I put in the book.  Besides, did I mention how dreamy I find our new Prime Minister and how much I respect him for finding work in his office for seniors, one senior anyay?

Now some of you might be wondering, ‘What will Nikki write about after Monk’s been knifed (too violent?) or defenestrated (still a violent metaphor, but maybe some readers won’t know what it means?) or removed?’.  Fear not, my faithful followers.  Nothing need change.  I can stick to the formula and keep attacking Mr. Monk.  Why, I can now turn to blaming him for not being a team player (while hoping that most readers are too dumb to miss the agile hypocrisy of such charges, given that my hero, Macbeth, may – I say ‘may’ because nothing has ever been proven – have indulged in a bit of leaking, white-anting and non-team-playing himself now and again before seizing the reins).  But that was then, you see, when Anthony was Prime Minister and so it was OK back then.  Now it’s now.  Mr. ‘Leave it all on the Table’ Swirlbunk is now PM, so everyone must pull together.  It was OK to undermine the team back then.  But now it’s not OK.  How hard is that to understand?

So what if PM Swirlbunk doesn’t want the Treasurer to be in his inner clique!  Who would?  Let’s face it, Beam-Me-Up-Scotty voted for Mr. Monk last September in the spill that brought in my man and my hubby’s man to. Oops, no, strike that bit — what I meant to say is ‘our current PM and world statesman’. The point is this: if Scotty didn’t have the brains to actually vote for Macbeth over Anthony – and don’t quibble with me about how Scotty secretly worked to ensure the regicide (Too violent a metaphor?  Too latinate? Not republican enough?) would succeed, then he can’t expect to be told that the date had changed  for handing down his budget.  That is a captain’s call, n’est-ce pas?

The thing about captain’s calls is that I like them when they’re made by Swirlbunk but I hate them when they’re made by Monk.  Simple as that, really.  Got it?  If so, you now know the secret of my success, dear readers.  And I won’t be changing it anytime soon.

Nikki Savage is the essence of mainstream Australian journalism. James Allan teaches law at the University of Queensland.