Australia’s Hollow Men

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

from T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men 

In July 2008 the ABC broadcast one of its best ever TV comedy series, the 2×6 part satire The Hollowmen. Following the success of this venture the ABC promised, or in TV parlance, greenlit, a 3rd series, apparently scheduled for 2010. Strangely, in this crucial election year, what should have been one of the highlight of the ABC’s schedule, The Hollowmen, has apparently gone down the gurgler. 

You may well ask …”why”? 

The Hollowmen, although lacking a dramatic thread, made up for this flaw with a clever array of appalling characters. Centred in Canberra, they extravagantly depicted the inner workings of the stumbling spin-doctor-apparatus that passed for the “Central Policy Unit” of the Prime Minister’s Department. Senior bureaucrats were gleefully depicted as being constantly spun senseless by their political spin-masters. The spin-team’s motto seemed to be “save face, not money”, although officially it was, “forget the 24 hour news cycle and focus on next week’s headlines”. 

Curiously, by working back from the broadcast date (July 2008), and judging from the time it normally takes to get decisions from ABC commissioning editors, drawing up documentation, planning a production schedule and actually making a 12×30 minute series, the project must have been commissioned during the final year of the Howard government. 

And you can see the delight that all involved would have enjoyed in sending up John Howard. There is everything that snaps and snarls at the Howard government in The Hollowmen. Immigration, ambassadorial appointments for the boys, military recruitment, Kirribilli House, fighting a “blippy dip” in the PM’s image, appealing to the Y generation and creating jobs — to say nothing of the “carbon” challenge. Then there is the PR flight to Antarctica, the expensive cure-all-pill and the image-building infrastructure project designed specifically to make the PM look really, really good. That episode covered the “edifice complex”. 

But unfortunately by the time The Hollowmen was completed and broadcast in July 2008, the Australian Prime Minister wasn’t John Howard anymore…it was the one and only Kevin Rudd, the King of Spin. Kevin Rudd and his media team became totally associated with the characters in The Hollowmen through every fault of their own. And the series rated its pants off. Over a million viewers tuned in for the first episode, with the others attracting 900,000 odd viewers. Although the ABC doesn’t programme for ratings (oh! yes), the response from the viewing public would have been ratings…gold! gold! gold! 

We can only wonder (and guess), why the ABC dropped the series like a hot brick. But at least we can wonder and imagine how the third series of The Hollowmen might have been scripted. After all, we do have two years of the Rudd government and it’s spin to fall back upon. 

Indeed why bother to make a third series of The Hollowmen when the real-life players are performing for us daily in the newspapers and on each evening’s TV news and current affairs, to say nothing of in our mind’s eye. The third series of Rudd’s Hollowmen must surely start back in January 2008 with the first episode, “The Inflation Genie’s Out of the Bottle”, which was followed up expeditiously in the second episode, “Wrong Bottle—It’s the World Financial Meltdown, Stupid”. 

Episode 3 was the nail-biting Wong and Garrett’s, “Planet’s a Burning” with thousands of sulphur crested cockatoos screaming blue murder about global warming, drowning cities, withering lettuce crops and a totally buggered Great Barrier Reef — all in all a really top notch effort by Rudd’s Central Policy Unit. In the fourth episode the spin-unit’s mind was firmly concentrated on the world stage, and Rudd’s seat on the UN Security Council — we see him here, we see him there, we see him just about everywhere — that dashing Aussie Pimpernel. 

But without doubt all money was on the fifth episode, “I’m in Your Debt”. It was where the boys and girls of the Central Policy Unit really came up with the goods. Firstly you give every voter $950 to spend on absolutely any dash thing they like — which was, as it turned out, mainly stuff made in China. It was beautifully named The Stimulus Package, $42 billion, which included all sorts of debt-building initiatives, with great sounding names such as Nation Building and Education Revolution. And while the Visa Card was out, Minister Stephen Conroy gazumped everything with his $43 billion broadband spend-up. This fabulous idea was worked out on the back of an RAAF in-flight menu while Rudd and Conroy were flying about the nation — Nation Building. You can’t script this sort of thing! 

But while we all were imagining The Hollowmen had done their best work, and our wandering eyes were distracted by a pair of sun-tanned legs in Speedo’s, out of nowhere came Peter Garrett with his awarding winning performance in the final episode, “Batting for Australia”. 

As we are all wondering, when the first thing anyone who climbs into a roof cavity does, is turn off the main power switch, why this wasn’t Rule One in Garrett’s insulation training programme. The unfolding debacle reveals the hollowness of Rudd Labor government. 

Only in the deep dark depths of the bunker of the Central Policy Unit could a concept like this ever be dreamt up, and indeed, undertaken. But we now know that the pink-batt caper was originally proposed by an organization, or “peak body” of the insulation industry called the Insulation Industry Council. It apparently only has two members— CSR and Fletcher Insulation. These two companies control about 70% of Australia’s insulation industry. (see Weekend Australian, page 5.) 

And this is surely the essence of what typifies the general failures of the Rudd Labor government. The lack of strenuous, bureaucratic questioning, of government initiatives. The $2.1 billion insulation scheme from the lobbying of the two-member Insulation Industry Council; the $43 billion Broadband scheme worked out at 30,000 feet on the back of a menu; an Education Revolution that spends billions on gymnasiums and can’t deliver student laptop computers. A meeting with the three free-to-air commercial TV stations that results in a $500 million unconditional licence-fee holiday. And it just goes on and on and on. 

Thank goodness Kevin Rudd is an economic conservative! Where on earth would we be if he was a big spender?

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

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