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Lessons in humanity from the Turnbull coup

  • 28 August 2018


The most interesting feature of the events that led to the defeat of Malcolm Turnbull was how diminished the actors were. They seemed more like children squabbling and back-stabbing for leadership of their in-group than adults about serious business.

That lack of gravity, displayed in the rhetoric, the promises broken, the lies, the resignations not carried through, the public commentary on the event and the rhetoric of the main actors deserves reflection.

Many will ask why we should expect anything else? After all, Australians have always called politicians bludgers. That is true, but even the abusive rhetoric shows that they expect something more of their political leaders, more gravity in their dealings with one another.

It is instructive to set these events against Shakespeare's treatment of the deposition of a ruler. For him it is a momentous event: 'There's such a divinity that doth hedge a king.' The actors may have flaws that prove fatal, but their fall gains tragic weight because they rule a nation that places on them great responsibilities with cosmic dimensions and divine endorsement. Witches, prophecies, portents and dreams emphasise the seriousness of taking out a ruler.

As the plot to kill Julius Caesar gets underway the portents lead Casca to remark: 'Either there is a civil strife in heaven, or else the world, too saucy with the Gods, incenses them to send destruction.'

We may be grateful for the more mundane atmosphere of Australian politics — it guarantees that even if prime ministers lose the throne they keep their heads. Nevertheless, the public diminishment of people who exercise power evident in the deposition of Malcolm Turnbull is concerning. It is yet another sign that those entrusted with political and financial responsibility do not take their position with due seriousness.

We should set last week's events alongside the revelation provided by the royal commissions into the financial industry. There the senior leaders and boards of financial institutions and their regulators who were once hedged, if not with a divinity but at least with a dignity and solidity, appeared as helpless and hopeless.


"These assumptions shape the language of politics and inevitably diminish the way in which politicians and financial leaders act and come to see themselves."


It is now a commonplace to blame the lords of government and of the economy for neglecting their responsibility to the nation and its people, for not focusing on policy and on good governance, and for pursuing individual