Nationals need Warren Truss to live up to his name

Warren Truss'New Leadership' indeed. Take Warren Truss, for instance. He is not a man of charisma and probably doesn't claim to be. He is a modest worker in the National Party vineyard. His website shows him addressing Parliament watched by a flinty-looking John Howard and a characteristically sour-faced Peter Costello. Truss himself looks intent, dedicated and oblivious as he leans into the microphone.

The website lists his achievements as welcoming numerous, hefty federal government grants to his electorate of Wide Bay. Inexplicably, there is no mention of the event with which he will be forever associated: the strange voyage of the Cormo Express, the shipload of Australian sheep that no Middle Eastern port would accept.

Revealing his poetic side when the ship was turned away from Kuwait, Truss explained the sheep were beginning 'their long, lonely journey down the gulf'. As the responsible minister, he later repressed his lyricism and reverted to the argot of Canberra: 'We are still examining the options of unloading the sheep at an offshore island,' he explained to persistent journalists. And, in case they missed it, 'We haven't ruled an offshore island out of the equation.'

His genuine concern was such that no-one had the heart to point out the difficulty of finding an onshore island.

The saga of the sheep was Truss's defining hour, and it's a pity he has chosen to bury it beneath a history of handouts that the desperate and moribund Coalition was throwing at various electorates in its last days.

Undoubtedly it was the memory of his conduct during the Cormo Express affair, his alert appreciation of its symbolic aspects, and his eye for its drama that swayed his National Party colleagues towards him in their search for a new leader.

'We will say which sheep can return to our country,' they remembered him saying, 'and the circumstances under which they do so.' 'Ah, those were the days,' they said to each other, and elected him, choosing to ignore the fact that, unlike his predecessor, he could not be credibly photographed astride a horse.

As for the satiric possibilities inherent in his name, Truss rises above them with the aplomb that allowed him to ignore the morose expressions of John Howard and Peter Costello as he traced, for a rapt Parliament, the ovine tragedy unfolding in the romantic Middle East.

A truss may well be a support for a hernia, but it is also a type of bridge capable of withstanding stress, tension and dynamic loads. Warren Truss will experience all these and more since, if the National Party were a hospital patient it would be very close to the palliative injection of morphine to ease pain and smooth the journey across the Styx.

Not to be outdone, the defeated Liberal Party has also embarked on New Leadership and, like their Coalition partners, they've gone for a name with cachet — Nelson, forsooth.

Though people immediately think of the famous sea Lord — 'Kiss me Hardy', 'Look after Lady Hamilton', and all that — the more pointed reference is obviously to the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney's oldest pub, where the list of boutique beers stands, like an obscure Da Vinci code, as both Liberal history and rallying call.

'Trafalgar Pale Ale', though a reminder of great triumphs in the past, has an 'emerging bitterness' in its maltiness. The 'extra special' 'Victory Bitter' combines euphoric memories of victory with the sudden shock of defeat, though hope lies in its being 'generously hopped with Fuggles', a gnomic promise allowing all under the New Leadership to look forward to 'a spicy bitter finish'.

'Old Admiral' recognises that John Howard was once at the helm, but sloughs off the past with its 'generous hop bitterness'. And 'Nelson's Blood' perfectly captures the new leader's style and temperament: 'rich and creamy' with 'a smooth finish' which, however, becomes 'roasted' on certain palates.

There is much here to encourage and sustain, especially for those who, like The Australian's Dennis Shanahan, could until the very last see the pinprick glint of hope amid surrounding impenetrable gloom. (I wish Shanahan could now be transferred to the sports pages: his capacity to translate endless drubbings into imminent triumph would be perfect for encouraging a certain football team I have in mind.)

But for all their buoyancy and 'born-to-rule' assumptions, Truss and Nelson will need to be generously hopped and Fuggled to achieve their aim of being a 'one-term opposition'. There will be a good deal of Nelson's blood and extra special bitterness before they drop anchor at some offshore island of electoral nirvana.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and, most recently, The Temple Down the Road: the life and times of the MCG.




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Existing comments

As always Brian, a brilliant article. Thoroughly enjoyed it - particularly the line about one D Shanahan being transferred to the sports pages. The Saints will need more than Shanahan to climb the ladder in '08.

James M | 13 December 2007  

Mr Truss also has the distinction of being - far as I can tell (assuming Bob Menzies never did a cameo on "Star Trek", say) - the only Australian politician ever mentioned by name in a US science-fiction TV show: see

Granted, this is not as colourful a, ah, claim to fame as other members of the Nationals' federal parliamentary leadership.

Tom R | 13 December 2007  

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