“Anybody been misbehaving?” Kevin Rudd gleefully asked a gaggle of noisy Queensland schoolchildren the other day. Standing next to him, looking awkward and sheepish, Peter Slipper wisely decided not to raise his hand.
Which is a shame, because when you’ve notched up travel and other expenses that add up to nearly $2 million in the last four years alone, including $280 cab rides, you’ve got plenty you could brag about to impress the other bad boys sniggering away at the back of the class.
The occasion was the recent visit by local member Slipper and “local boy made good” Rudd to inspire the graduating Year 12 students of Kawana Waters State College about their rosy prospects for the future. An excited throng of teenagers, parents and teachers assembled to hear the former and would-be-again Prime Minister in their $3.2 million BER-funded school hall on November 18. Precisely six days later, Slipper would prove he really knew how to misbehave and turn federal politics on its head by betraying his party and these same people – the Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher - in order to rosy up his own prospects and grab himself a bigger slice of the parliamentary pie.
“Follow your dreams! Follow your dreams!” Rudd proclaimed, attempting Obama-esque repetition in order to outline his stirring vision of individual opportunity and self-belief. Reeling off a list of highly improbable jobs that these high-school kids could aspire to, including running the worlds most successful IT company (a la Steve Jobs) or heading up Formula 1 (a la Bernie Ecclestone), the pragmatic and insightful advice on offer to these young people entering the workforce at the very moment the world teeters on the brink of global recession was that “whatever you want to be, whatever you would like to do, don’t think it is too big or too difficult to follow your dreams.” Reminding us of his own relentless ambitions, the current Foreign Minister also managed to slip being “the Secretary General of the United Nations” into his roll-call of potential career opportunities for Kawana or, er, Eumundi kiddies.
Apart from a nod to his sister who’s a nurse, there was no mention by Rudd of “bringing better conditions to the people.” No mention of life not just being about “putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket.” No mention of “if a depression comes there will be work.”
The light on the hill, it turns out, is nowadays nothing more than the naked flame of personal ambition. Tailored expressly for the limited attention span of the me-generation, “Follow your dreams!” is Rudd’s and Labor's glowing new mantra.
Sitting, sweaty-palmed in the audience, Peter Slipper hung on his parliamentary colleague’s every word. The theme of individual success is one that has been much on his mind of recent. In September, at another school visit, he informed the kids of Conondale that: “We had someone who went to school here on the Sunshine Coast who became Prime Minister – what a wonderful country this is!” To the giggles and stifled yawns of a restless group of ten year olds he went on to promise them, in words that bear an eerie resemblance to Rudd’s own, that: “You can achieve whatever you want to achieve and what you achieve depends on one person – you.”
Himself a chronic underachiever in all but his expense accounts – in the last six months Slipper has slipped through an average of $1073 a day – Pete has now decided that he, too, deserves the chance to “follow his dream.” Putting nothing but blatant self-interest in front of the interests of his constituents and his party, he has grabbed the job he has long coveted yet has done nothing of obvious merit to deserve. With his promotion to Speaker comes a salary of $245,000 and a guaranteed two more years of gorging himself on the smorgasbord of publicly-funded perks and travel that he has so clearly developed a taste for.
“I support less taxes and less government, along with the principle that there should be reward for initiative, enterprise and hard work,” said the young Peter Slipper MP in his maiden speech in 1985. Worthwhile sentiments, but ones that he has failed to live up to in spectacular fashion.
The list of Slipper’s failings, alleged rorts, fiddles, and inappropriate and boorish behaviour reads like a Jeffrey Archer novel. Apart from the staggering dollar figures ascribed to airfares, taxis and commonwealth cars, office supplies, voguish magazines and so on, which have led to successive police investigations and much disquiet within Queensland LNP circles, there are the “colourful” episodes that he himself was quick to refer to in his speech accepting the Speaker’s job. Thumped in bars, kicked off planes, crashed out at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places, with comical interludes including an unfortunate episode in a disabled toilet, it is unnecessary to dredge up any specific “smears” to make the point. Slipper’s entire career is one long smear.
His most memorable recent speech (and that is being kind) was a re-hash of climate change scepticism clichés spun together with no fresh insights and little passion. Happy to oppose the carbon tax in word, his actions are nothing short of hypocritical. In one grotesquely selfish move, Peter Slipper has guaranteed the implementation of the carbon tax upon his hapless constituents against their express wishes at the ballot box. The very same tax he stood up and opposed in their name.
“The Labor Party will come to rue this day,” said Christopher Pyne. “They will come to rue the precedent that they have created.”
That the Labor Party of Rudd, Gillard and Swan ruthlessly rewards hypocrisy, disloyalty and greed in order to further its own ambitions of power will be the real lesson that the kids of Kawana take with them as they head out into the world.