‘True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.’ Thus wrote Robert McKee in his seminal screenwriter’s guide Story. Or, to put it in terms members of The Spectator Australia Wine Club (see p 51 for Ben Canaider’s latest excellent buys) might be more familiar with, true character always reveals itself with the passage of time.
As we go to print, the results of the forthcoming election are obviously not known, although most opinion polls and commentators are expecting a reasonable win for the hitherto unknown political entity that describes itself as The Turnbull Coalition Team (complete with fancy Wimbledon-style logo). This follows what has been an at times interminable and at times intolerable election campaign, where all sides of politics bar Speccie contributor David Leyonhjelm have strenuously avoided addressing the fundamental issue of Australia’s chronic addiction to debt and deficit.
But the campaign, partly through its sheer length, has had one real plus: it has revealed in entirely unexpected ways the true characters of many of the key political figures of the last few years.
The most counter-intuitive revelation has been that of the character of Bill Shorten. Since 2013, this strange little man with the quirky speech patterns and peculiar use of non-sequiturs as political arguments (‘I have no idea what she said but I agree with every word of it’, ‘everybody is somebody’, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there’) defied credulity as seriously being considered a contender for the job of Australia’s Prime Minister. Yet, with a mixture of devil-may-care bravado and a brazen irresponsibility towards such tiny matters as telling the truth, he has transformed the shambolic remnants of the woeful Rudd and Gillard teams into a fighting unit that the pollsters have repeatedly had neck and neck with the government in this race. That displays an unexpected stubbornness of character. Yet along with the chutzpah and cajones, Mr Shorten has also showed an alarming inconsistency and lack of principle, as was witnessed with his Medicare mendacity and his plebiscite gymnastics. Bare-faced lying is not a particularly attractive character trait.
Next comes Tony Abbott. Although this magazine never believed it, for a time during last summer it appeared to many that the former Prime Minister was lapsing into a Rudd-like state of embittered personal revenge-seeking, determined to ensure the defeat of the Coalition government on the grounds that ‘if I can’t have it, nobody can’. As usual, Mr Abbott’s enemies (both inside and outside his party) underestimated him. Throughout the campaign, the character of Tony Abbott has shone through. A hard-working pragmatist, yet man of principle, who is determined to do his utmost to help not only his team, but the man who so insidiously undermined him (and still carries on doing so). With genuine commitment and warmth, he has campaigned his heart out to ensure a Turnbull win.
And speaking of whom: the one character that has neither developed, nor regressed, nor revealed much of itself, nor surprised, is that of the Prime Minister himself. How can it be that after eight long weeks of being the primary focus of the nation’s media, that we still know so little about the true character of this enigmatic man. Sure, there was the slightly queasy attempt to portray in soft sepia pictures the story of a lonely (but much-loved!!) childhood in a single-parent ‘working class’ family. But the script was a bit too hammy to be taken seriously. (Funniest line: ‘Dad, like all hotel brokers, did it tough.’) And yes, Malcolm did come good on boats and the unions towards the end, but only after much prodding. But lurking beneath the glued-on Cheshire Cat grin, who is this man who is so unsure of himself that (yet again) he feels the need to dump on his predecessor, telling Four Corners – without a shred of humility – that Mr Abbott would have delivered a ‘resounding’ loss had he still been leader? Who is this man really, with his snide asides and nudges and winks to the Left on so many issues? We suspect that in Mr Turnbull’s case, much of this campaign has been about camouflaging true character, rather than attempting to reveal it.
But one individual comes out of this campaign with her character and integrity revealed in the most unexpected and extraordinary fashion. And that, of course, is Peta Credlin.
The victim of endless smears and innuendo, Ms Credlin was portrayed relentlessly for two years as a modern Ainsley Gotto meets Junie Morosi meets Cruella de Vil. Worse, her professional judgment and political nous were egregiously derided. Ms Credlin has, through her Sky News appearances and news columns, revealed herself to be sharp as a razorblade, smart as a library, seriously talented, all with self-effacing dignity. The camera, as Robert McKee notes, never lies.
True character indeed.
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