Nothing ever happens

In my adjusted lifestyle I’ve spent the afternoon catching up with a box set of The Hollowmen DVD’s I bought maybe 2 years ago.

If you don’t know it it’s an Australian TV satire set in the back offices of the policy makers and spin merchants serving the Australian government of the day, the Central Policy Unit. It’s very cynical, very funny, and very familiar. Each episode takes a political trope and explores the desperate machinations of these bureaucrats as they try to turn adverse political news into positive polling.

Recent episodes have been about finding a budget ‘centrepiece’ for a boring budget – ie a ‘visionary’ ‘initiative’ looking to spend billions of dollars on vaguely defined, but exciting project. Another was about the sensitivities in dealing with the Indonesian government, trying to tread the fine line between doing what the public expects without offending the Indonesians. This was an episode replete with political semantics. Another episode was about a policy created on the run after a talkback call, initially addressing childhood obesity before the food lobby cracked their financial whips.

It’s by the Working Dog guys, so it’s beautifully crafted and performed. Very funny, but unfortunately you suspect that’s actually how the government is run. This was made in 2008, but so much of it seems to reflect the headlines of today. You watch laughing, but there is a bitter edge to it – all about the politics, how it looks, how it sells, how it spins.

The poor guys in the CPU are always running around dealing with earnest bureaucrats, panicky political advisers, and self-serving pollies. The unheralded Murph saves the day after day, virtually running the government. That’s the ever excellent Lachie Hulme, Rob Sitch as always, and Merrick Watts is surprisingly good.

One thing I figured is that if your opponent comes up with a visionary initiative – like the NBN – then when it gets your go at government then first thing you do is trash it, and replace it with your own ‘initiative’, which probably will never happen anyway. It’s all theatre.

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