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'Tis the season to make jolly tough life choices

By Natasha Cica - posted Thursday, 21 December 2006

Ho, ho, ho, it's silly season again, and some whacked-out version of chipmunk Christmas carols - with optional kiddie karaoke - is jingle-jangling just about everywhere you turn. More like bingle-bangling or even tinsel-tangling, hee, hee, hee, if you've been drinking a bit too deeply of office-party punch.

Avowedly no wowser, I admit to some slight seasonal brain blur this week. Like Kevin Rudd's Australia, I sway at a fork in the road.

Prong 1: Absorb and analyse the finer or frightening details of the weighty documents that keep plonking into my in-tray - have you weighed the full five volumes of the Cole commission report on AWB yet, never mind read them?


How about the three new reports from the Commonwealth Ombudsman on Australia's immigration detention of 20 children and mentally ill people between 2000 and 2005, half of whom were Australian citizens, highlighting serious administrative deficiencies in the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs?

Or last week's Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, recommending that US forces should withdraw from a direct combat role in fighting the insurgency?

Have you even heard of the Australia Institute's discussion paper about dissent in Australia's security agencies, arguing that direct political interference and self-censorship mean these agencies can no longer be relied on to consistently put the public interest ahead of our Government's political interests?

If magazines are more your style, how about public intellectual Martin Krygier writing in The Monthly on the latter-day corruption of his father's civilising legacy at Quadrant, or Kevin Rudd (like those chipmunks, he's everywhere right now) dissecting Howard's brutopian culture wars?

Pushing Prong 1 all the way is damned hard work. As any onshore Australian damned well knows who tries to venture an informed, published opinion about much beyond Warnie and the Wiggles, bereaved Karl Rove (did I really get that wrong?), bambino Bindi, Nicole Kidman playing in Pristina or hubby Christmas all year Keith Urban in detox. As evidence, I submit investigative journalist and author Chris Masters, along with Jonestown, Media Watch and all relevant chunks of ABC management.

Prong 2 beckons as the path of least resistance. So tempting to just ride that silver slippery slide, ending with face-down bellyflop in a heaving plateful of turkey, trifle and trimmings. Resent the rellies. Retire with a tinny to watch cricket on telly.


But even Australian forks have three pointy bits. There are some encouraging signs that Prong 3, which I won't call the Third Way, because we can do way better than Tony Blair, may firm and rise to the occasion.

Some recent developments have been more equal and encouraging than others. Revisit Jonestown - in commercial terms alone, off its blocks from day one as a publishing phenomenon, according to Fairfax commentator David Marr, and shaping up as a rival to Talking Boonie dolls as a national stocking stuffer.

Take a closer look at Kevin Rudd, who as the Good Christian Nerd his opponents love to caricature, will undoubtedly deliver a more muscular Christmas mix than most of parenting, prayer and politics. Julia Gillard won't be wasting her Yule time begging her latest squeeze for funkier holiday hairdos. And you won't see Coalition moderates and machine men flopped on banana lounges while their power-pudding pots boil dry.

Myself, I'm taking heart from any and all efforts to sharpen the swinging sword of Prong 3. And heartiest cheer at the best bash so far in the build-up to Christmas 2006.

The pub was packed with flimsy dichotomies. Mums and managers, blokes and businessmen, journos and jokers, poets and politicians. Spangles were scant but sparkles abounded (hence the brain blur). There were rousing speeches. One coined quaint-seeming phrases such as public debate and civic health. It lamented dissent-intolerance, presciently citing the late President Pinochet, just hours before his death.

Best of all, it rallied support for an elusive beast called an engine of democratic resurrection. Which isn't something you'll find at today's twin temples of Toys 'R' Us and David Jones, on that crazed Chrissy hunt for those perfect gifts for you and yours. Just stop and think about that.

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First published in The Age on December 13, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Natasha Cica is the director of Periwinkle Projects, a Hobart-based management, strategy and communications consultancy.

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