Michael Pascoe: To what legacy do our leaders aspire? Peter Dutton might want to ask himself

The Easter weekend is rich with thoughts of death and resurrection and purpose for Christian believers – and this Easter is a little heavier than most for this cultural Catholic.

I went to two funerals last month and unavoidably missed another in February that I dearly would have liked to attend. Old friends, one a schoolmate, one a very dear friend. None very young but certainly none old, all too young.

Two of them left loved spouses and children and grandchildren and thus gaping holes in multiple lives. Words, smiles and laughter no longer shared. The instinctive touch of a hand – missing.

All carried happiness within, a magic. All three were generous of nature and heart. You were made happier by seeing or talking to them.

Having spent years, off and on, writing a book that in significant part is about mortality, I know all the words trying to express sympathy/empathy/condolences have been used and fail. There is only witness and acknowledgement of loss.

Lasting meaning

For believers, Easter promises resurrection and the comfort of continuing and reunion. For atheists and agnostics, it is life as it is that must be celebrated.

Somewhere between the two is the thought within the best paragraph in that book. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t write it – they are words from one Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, Reaper Man:

“In the Ramtop village, where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock he wound up winds down — until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”

We continue, and continue to be felt by the ripples we start, the legacy we leave in families and friendships.

Which, given the major political and social event of the past week, leads to wondering what legacy our political leaders might aspire to leave given the broad stage they inhabit and big opportunities they have – how ambitious or miserable their aspirations, for how long and far the ripples they cause might spread, or how inconsequential they prove to be.

Politics over principle

Peter Dutton’s legacy? There is nothing positive about a man putting politics ahead of principle, whose ambition is miserable negativity, opposing progress, one who is prepared to toy with and discard the hopes of Indigenous Australians expressed so eloquently in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

There was no surprise in Mr Dutton’s Queensland-dominated Liberal Party falling into line behind its National Party colleagues. Only the cheapness of Mr Dutton’s political goals and trickery marked his performance while telling blackfellas he knew better than they did what was good for them.

Obviously lost on Mr Dutton was the irony of Indigenous people seeking a Voice to Parliament being told that wasn’t what they needed, that Parliament did not want to hear them.

And, as somebody else pointed out, there is the juxtaposition of Mr Dutton boycotting the apology to the Stolen Generations supposedly because it was only symbolic, now wanting only a symbolic recognition of Indigenous Australians.

No excuse

The conservative hard-to-looney right controlling Queensland’s LNP and, thus, the federal Liberal Party since the election, was never going to back the Voice. It was only a matter of what weasel words they would come up with as an excuse.

There will be no resurrection for Mr Dutton’s party and no legacy worth remembering, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

They have chosen the wrong side of history, enmeshed in the sneering conservatism of the status quo, wanting blackfellas to know their place and stay in it.

Most Australians are better than that. We want and hope for more for our fellows. We want to accept the Uluru invitation to step forward.

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