Monday, January 16, 2012

Gerard Henderson, and still the dinosaur scribbles on ...

You can imagine the excitement at the pond.

The trembling hands, the heaving breasts, the sheer palpitating excitement of it all as the partner thrust a first edition of Gerard Henderson's 1993 masterpiece Gerard Henderson Scribbles On ... at the pond, saying 'well here's something you don't need to buy.'

And then - oh silence beating, pounding, tumultuous heart - inside on the cover, a signature, and the pond was but one degree of separation from the scribbler:

Oh agreed, it was steeply priced, even though marked down from a gouging two bucks to a more generous fifty cents by the St Lukes's op shop Enmore, but the pond spares no expense when it comes to literary masterpieces. And this one happened to edited by Anne Henderson, who also provides an Introduction.

To be sure, it provides a whole new slant on uxorial.

In the introduction, Anne Henderson pens this poignant insight into commentariat column writing:

There is nothing quite like a deadline to concentrate the mind. Writing begins at the office sometime around 10am on Monday morning. Gerard flicks his Papermate Pacer with .5mm cassette (now only available in Melbourne - blue coloured ones are preferred), rules a 3cm wide margin (carefully measured with pin pricks top and bottom) along a dozen or so pages and writes an opening sentence. This is no mean feat. It may have taken all morning to work out the first five words. Sometimes it takes a lot longer. After that initial hurdle the rest flows easily ...

Yes quietly flows her anal retentive heroic Don aka the pedantic, Papermate Pacer-wielding Polonius (should that be Prufrock?), and amongst many insights that flowed in a quick dip inside the pages was Henderson's dismay at Ian Temby's suggestion that "if somebody offers to sleep with a public official if he or she will show them favour, it seems ... impossible to distinguish this from a proffer of money in terms of pernicious potential effect".

The prattling Polonius's mind was boggled by this talk of individual liaisons of the sexual kind being seen as a kind of bribery, and it's heartening to think that the NSW Labor party and its ministers and the Wollongong Council shared his boggled outrage for a decade or more.

If only Minister Ian Macdonald had the prattling Polonius as his advisor and his defender in his encounter with the hooker provided by developer and accused murderer Ron Medich (Minister Ian Macdonald me feel sick, says prostitute Tiffanie - sic).

Why eating meals for free at restaurants, and falling asleep in a room with a hooker - and waking up to consult the intertubes and then nodding off again - is simply routine business for a NSW politician, and Gerard Henderson showed deep forward-thinking insight in deploring the cult of Tembyism and allowing politicians to engage in normal human relationships in hotel rooms. (Plonk, prostitutes, a paranoid pollie).

But enough of ancient history, because the title of the book really should have been Gerard Henderson Scribbles On, and On, and On, and On, and On, and On, and On ... x 10³, and sure enough today he's scribbling On and On, in Fair work for some, but small business is not so easy ...

Somehow, somewhere along the line, Henderson has developed the fantasy that he is deeply affiliated with, and has a profound understanding of the trials and travails of small business.

Is this because he thinks the Sydney Institute is a small business, in the manner of a restaurant, cafe or newsagency? Well it's true it has a plethora of office assistants, an executive assistant and only two chiefs, being Mr. and Mrs Henderson.

But it also has a gaggle of names on a twelve strong board that any decent small business would find risible and a waste of time ... even a quango or a mango should stop at a board size of eight for board efficiency ... and a genuine small business shouldn't worry about a board at all ... unless the board is window-dressing for the business, and unless the business happensto be peddling power and influence and ideas, along with offers of associate and full subscriber status ...

Henderson has been running the Sydney Institute since 1989 and before that he was chief of staff to John Howard, and before that he worked as a public servant in the Commonwealth DIR and before that he worked for four years for Kevin Newman and before that he was an academic, and before that a student on the way to garnering a Ph.D. (here).

So show us the small business!

And yet somehow Henderson thinks he's deeply acquainted with the perils of small business as he berates his public service colleagues of the past:

Most of my colleagues had never worked in the private sector and none had ever experienced the responsibility of raising money to employ workers. Yet we were tasked with administrating the relationship between employers and employees at a time of economic downturn.

Uh huh. Small business is raising a quid to employ workers. So if your local bank fails you, remember to head off to Philip Morris or James Hardie or the Alder group (or so says naughty Mark Latham here).

Well you know where this is heading, yet another commentariat reprise of fifteen minutes of fame celebrity chef George Calombaris whingeing about penalty rates, in much the same way as yesterday Paul Sheehan was whingeing about how penalty rates forced the bosses to work on the weekend, a most peculiar and profound kind of suffering that would never have been allowed by Louis XIV in his sun king days.

But the funniest thing? Well you might recall reading Anne Henderson describing the agony of poor Gerard scribbling the first five words of a piece, which might take an entire morning. It turns out this was mere idle rhetoric, because in the day Gerard was a gun hand who might have shorn four hundred words before lunch:

... In the early 1980s, I worked in the former commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations in Melbourne, in some of the areas which are now covered by FWA. This was my first, and only, public service job and it took some time to learn how to pace myself.

The essential problem was that nearly everything seemed to take forever. Early on, I was given the deed of preparing a draft ministerial reply for the federal minister. I completed the job before lunch - after all, the letter was only about 400 words. But I was told such a response was too prompt and the task should take at least a week.

And that was with or without a Papermate Pacer, with .5 mm cassette, in blue only, even if an order in Melbourne needs to be placed!

Not to worry. Henderson interweaves his recollections of life in the public service with the slowness of the investigation into Craig Thomson and allegations of misuse of Health Services Union monies, berating Fair Work Australia as if it's all the fault of public servants.

But the NSW police - public servants all of them - have reached a finding (Police rule out Thomson investigation) and it's the Victorian police - public servants the lot of them - who have yet to return a finding that's hit the google button (Victoria Police to investigate MP Craig Thomson).

Henderson is chomping at the bit because after all Thomson still represents one of the best ways to offset the Slipper factor (the Slipper identity or the Slipper conundrum if you will), but sad to say FWA public servants are a poor substitute and a last gasp hope for what would have been quite a result if the coppers had come through.

The pond suspects that Craig Thomson isn't a nice person - though an ideal candidate for pond membership - and that the union involved has been remarkably untransparent, but then the same lack of transparency might be noted in relation to the funding of the Sydney Institute. Looking for details of finances on the public record? Go fish ...

Anyhoo, Henderson's fond memories of his public servant slacker colleagues - in contrast to his young gun ways, and his deep sympathy for restauranteurs arising from his running a pasta palace for a week and dealing with bolshie waiters, and his dismay about FWA and the complexity of awards and the delays in dealing with the Craig Thomson matter - build to an epic conflationary final par in which it all comes together:

The public servants and former union officials who preside at FWA and related bodies have the best intentions. It's just that they tend to look favourably on unions and with disfavour on business. What's more, as is not surprising for those in secure employment, time is of little moment. Which helps explain the Thomson delay.

Put it another way. The man who runs the Sydney Institute tends to look favourably on business, and with disfavour on those who work for a living.

They're just sheep to be organised according to the needs of business. Better a worker serving fast food to make the nation fatter and more quiescent than a stirrer moaning about the minimum wage rate.

Yep, it seems that workers just want to work, without any penalty rates, and without any regard to preserving the concept of a weekend in which to relax amongst family and friends, and certainly without regard to antiquated notions like the eight hour day or the five day week:

This reminded me of the mindset of my public service colleagues three decades ago. Workers who want to work weekends and customers who want to spend on weekends, including tourists, just did not matter.

Yep, there you have it. Workers can't wait to be done over by George Calombaris ... just so they can facilitate tourism Australia.

Meanwhile, the pond waits now for the ultimate tell all tale from Gerard Henderson:

My life as a waiter, and how it taught me that working a four hour shift on the weekend for base pay without any penalties or tips, and without any other shifts during the week was the way forward for small business, restaurants, tourists and above all waiters ...

Oh look, and there's the first five words and more done. Why the other 500,000 should be a doddle ...

Scribble on and on Mr. Henderson. The waiters of Australia need you to see things clearly ...

(Below: because you can't get enough, here's the rear cover, highlighting the special sections, like What is history? which turns out to be a very short polemic about the virtues of warfare from yet another armchair warrior).


  1. It's kind of like Waterboarding, the Sydney Institute kind of reform? Those who think it isn't torture have never had it done to them.Those who have, well, a different kettle of fish there! And of course Ger-anne Henderson's missives have that same drip,drip,dripping monotony of a CIA interview....

  2. Hey GlenH

    Xin Nian Kuai Le

    Don't know why I should revert to Chinese but mention of the CIA and Gerard Henderson - which might well lead you to deplore Jon Huntsman for speaking Mandarin and being a Manchurian candidate - made me feel weirdly subversive.

  3. Sorry, could you give us the Henderson link? Google just directs us to your blog. Thanks.

  4. Not sure what Henderson link you're talking about. His latest column, as per the blog

    The Sydney Institute - at least the first one

    There is no link for Scribbling On. It's a book ...

  5. I now regret not tripping Polonius when he walked past me in a Hobart restaurant recently . I would have used my left foot--naturally. I'm sure he tipped the U.S. style (10--15%)leading by example as he pioneers the wages levels for waitstaff , as overpaid as they are.

  6. The Daniel Day-Lewis manoeuvre!

    Let's hope a waiter dissatisifed with the tip chases him down the street ...


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