The Godfather: Peter Corris on asking for more
I went to the RTA Centre in Marrickville to renew the photo ID card issued to non-drivers and accepted by all and sundry. The very pleasant female clerk asked whether I wanted it to extend for five or 10 years. My first impulse was to opt for five, which is what I used to have for a licence in my driving days, but (and I swear this true) lines from Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Bird on the Wire’ flashed into my mind. I had listened to the Joe Cocker version of the song a few nights before.
Many, perhaps most, of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics, though evocative, make no sense, but these ones do. The singer hears a beggar saying not to ask for so much but then hears a pretty woman cry out, ‘Hey, why not ask for more?’ Under this instruction, I opted for 10 years.
This set me thinking. As I age I think more about the past (and writing these columns has accentuated the impulse). This is natural because there is more of it than lies ahead, but I had an urge to change focus. Why not think ahead?
To my surprise I found this a mental wrench. But when I made the effort the top priorities were clear enough. First, the wellbeing of Jean and the happiness and prosperity of my children and grandchildren.
After that, it gets harder. I express that hope for the people I love expectantly and more or less confidently, but the feeling recedes when I consider the state of the nation. Enormous, selfless good is being done in certain quarters to cope with social failures – racism, homelessness, domestic violence, discrimination of various and insidious kinds – but overall there is a noxious atmosphere of political puerility and money-grubbing greed.
We need a New Deal, a recognition that, in a country with only 24 million people, it should be possible, as the Scandinavians have attempted with some success, to provide a decent level of existence for all.
To achieve this would involve decisions and priorities. Being only a septuagenarian scribbler I’m not sure that I know what they are, but I know they don’t involve out-sourcing the care and control of displaced people to commercial operators, or multi-million dollar, problem-beset jet fighters and even more expensive submarines doomed to be redundant the day they hit the water, or politicians focussed on their careers rather than the public good.
Can all this buck-passing and catering to the lower instincts be reversed? I hope so. I hope that a time will come when the people will stridently ask for more – more honesty, more humanity and more equity in its non-commercial sense.