Or why ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott should have paid more attention to his Shakespeare.

So, Tony Abbott has gone and with him George Brandis as Arts Minister, though the latter hasn’t had to suffer the ignominy of the backbenches, he’s merely lost part of his empire. In many ways unlikely bedfellows (with apologies for the visuals of that metaphor) both men shared a propensity for indulging in what Abbott blithely called the “captain’s call”. While Tony had a tendency to ennoble the aged and already ennobled, George liked to dole out the loot to his favourite arts outfits via unconventional channels. Not that any of them didn’t deserve it, but wasn’t that what the Australia Council was set up for?

And so the nation’s eyes turn to Malcolm Turnbull, hoping he might clean up some of the fine mess that his former captain has gotten us into. Brandis’ successor in the arts portfolio is Senator Mitch Fifield, a man who has inherited a right old can of worms in the form of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts. Never has a proposal been so roundly vilified by so many, from Wesley Enoch to Claire Edwardes to Nick Cave. Fifield admits to being a bit of an arts virgin, preferring 80s pop to opera and ballet. That might be no bad thing. Maybe he’ll open his eyes and ears to the breadth of talent of Australia’s artists and those who understand and nurture them. At the very least, complete ignorance of your subject may mean you actually have to listen to experts rather than pretend you are one, like George did. 

Reflecting on all the drama of our recent political shenanigans, this month’s cover story seems timely. King Lear is a prime example of the captain’s call gone wrong. Talking to Simon Russell Beale, one of the finest Lears I can recall, he admitted to still not understanding that first scene where a seemingly secure monarch precipitates his own downfall by apportioning his kingdom on the arbitrary basis of which daughter loves him the most. But when you don’t see it coming, as Abbott claims he didn’t, powerful men seem destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Now, if only Tony had read his Shakespeare…

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