George Orwell could not have written the pork barrel script any better himself.
During the week, we saw the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority’s chief executive placed in Room 101, forced to back-pedal on her previous admission that she and her staff were working from Armidale’s McDonald’s.
Back then, before the historical revision had to occur, she was asked how the authority’s relocation from Canberra to Armidale was going, and she admitted that the high-level employees forced to work in New England lacked even the basic internet services to do their jobs. They were using Macca’s free Wi-Fi.
At the Senate inquiry into the Policy Order that moved the authority into the regions of Air Strip One, Kareena Arthy revised her earlier comments, saying they were a literary device, not an actual description.
Now heading the Ministry of Truth, Barnaby Joyce is ordering that history be rewritten: the authority’s head wasn’t really working at Macca’s . . . the authority isn’t really a regulator, it’s a research organisation . . . the authority must be based near a university – in Armidale, of course.
Meanwhile, Joyce’s Thought Police are telling the authority’s traumatised workforce what to think and say. ‘‘You’re just getting on with the job,’’ they instruct, in dimly-lit rooms. ‘‘Whether you’re going to Armidale, staying in Canberra or you’re undecided: you’re getting on with the job. Freedom is Slavery.’’
History is being rewritten, the chief executive wasn’t really working at Macca’s and the authority was set up not as a regulator, it’s now a research organisation that must be based near a university – in Armidale, of course.
Boundaries are now redrawn, the nation’s population is divided into zones and Joyce spends his time promoting friction and conflict between the warring states. It’s city versus country and the Agrarian Socialists against everyone who doesn’t agree with Big Brother.
Joyce has a two-track strategy to manage the rebellious Outer Party scientists at the pesticides authority . While his Thought Police apply their craft through speaking notes – ‘‘I’m just getting on with the job, I’m just getting on with the job’’–a mysterious IT roll-out to their homes will make them think they are working in Armidale. It’s a neat trick, designed to make them think they’ve had a win-win, and that War is Peace.
But the workforce doesn’t yet realise that the IT roll-out is all part of the omnipresent government surveillance Joyce has been growing. In fact, one of our sequel’s main characters – Paul Grimes – was executed after his failed attempt to put an end to unauthorised surveillance and stop the rewriting of the historical record, known in the Inner Party as Hansard.
Meanwhile, the Capital’s population is in revolt. Its residents’ Treasury contributions – now collected by Belgian-speaking clones – are being used against them. They are literally paying for their own demise. But Joyce is standing firm. Whenever the revolt looks like spilling over, he responds with a full-court press by a Capital minority: a nomadic people wearing funny hats they call ‘‘Akubras’’ in their Agrarian Socialist dialect. These ‘‘pressers’’ are always held in the confines of Big Brother Headquarters, where he feels safe from rebel scientists and veterinarians, but not necessarily from wayward crop dusters.
Joyce is fighting on many fronts, because Agrarian Socialists in every zone now want a pesticides authority, too, but he only has one to offer. The Ministry for Truth is trying to resolve the matter, developing a Policy Order designed to make them think they’ll secure their own boondoggle in the near future.
‘‘It needs a name,’’ Joyce says to his officers at the Ministry of Truth, and they come back to him the next day. ‘‘Decentralisation,’’ they say.
Meanwhile, a group of breakaway socialists – oddly called ‘‘One Nation’’ – has put its own propaganda machine into overdrive, taking credit for every error Joyce makes. When the Sweetener Growers revolted, a secret Code was developed that was so clever that even the main zone’s Treasurer thought it was unnecessary.
When Joyce decided to financially punish those coming from other zones looking for work, the Ministry of Truth swung into action again, claiming it was someone else’s tax. No one knows what the future will bring. A mysterious creature called ‘‘White Spot’’ is threatening food security but Joyce knows nothing about it – it must have been the crop dusters. Ignorance is Strength.
It will all end well because Joyce is plotting a move to the Ministry of Transport. But that’s for the next book. Available in all fiction bookstores soon.
This piece was first published in Canberra Times today.