Neville was in full flight.
“The thing is, Garry, I have to start thinking about my legacy because Alan is going to hell and the bastard is going to take everyone with him. This policy is the last chance for all of us to cut through, to leave our mark.
Garry sat impassively, pushing strands of linguini around the bottom of his bowl as the familiar speech continued.
“I’ve given thirty years of my life to the party and I’m damned if I’m going to let them kill me off quietly. Yes these are unpopular cuts but we have a rationale, Garry. My rationale! I developed it at the ‘89 conference and it’s never seen the light of day. The bastards never had the guts.
As he gained momentum, Neville began waving his fork around, sending flecks of salsa verde flying onto his advisor’s pristine white cotton shirt.
“Surviving three years of Labour is like surviving the Titanic, Garry. And like those desperate people floating in the Atlantic in 1912, Australians have been left with very few options. But the Nationals have a plan. We want to take the life rafts away. Not because we are sadistic maniacs. Not because we see no hope. But because we want you to swim. We want every single Australian to find his (or her) inner Thorpie and butterfly away from the flotsam and jetsam of Labor’s economic wreckage. Not cling to it until they drown!”
Garry stared out the window at a lonely street lamp glowing defiantly through the sleeting rain. He wished he was out there with it.
“You can’t be a winner until you become a fighter, Garry. That’s what my father told me. And that is what I am going to tell my electorate.”
Neville aggressively tapped a piece of paper lying on the table between the two men.
“It’s my parting gift to the voters and I want it to shine through in my final policy statement!”
Garry sighed as he moved to subdue his employer.
“It’s too radical Nev. The electorate don’t like radical, especially when it relates to their health. The focus groups are very clear on this. People don’t agree that pricing life saving treatments out of their reach will improve their resolve to stay healthy. They just want drugs.
Garry pushed the piece of paper back across the table towards Neville.
“This statement is suicide.”
“Treasury agree with me.” Neville retorted.
“No,’ Garry corrected his boss. ‘The treasury memo said that if 20% more chronically ill people were denied treatment, they would die prematurely and we would save billions on long term health care.”
“Well I like that thinking too.” Neville replied pretending his full attention was now on the last piece of garlic bread.
“We would be willfully sending thousands of people to their graves.” Garry persisted.
“Or to the gym, Garry. There could be all sorts of unforeseen benefits from a tougher approach.”
Garry looked at the time on his phone and felt his edges beginning to fray.
“It would also kill off your career two months before it’s natural death. Is that how you want to end your time as Health Minister?”
Neville leaned across the table towards Garry as far as his girth would allow. He was not for turning.
“Alan wants to see me go out in a box no matter what I do. I could have been PM you know.”
Garry looked about the crowded restaurant for the waiter and pointed down at their near empty wine bottle before reluctantly turning back to his boss.
“…Tim said I was the most cutting edge strategic thinker the Nationals had ever produced. Alan was terrified of me until that bullshit in Malaysia. And if he hadn’t lied his pants off to the Commission, excuse the pun, I would be sitting in the Lodge right now. You too, Garry. Don’t forget that. I would have taken you with me.”
“You’re taking me with you now.” Garry thought ruefully.
The waiter arrived at the table with another bottle of Hunters Hill Merlot and silently filled their glasses.
“I’ve never been able to shake it off, you know.” continued Neville. “Last week, some old duck at a Rotary lunch said she wanted to see me bled to death on television – a Rotary member!”
“Do you think you’ll go up or down?” asked Garry taking a large swig of wine.
“What?” Neville replied absently.
“Heaven or Hell?” challenged Garry. ”Which one are you going to?”
“Oh, fuck off, Garry.