Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kisses of the Enemy
Rodney Hall’s Kisses of the Enemy (1987) is set in the future in the newly created Republic of Australia headed by an elected president whose power finally diminishes that of parliament. Hall portrays his republic as corrupted from birth by the power of international capital and specifically satirises and warns against the dangers of a powerful directly elected President.
The central political story begins with the success of the 1992 Republic Referendum and the election in 1993 of Bernard Buchanan, a real estate developer, as the Republic’s first President. Buchanan’s selection as candidate and his campaign are organised by the political minder Luigi Squarcia and business leader William Penhallurick. Both Squarcia and Penhallurick in turn work on behalf of IFID (Interim Freeholdings Incorporated of Delaware) a shadowy multinational corporation. IFID has worldwide strategic interests that include the Paringa military and communications base in Australia.
The Republic is marked by growing authoritarianism, military control and social squalor. It is punctuated by disasters, such as the tidal wave that smashes into Eden as a result of IFID experiments with gravitational weaponry.
As the state becomes more self-propagating, Buchanan fearful of real and imagined enemies. He grows so huge that he cannot see the ground and must be carried even to the bathroom by six aides, while he declaims: "I am the State." By now, he is infested by mice that gnaw at his entrails but at least, he thinks, he is feeling something.
While he has opponents within the political elite, his position remains safe as long as he retains IFID’s support. Resistance to Buchanan and IFID comes from a guerrilla group led by Peter Taverner (‘the Wild Dog’). Tensions between Buchanan and IFID grow. Buchanan attempts to govern alone, leaving the power to issue a licence required by IFID solely in his hands.
Buchanan is eventually brought down from a different quarter, during nationally televised divorce proceedings initiated by his wife Dorina. his sensitive, enigmatic wife Dorina, who lives separately, is inspired by disgust for Buchanan to provoke, in an uncharacteristic move, a "showdown" - enough has been enough. At the novel’s close, new presidential elections are under way, with a new unsuspecting front candidate for IFID the likely winner.
Kisses of the Enemy depicts the development of Australian political institutions under a directly elected President in nightmarishly authoritarian terms. Hall’s novel anticipates many of the fears expressed by opponents of a direct election model in Australian republican debates during the 1990s. Rather than a US-style balancing of powers between legislature and executive, in Hall’s republic the presidential powers simply overwhelm Parliament.