News & Commentary, Screen, TV

Jackson and Lawler on Four Corners: there is no stranger — or greater — fiction

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This week really did get off to a cracking start in the bizarre scandals of Australian public life. When #tablegate broke yesterday afternoon — the fantastic story of a smashed parliamentary marble table which was the victim of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s wild farewell party — things couldn’t get any better. That was, until they did.
Not even the greatest episode of Libs Gone Wild could compare to conspiracy/espionage melodrama that was former union boss Kathy Jackson and Fair Work Commission Vice President, Michael Lawler’s appearance on Four Corners. For many months, journalists have wanted the inside story on this former-power couple’s relationship and the scandals which have engulfed them. Nobody could have expected that the real story would be quite so juicy or that the conspiracy theories the pair have established would be quite so breathtakingly elaborate.
From the revelation that Lawler has been manually recording hours and hours of phone conversations (via what was a very laborious method) over the last several years in an attempt to clear himself and his wife from their troubles, through to their, erm, colourful use of language, this was TV at its most real and most unbelievable.
Between the pair is an invisible but undeniable bond — an electricity which defies explanation and made their conflicts of interest practically unavoidable. That their romantic entanglement is at the very centre of their professional troubles is a rare and endlessly fascinating thing — these are two people who you constantly expect should know better, but their relationship has clearly become an echo chamber in which delusion can roam freely.
Of course, Four Corners has long been Australia’s most influential long-form current affairs programs, and this episode doesn’t rank amongst the series’ most politically or socially significant investigations. But in terms of sheer entertainment value and storytelling, this is amongst the best 45 minutes of TV you’re ever likely to see.
Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna clearly did an extraordinary job in obtaining the access and the trust which she did, and the story was told with great clarity and a strong sense of drama (whoever is responsible for the soundtrack of this episode deserves all the possible awards available in that field). But you almost get the impression that you could just sit back with these two and let them run with their stories and end up with solid television gold.
For Meldrum-Hanna, it was almost entirely a case of “give them enough rope” — and it turned out they didn’t really need all that much to hang themselves anyway. Lawler quite quickly offered up the term “cunt-struck”, which isn’t even a particularly common exclamation, and went on and on with references to some Orwellian “machine” determined to rip the pair down.
You find me a writer who could dream up a relationship with the same kind of extraordinary tensions and stretched co-dependancy, and I’ll give them all the Emmys.
What was perhaps most extraordinary about this episode of Four Corners was seeing what happened when their relationship was tested. As more evidence emerged about Jackson’s wrongdoing, Lawler’s previous loyalty clearly wavered. That subtle shifting and rearranging of human relationships has echoes of all of culture’s great power couples — Macbeth and Lady M, Frank and Claire Underwood — but is near impossible for any writer to capture with that level of nuance. Thank god the cameras were there to capture it.
[box]The Jackson-Lawler episode of Four Corners is available to view on iview[/box]

12 responses to “Jackson and Lawler on Four Corners: there is no stranger — or greater — fiction

  1. Ben, I hate to sound like a smart arse, but this after all is a cultural review site. And if you’ve never heard of the music of Philip Glass or the documentary last night’s music was lifted from, ‘Fog of War’, I’ve got to ask, what the hell are you doing reviewing this for?

    1. I’m very familiar with Glass’s work and am aware of Fog of War (although I’ve not seen it). I’m sorry that I do not know all the culture. I will try my best to commit all of the culture to memory.

    2. Tad harsh SNASHT, but the music of Glass, as you say lifted from Errol Morris doco, ‘Fog of War’ suited perfectly the paranoid ‘war’ going on in the head’s of Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson.
      This was ‘train wreck’ television par excellence.
      I was transfixed at what I was seeing and hearing on a Four Corners produced program.
      Lawler’s insistence of his belief of some type of Machiavellian “machine” behind the scenes in Canberra, and said with a straight face, along with Jackson’s last minute dash (if true) to lodge an appeal in the High Court, was again, train wreck ‘gold’ television.
      The ABC tele-movie of the saga undoubtedly is being scripted now.
      Move over Frank and Claire Underwood, Michael Lawler, Kathy Jackson and the “machine men” are coming to get ya !!

  2. It was truly bizarre television.
    In fairness, apparently Lawler’s boss did at one point tell him that he could have as much sick leave as needed.
    And anyone who’s had to help care for someone with advanced dementia will have more sympathy for them than you might imagine in their dealings with their QC friend. They could have done everything right and above board still gotten the reaction they did. It’s basically the norm that an entirely innocent act will get that kind of response at some point in the decline.
    And the use of the term “machine” to refer to the apparatus and apparatchiks of the Labor party is hardly new.
    Though it did put me in mind of a fellow by the name of Richard Sharpe Shaver. If bizarro is your thing, you may wish to look him up: he was the David Icke of the mid 20th century.
    Other than that, the one thing this episode did convince me of is that there is conspiracy in there somewhere — whoever’s it may be.
    That, and I could not take my eyes off Caro’s gloriously hipster eyewear. Which she may not even need, judging by the shots in which it vanishes entirely.
    Still, maybe she wore contacts.

  3. There’s (much) more to that story re the ageing barrister with dementia than that phone call where Rolfe berates him for spending Rolfe’s money. The Australian has run features about it, including more about the house that Lawler bought ostensibly for Rolfe, with Rolfe’s money, after being given power of attorney. (This is the house across the road from Jackson’s.) However, according to the newspaper, Rolfe is virtually confined to inner city Sydney and in fact cannot easily get into, or move around this house, because it has no ramp access outside. So for whose benefit was this house bought?
    I had to laugh when Jackson had reportedly ‘come close to suicide’–my impression of that woman is that she’s as tough as cats gut and she’ll outlive most of her contemporaries. He’s the one whose mental health I would be worried about. Clearly besotted with her, he’s had to twist events to force them into his moral framework to make them palatable. If the time comes when he can no longer do this, I fear for him. He’s truly cunt-struck.

    1. And that pretty much sums it up. A magnificent addition to the national lexicon. ‘Cunt struck’, in awe of the particular pussy!

      1. In the mid 1970s, I resided for some time in California. The much more appropriate term used there and then was ‘Beaver Fever’.
        A fortunate incurable disease whose symtoms can only be assuaged by constant treatment by a woman

      2. I can only hope we’ve finally found something to replace “fair dinkum”. Particularly for parliamentary use.
        It could, perhaps, be used to express complete and total commitment to a particular policy.

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