THE BILLABONG’S elderly neighbour is one of those human fixtures every street should have. More than a little deaf and quite a bit dotty, her antics and misadventures are a source of mostly harmless amusement. There is her crusade against possums, for example, which involves midnight shrieks and a broomstick as she barrels from the backdoor to defend the passionfruit vine. Then there is the habit of locking herself outside, usually while dressed only in a nightie. It is an alarming spectacle when she comes knocking late at night to request help getting back inside. Young Master Bunyip, who runs a deficit of respect for the elderly, calls her Mrs Richards, a reference to the hearing-impaired guest who cost Basil Fawlty a large sum in a particularly humorous episode of Fawlty Towers. It is a fair but inadequate description. The fictional Mrs Richards is not half so unhinged.
Just lately relations have been a little strained, as Mrs Richards has taken it into her head that the Professor should carry the entire cost of replacing the dilapidated side fence that divides our properties. Apparently, because the horizontal cross members are on the Billabong’s side, the fence is a Bunyip’s responsibility. Who knew? Certainly not the solicitor who will need to be paid for spelling out the law in a stern letter. Until this week it seemed the only option, the sole path to a settlement of this prickly matter.
Now, thanks to the Gillard government, there is hope of a handier solution. The next time Young Master Bunyip spends the night he will be handed the fairway iron of his choice while the Professor takes up a cricket bat. Then father and son will pay Mrs Richards a visit, kick in her front door, smash her furnishings and corner the old girl at the point of a sharp stick in the lavatory. All that should make sure she puts her signature on the dotted line and undertakes to cover the entire cost of a new fence out of her own pocket.
It may seem brutal, but our PM reckons such an approach is just and fair and all above board. It is, after all, a plank of her government’s new industrial policy, which forbids authorities proceeding with complaints and prosecutions once an agreement has been reached.
Team Gillard has not yet recognised the reform’s potential for settling matters other than industrial disputes, but the logic’s application to a wider range of disagreements would seem beyond argument. After all, if a union can obtain a legally binding agreement by breaking the law, why should a poor Bunyip be denied the same option?
Mrs Richards had better begin being reasonable, as should Australia’s employers. The cricket bat is about to be fetched from the attic.