Peter Dutton answers the call on the first ring.

As the opposition leader his polling numbers are in the toilet again and there’s hell to pay. He thinks his well-rehearsed lies about nuclear salvation will save the party, save the day. He’s about to find out how wrong he is.

“Nuclear” is a scathing short story about the politics of power.

About the price of democracy.

1,000 words / 4 minutes of incisive reading pleasure

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‘The path to paradise begins in hell.’ Dante Alighieri



Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved

‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’

Peter Dutton always answers the phone when Lynton Crosby calls. So does everyone on the Liberal Party leadership team. As the opposition leader, Dutton is used to Crosby’s screaming. Even first up in the morning.

‘Good morning, Lynton, how are you?’

‘Mate, I’m fucking pissed off.’

Crosby is never shy about getting to the point. As a political strategist for conservative parties and movements and the occasional dictator around the world, he doesn’t have time for niceties.

Crosby is famous for bringing John Howard back from the dead to win an unwinnable election. David Cameron gave him a knighthood for helping him win an election. When Scott Morrison wouldn’t play ball after the Covid debacle, it was Crosby who saw him eliminated from Australian politics.

‘Peter, have you seen your numbers?’

Dutton tries to smile to make his voice sound upbeat.

‘They’ve dipped a little.’

‘They’re falling through the fucking floor and you seem intent on setting them on fire on the way down.’

Dutton tries to answer but Crosby cuts him off.

‘There’s only so much I can do, mate. If they fall another two points you will never be prime minister. You will be unelectable.’

Crosby knows that Dutton isn’t leadership material. But if he keeps his head down and the economic headwinds continue to blast the incumbent government, he might just make it over the line at the next election. Not so much win as pray for the other side to lose.

‘Peter, you’ve got to shut the fuck about nuclear power. I had five calls from Rupert yesterday. Just stop it.’

‘I think it’s important that the Australian people have a choice when it comes to --‘

Crosby’s hard laugh rattles the phone.

‘Jesus, Peter, I gave you that line. I’m not some dickhead journalist.’

‘Nuclear power is a viable --‘

‘Jesus, Peter, shut up about nuclear power. Don’t use those two fucking words in the same sentence until after the election. Every time you say those words, you’re putting a gun to your own head and pulling the trigger.’

‘But the election cycle hasn’t even started.’

‘Peter, we’re always in an election cycle.’

Dutton isn’t the smartest politician around. When Crosby began his career there were politicians he admired, smart and clever men and women of principle who believed in a better world. Who worked for a better world.

Now they’re just ciphers and sociopaths. Bitter men and women viciously fighting amongst themselves, trampling over each other to lead one party or another. Voters be damned.

Crosby knows the polls, knows the numbers. He knows what voters want more than any politician can deliver. Voters want a ceasefire in Gaza. Voters want to nationlise energy companies. Voters want governments to control prices and inequality. Voters want all the things that all the major political parties oppose.

It’s Crosby’s job to make sure the political class continues to do the bidding of his masters. Continues to move further to the right.

‘Did you see the latest Australian Nuclear Council report? It was incredibly positive.’

‘What the fuck are you talking about, Peter?’

‘The Australian Nuclear Council report was full of praise for SMRs as a viable --‘

Crosby rolls his eyes.

‘Peter, we’re the Australian Nuclear Council. It’s a bunch of juniors in the back office spinning out media releases. It’s just a letterhead. It’s not an actual scientific organisation.’

‘But what they said about Small Modular Reactors being --‘

‘Peter, that’s a phrase we came up with. No one has ever built one. They don’t exist. We strung those three words together because they sound less threatening.’

Crosby doesn’t want to tell Dutton his staff are already working on Green Nuclear and Renewable Nuclear, nonsense phrases that positions an expensive and nonrenewable power source that produces radioactive waste as somehow good for the environment, good for human life.

‘I just want the Australian people to have a mature conversation about nuclear power.’

‘Peter, we don’t care what you want.’

Crosby can’t believe Dutton is uttering last week’s talking points to him. He almost sounds like he believes them.

Politics was always the plaything of the rich. Modern politics is not about democracy. It’s about getting governments to build monopoly assets at taxpayers’ expense that can be sold off to private interests. Whether it’s road or rail or transport or water or energy or communications or health infrastructure, governments legislate and fund monopolies that have absolute non-contestable market share before selling them off at a discount. Always on the promise that privatisation will bring greater efficiencies and lower costs. Of course the net result is less capital investment, less maintenance, less wages and far higher costs as corporations maximise profits.

Crosby was the shrewd mastermind behind every campaign that returned Britain’s Conservative Party to power. Everything from Brexit to wedge politics was his making. Even his friends call him cynical and ruthless.

In Australia, he wants Dutton and the conservative Liberal Party to avoid big-ticket items like nuclear power that no voter wants and that would take decades of investment, building and testing to bring online. Not to mention all the legislative changes that need to occur to make nuclear even legal let alone viable.

Crosby knows the Liberal Party had recently taken some sizeable donations from the nuclear lobby. He figures it’s why Dutton is talking it up.

‘Peter, how much money did you take from Helen?’

‘How much in donations?’

‘Sure, Peter, call it donations. Call it fucking whatever. You know you don’t have to give it back?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The money is for access, for a seat at the table. You didn’t promise her anything did you?’

Crosby has taken plenty of money from lobby groups over the years. Everyone knows the money is for the taking. Politicians don’t actually have to deliver anything except vague promises. The vaguer the better. And never leave a paper trail.

‘Peter, did you promise Helen anything?’

Peter swallows hard.

‘I told her I’d be announcing locations in a week.’

‘Jesus, Peter, why did you fucking do that? What’s wrong with you? Do you have a death wish?’

Crosby had been through the key issues with senior Liberal Party officials. Everyone agreed that environmental protection and renewables were off the table. Australia leads the world in per capita uptake of solar panels. Which is more than enough voters to swing a national election. 

Everyone agreed to focus on three wedge issues - transgender rights, immigration and crime.

Dutton is a former police officer so everyone thought crime was a perfect fit. Especially as mainstream media was becoming more and more alarming in how crime is reported. Dangerous and violent crime is typically over-reported because that’s what brings in the viewers, the readers, the subscribers.

Crime is something Dutton can talk to, something he can relate to. Nuclear physics? Dutton is no scientist, not even close. If he wants a nuclear reactor so badly all he has to do is look up in the sky. The sun is a gigantic nuclear reactor.

Crosby looks at his phone and sees another call coming through. It’s Rupert Murdoch. 

‘Peter, promise me right here and now that you’re going to drop anything to do with nuclear until after the election.’

Dutton closes his eyes as he assents. He can almost hear Crosby smile down the line before he takes Murdoch’s call.

‘That’s fucking great, mate.’

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Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti

All Rights Reserved

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This is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have counterparts in the life and times of Peter Dutton, Lynton Crosby, Rupert Murdoch and others, the characterisations and incidents presented are totally the products of the author’s slippery imagination. This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It should not be resold or given away. Thank you for your support. (Couldn’t do it without you.)

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