Fiction

I will not be taking questions

Is this their final offer? Was that the best you could get? You’ve had it all thoroughly looked over as I asked? There’s not going to be another round of discussions? Isn’t there some factor that we haven’t yet considered? Could we maybe have a bit of a brainstorm, if there’s time? Can we revisit that list of stakeholders, just quickly? Is there a loophole, or, not a loophole, that doesn’t sound good, I mean some unexamined section of the legislation that might give us a bit of breathing space? A bit of wiggle room? How many lawyers are on this right now? And I’m paying for that, am I?

Have we considered… I mean properly formulated the possibility that this might be pushed out of the department somehow? Have you had them check out all of the externals yet? Have we fully ascertained whose jurisdiction this was at the time? Have we followed the chain of command all the way down? Has someone double-checked that information? Well, have they triple-checked? What about the Bureau? Have we vouched for everybody’s whereabouts at that time? No loose ends? Has anyone volunteered any information on the hotline that might be compromising, or made to look compromising? There’s nothing else? Isn’t there another tier, another catchment, another level of oversight? And that’s confirmed, is it? Couldn’t we blur the lines a bit? Would that make any difference? Could we maybe draw attention to the problem of the leak itself? What was the name of that intern we had, you know, the uptight one?

Well, what about putting the announcement off for a few days? Does it have to be today? Has someone floated the possibility of keeping a lid on it, at least until something bigger comes up? What’s scheduled next week? Anything that sounds worse than that? Is that all you’ve got? I’m sorry, did I say anything about crashing planes? Can we be serious for a minute please? What about later this week then? What about later today? Can’t we make the announcement in the middle of the night? Why not? Can we make it somewhere else then? Somewhere hard for them to get to? Who do we know up there? Who can we trust to get this over with quietly? Who can we still leverage? Who can we trust?

Has anyone checked with them? Well, where are they? Shouldn’t we be able to contact them? Isn’t there a landline out there? Why the hell not? Shouldn’t we be able to manage an event like this? Isn’t this why these situations develop in the first place, because you people don’t read the fine print? Isn’t that how these things start?

I’m sorry, did I say something funny?

If you were insinuating something, would you mind sharing it with the rest of us? Well, what are you smirking for then? Is this any kind of time for jokes? Is it your legacy on the line? Are you the one who’s going to take one for the team tonight? Are you going to be a national laughing stock? Is that supposed to make me feel better? Are you serious? What do you actually do here? Well, can you do it downstairs for a few hours?

Anything else? Have we looked into any positive outcomes; has it created some jobs? Is there an angle there? Couldn’t this be framed as a private-sector matter? I mean, have we really thought outside the box on this? Aren’t we giving in too easily? Why should we be the ones to absorb the blowback? Is there a way we can minimise the fallout? Could we think about the kind of language we’re using, like it was a natural disaster, a war, and not someone’s mistake? I know, I know, but why should I be made to take responsibility for it? Who benefits from this blame game, when so many stakeholders were involved along the way? They don’t think for a second they’ll be able to get rid of everyone that supported me, do they? Do they think it will be easy? Is there no one with any loyalty left in this party? Is that what all this purging and cleansing has achieved in the end, made us into a clubhouse of ruthless individuals, a pack of wolves?

Do you think you could save the animal fun facts for later? Haven’t we got more urgent matters to discuss right now, like what I’m supposed to tell Ange and the kids? How do you think they’re going to take it? What about her clients? You think I can still expect a board appointment after this? What kind of moron do you take me for? Oh, you think this is angry? If this isn’t about me then who is it about? If this isn’t personal then what is?

Have we called that guy, that consultant guy, the one who helped us out before the last election? Did he? How? Was I there? Did we send flowers? Well, what about talkback radio? Panel shows? Are they still doing those? Wouldn’t I be setting myself up for a media witch-hunt? Is that all it comes down to, personal charm? Doesn’t that scare you?

Don’t you think I’m concerned about how this looks? Don’t you think I’ve played out the optics here, considered the situation from all angles? Do you think I wanted any of this to happen? If you were in my position, wouldn’t you be asking questions? Wouldn’t you be trying to find another way?

Could we focus on this offer? Is there something we’re not seeing?

Why should I throw all this away? I mean, aren’t we all supposed to be on the same team here? Doesn’t it point to there being some bigger issue at stake, a systemic problem; wouldn’t you agree the whole department should be restructured, at the very least? What about accountability? What about holding an inquiry? Well, what about another one? Aren’t we all implicated in some way? Isn’t that what’s really going on here? Aren’t we all in the shit together, every last one of us? Aren’t we?

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2020 as "I will not be taking questions".

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Jennifer Mills
is the author of four books. Her latest novel, Dyschronia, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.