ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.
Inside the Lodge, Duff and Holton-Lacey were still hatching a plan to build a bright, new phone company. It seemed like the perfect way to distract people from the massive redundancy program being undertaken by Jones.
'Of course, we also have our own redundancy program,' said the finance minister, once again pulling out a document he knew the prime minister had never read. 'This might be a more expedient option. Perhaps I should implement it before this Jones character manages to push ahead with his own plan?'
'Yes, yes,' said Duff dismissively. He didn't know what was in Holton-Lacey's document. He'd tried to read one of his plans before, but it was extremely turgid. In any case, redundancies at VastTel seemed inevitable, and he wanted to focus all his effort on setting up a new company so all the incompetent people had somewhere to go — otherwise, they'd be out on the streets and sleeping in parks, and generally making the whole country look very untidy.
People hated seeing the government wasting money — which is why they made sure no one knew about it.
'How can we be sure that this new company will run as inefficiently as VastTel did?'
Holton-Lacey reminded him that it was going to be run by the government, so inefficiency wasn't an issue.
'Good point,' said Duff, but he wondered how they would sell the concept to the public, some of whom might have inadvertently bought shares in VastTel. The finance minister shared his concern. People hated seeing the government wasting money — which is why, when they wasted money, they made sure no one knew about it.
'But this will cost billions of dollars. We can't hide that from the public?'
'No, you're missing the point,' said Holton-Lacey. 'It will only cost billions if we actually build a network. Why would we do that?'
Duff was confused.
'We're just going to set up the company that's going to build the network. They'll spend forever planning, they'll never get round to actually building anything.'
It was a good idea. Running VastTel had been a challenge when it was in government hands, because even though inefficiency was key to the operation, people still expected their phones to work, at least some of the time. By establishing a new company, charged with building a new telecommunications network, people wouldn't have that expectation, just so long as they knew something would be delivered, some time. Not necessarily in their lifetime.
'Huge swathes of people busily employed with no evidence of any output whatsoever...'
'Yes. We could stretch it out for years,' said Duff, finally getting it. 'Huge swathes of people busily employed with no evidence of any output whatsoever.'
'Brilliant!' said Holton-Lacey, neatly turning it round, so the PM thought it was his own idea.
Of course, they would launch it with great fanfare — a new telecommunications network for a new generation, all that sort of thing — but, as politicians, a promise like that would amount to nothing. Duff's wife should have realised this when Holton-Lacey had promised, three years ago, that he would leave his own wife and they could come clean on their secret relationship. Instead, he had argued that she was taking his promise out of context, it wasn't a core promise and that the matrimonial agenda had been complicated by the global financial crisis.
'So, we forget about VastTel and build a brand new company,' said Holton-Lacey, summarising their plan.
'I'm going to call that Plan A,' said Duff, writing 'PLAN A' in big letters on his large sheet of paper, each letter a different colour. That took some time, then he added a rainbow in the background. Holton-Lacey used the ensuing five minutes to eat some of his breakfast cereal, spilling some of the Wheety-bits down the pyjamas, which he had only just realised were monogrammed with the prime minister's initials.