Should a local film-maker seek to recreate the Keystone Kops - a band of uniformed, knockabout comedians made famous by Hollywood in its early days - he need look no further for talent than the federal police. It is not clear who gave the orders for the pursuit of self-styled artist Ture Sjolander in the matter of the $ 5 notes allegedly defaced by Prime Minister Keating with his signature but, whoever he is and whatever rank he holds, he has the true touch of comic genius and shows a rare appreciation of the finer points of slapstick, farce and even opera bouffe...it would not have surprised if one of the federal police sent to search Mr Sjolander's home had donned cap and bells and burst into song. Anything is possible in the theatre of the absurd - which is where this matter has arrived.
The real question at issue is similar to the old joke about the dog chasing the motor car: what will he do with it if he catches it ? Had the police found the offending $ 5 notes - or if they find them - what will they do next ? The Commonwealth Crimes Act provides penalties for defacing the currency, so it is reasonable to assume that the intention is to charge the person who allegedly did the defacing - the Prime Minister. Mr Sjolander could presumably be charged with having been an accessory to the act and also with having offered the notes for sale - also an offence, which Mr Sjolander denies having had in mind, despite published reports. Should any or all of this happen, a dramatic finale to the comedy is possible: if Mr Keating is convicted he could be fined and/or jailed but, most important of all, he will no longer be able to remain a member of Parliament. Thus, Australia would present itself to the world as a country which threw out its Prime Minister in disgrace because he signed his name on a couple of $5 notes to humour a foreign visitor with a taste for personal publicity. Surely those who authorised the police action must have foreseen this possible outcome - and that the action would expose the law to public ridicule and contempt ? The law might be an ass, as Dicken's Mr Bumble said, but often it is its officers which make it seen so. Despite the specious bleatings of some Opposition MP's, this is a matter which high authority should stop dead in its tracks before we brand this as a nation of giggling idiots with straw in our hair.