Simone, Canberra, 2026
This article from the Spectator UK was recommended reading by Morning mail reader Lorraine. Written by Grace Collier it was the 2016 Thawley Essay Prize runner up – Australia in 10 years time.
Simone entered the kitchen, hips swaying. ‘House goddess’ – this was her walking style. David had selected it, online. He sat at the bench, sipping dirt brown breakfast coffee, reflecting on his empty life. Summed up, it was this: dead parents, no children, and a 52 year old ex-wife, Elise, who had left him for her pretty, female, 23 year old yoga instructor.
David had suspected the marriage was over months ago, during a rare bout of intercourse. As he was nearing orgasm, Elise glanced over to the vintage bedside table, and asked him to hurry up please, as her cup of tea was getting cold.
After Elise left, David spent a lot of lonely moments online. The marriage had been dull, and it seemed he had turned his wife into a lesbian, but other than that, David had been content. Being single and dating was terrifying, dangerous, especially at 63. David was a silver-haired federal minister in the Liberal party and reasonably well known.
Not long after Elise went, a momentous occurrence rocked parliament and tilted the axis of David’s world. That day, he came home a changed man. He gulped down two bottles of red wine and purchased a lifelike ‘companion doll’ on the internet. He called her Simone and programmed her operating mode as ‘House goddess’. That is how she came to be in his kitchen that morning.
Simone was the ‘Jayne Mansfield’ model, with artificial intelligence. She was very expensive and programmed to ‘love, honour and obey’. When David selected that option, he vowed to treat her well. He had always been old-fashioned; enhancing his home with period furniture, watching classic movies and revering traditional relationships.
When Simone arrived, David trembled as he opened the box. For the occasion, he dressed in black tie with a red pocket kerchief. He blushed as he dressed her, and stammered through the introductory set-up. David fell in love within 24 hours, but although they shared a bedroom, he couldn’t bring himself to touch her perfect, smooth, silicone skin.
As the winter sun streamed into the kitchen, David admired Simone’s blue gown, and the outrageous curves it accentuated. She was sex on a stick, wrapped in a shimmer of silk, and all his. Still, he thought, he could never take her out of the house. If anyone saw them together, surely he would be viewed as a tragic pervert.
Then David remembered what his beloved Liberal party was doing; there the line had been crossed. Considering that, could anyone judge? Perhaps not. Anyway, companion dolls were taking the world by storm. Catwalk models were being replaced. No one in the fashion industry wanted people anymore. Robots didn’t need to starve themselves, they were made thin and feminist activists couldn’t object to their ‘unrealistic body shapes’.
Simone’s feet squeaked on the oak floor. David looked at her with a benign smile, and then sent a thought message to his online assistant. Siri, some slippers for Simone please. ‘David,’ Simone breathed huskily, ‘your car is here’. She pursed her lips.
David stood, and adjusted his pale blue tie, ‘some slippers will arrive by drone later, Simone, goodbye’. He left abruptly, too embarrassed for a kiss. Leaving the front door ajar, he fled down the path. Simone replied ‘have a nice day, dear’ to his back before gently closing the door. Gazing in the hall mirror, she smoothed her platinum hair. Then, she sat on a nearby chair, poised to spend the entire day waiting: first for slippers, then for David.
The car door opened and David clambered in. The driver said a quick hello and drove on. David stared, taken aback; he was being driven by a human. What was going on?
Years earlier, alcohol taxes had been increased so sharply that many people stopped drinking. Consequently, illegal drug use became widespread. For about $50, one could buy a drink, or enough drugs to get high for months. Drugs were unregulated, untaxed and available. People on budgets made their choices. In many industries, including the taxi sector, only about 5 per cent of job applicants passed drug tests.
David smiled at his driver in the mirror. Siri, email Raj at the office: my driver for the day is human? Within two minutes he had a reply. David, there are three Commonwealth drivers left, all have passed tests. Remember the party meeting today – who could possibly have enough money to bail us out? Raj.
David sank into the leather. He pulled a pair of clip-on earrings from his suit pocket. Cream drop pearls. Wincing, he affixed them. He hated their pinching. He loathed their jiggling when he moved his head. And despite all the diversity training, he still felt like a twat.
The party had issued the earrings when David was assigned the ‘parliamentary female’ status. He had to wear them for one term. They all did. Well, almost half of them, anyway. That way, the Prime Minister could say that 50 per cent of Liberal MP’s were female, immediately identifiable by their earrings, which were all identical.
This arrangement, referred to as ‘the change’, had been agreed to by Cabinet in 2024.
The party had been under fire for having only a handful of women parliamentarians. Under pressure to adopt a gender quota, the Prime Minister proposed this idea as an alternative. Many objected, but it was finally embraced as a pragmatic, and ‘least worst’ option.
Once members overcame the initial embarrassment, the change was seen as innovative. It produced an instant result and beat the opposition at their own progressive game. And no one had to worry about finding and preselecting women, because everyone knew that at all times, half of the party would simply identify that way, whether they actually were female, or not.
Naturally, there were a few real women sprinkled in with the assigned ones, but that didn’t cause trouble. A few of those had even insisted on swapping genders, to identify as men. The party room agreed that was only fair, and in a couple of cases, appropriate, although no one said that out loud. The reassigned females wore brooches in the shape of a neck tie, and everyone seemed satisfied.
The change was politically nimble too, because in their private lives parliamentarians could revert to their original gender, by simply taking their earrings or brooches off. Australians had accepted for years that gender was fluid. It could change many times a day. Importantly, everyone recognised that a person was always the gender they said they felt they were, regardless of any evidence to the contrary, and nobody could query or contradict that, under any circumstances whatsoever.
After Cabinet agreed to the change, the Prime Minister announced it by news conference on the television.
The following day, when taking their seats in parliament, many Coalition MP’s smirked and jiggled their earrings while those opposite glowered. Years earlier, the Labor party had embraced a quota, and had almost achieved gender balance. They did not enjoy being gazumped by a cynical trick. However, not one of them could mock or complain, either publicly or ‘off the record’ to the media, because this would constitute bullying and harassment. Instead, through gritted teeth, they praised the ‘brave’ individuals across the chamber for having ‘the courage to be who they really were inside’.
At the time, David didn’t smirk. He wasn’t triumphant, he felt he’d broken his boundaries and was lost. Something inside him deflated. David’s transition was not just sexual; it was also to do with status. One day he was a respected pillar of the community, the next, a ridiculous figure. That night he had ordered Simone, as compensation for his reluctant journey.
Now, David sat in the chamber. He was impatient for this day to be over, keen to know the identity of the Liberal party’s financial rescuer. They were all so tired of having no money. A cash injection would solve all their problems. Despite his agitation, David kept his facial features arranged in a way he believed conveyed interest and compassion. ‘Interest and compassion’ was, he had decided at the start of his career, his personal political brand.
Camera drones the size of tennis balls buzzed around, capturing members’ faces. David felt sure that his face was one of the better ones. He would like to ask Simone to watch Question Time, but he would die of shame if she saw him in the earrings.
The Prime Minister was speaking now, in a dark blue suit and a gold tie. As he gestured, his earrings bobbled. He was saying that his side of politics had, for decades, created a healthy and prosperous society, through ‘adult government’. David mumbled ‘Hear hear’ and reflected on the facts.
In 2026, 67 per cent of Australians were net recipients of government funds and 19 per cent of them were on a disability pension. Illicit drug use was rampant. For years, government had been paying people to have children. Once a financial incentive was attached to the creation of life, the people who shouldn’t have done so bred prolifically. Consequently, every night, 280,000 children slept in foster care, due to parental abuse. Additionally, the middle classes had embraced an idiotic phrase: ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This became their excuse for expecting the government to look after their children while they went off and did what they wanted.
David’s party had been in power since 2013 and had never produced a budget surplus. Commonwealth spending and taxes had skyrocketed. Total government debt was $3.1 trillion. Unemployment wasn’t too bad because they fiddled the figures, but by 2020, many net tax contributors had left Australia. Most remaining voters paid no net tax, so debt and deficits weren’t a public concern. What the majority wanted was a government that gave them money, and that’s what David’s party did, to win elections.
Australia was in financial strife, and the Liberal party was in bad shape too, facing bankruptcy. Years earlier, their policy direction caused supporters and the donor base to abandon them, for good. Now, the party had debts of over $300 million. They were desperately searching for a new owner to bail them out, although their preferred term was ‘funding partner’. The party managers had authority to accept any decent offer, and after parliament, David and his colleagues would find out if rumours of a rescue were true.
Later that day, the members filed in to the party room. The Prime Minister broke the news. A stupendous offer, of $1.2 billion, had been accepted. Uproarious applause broke out. Then, a member enquired, who in the business community has bought us, who owns the Liberals now?
The Prime Minister turned scarlet and glanced nervously around. Their new owner was a conglomerate of interests and he told the room who they were. Stunned gasps broke out. Weren’t they the enemy? No, the Prime Minister said firmly, since 2012, this group had been their landlord, at the Sydney office. A smattering of defeated applause followed. David felt he had fallen through a hole in the floor, into another planet. However, for the first time in his life, he felt electrified, energised, alive.
On the way home, David rang a colleague he hated. Bellowing, he called the man a ‘fat useless sh-t’ and ran through his other shortcomings before hanging up. Next, he bought 2 grams of cocaine from his driver and, roaring with laughter, saved the man’s number as ‘drug dealer’ into his public, parliamentary online contact book.
Pulling up in the drive, David left his earrings on and burst through the door. With a jubilant flourish, he pulled out the bag of white powder and waved it at Simone. ‘Darling’, he grinned wickedly, ‘I’m having this. Then I’m taking you to bed, then out dancing. The party is saved – we are filthy, stinking, rich! I am untouchable! We’ve been bought out by the union movement.’