Minister for minibars

Honoured to fill in this week for your go-to Gadfly, Richard Ackland. I don’t know where Richard is, so I can only assume that he has been kidnapped by Eric Abetz after many years of taunting Tasmania’s darkest mofo. Or maybe he’s just travelling.

And while we’re on the subject of travel, if Trivago is looking for a new face for its omnipresent ads, it need look no further than Bridget McKenzie. The Nationals deputy leader knows a thing or two about hotels, having just received Canberra’s coveted award – Most Travel Allowances of the Year – by charging taxpayers $1400 a week to stay in hotels at least three out of five nights last year. Congratulations, Senator. Your prize is one Bronwyn Bishop taxpayer-funded helicopter ride to a Sky News studio of your choice.

According to her spokesperson, Senator McKenzie’s travel expenses are due to a “desire to directly engage with stakeholders and communities”. And to be fair, the senator clearly has a way with stakeholders. You only need to look back to February when she had her photo taken outside the National Obesity Summit, comically holding her hands over her stomach. Of course, she later apologised for this bit of undesirable stakeholder engagement, blaming the pose on “how my stomach felt after scrambled eggs reacted [with] yoghurt”, an excuse that would sound more believable from Senator George Costanza.

Luckily, all this travel is for a good cause. Many of the senator’s trips were to hand out local sporting grants to Coalition MPs. Unfortunately, as Nigel Gladstone of The Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, some of these grants were worth less than one day’s travel costs for McKenzie and her staff.

Hopefully the photos turned out well.

The travel allowance figures come courtesy of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority. The committee wouldn’t tell The Saturday Paper whether Senator McKenzie’s Nationals colleague Barnaby Joyce has been billing taxpayers for his extended stay in New England’s hippest boutique hotel, The Doghouse.

Pleasures zest

While we haven’t yet got much of a sense of his policy platform, Labor leader Anthony Albanese is not opting for a small-target strategy when it comes to his music taste. “Every track #Brilliant”, the Labor leader tweeted about Joy Division’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Coincidentally, Unknown Pleasures is also the title of Bill Shorten’s forthcoming collection of fan fiction about his life in The Lodge (MUP, 2020).

Albo’s support for Joy Division – a surprise given the New South Wales Labor Right’s longstanding relationship with the synth-pop of New Order – has sent shockwaves through Sussex Street, with many party operatives wondering how the ALP’s shift to seminal post-punk will play in seats in regional Queensland.

Mr Albanese’s office declined to comment, though to be fair, I also declined to call them.

Nuclear Bolt lines

Herald Sun columnist and/or Dadaist performance artist Andrew Bolt has unleashed his hottest take of the year, this time delivering a rousing defence of … radiation.

Radiation is getting a bad rap, according to Bolt. Under attack again, this time from social justice warrior HBO with its critically acclaimed series Chernobyl, radiation finally has the champion it deserves in Andrew. Under the headline “CHERNOBYL: GREEN LIES KILLED MORE PEOPLE THAN THE RADIATION”, he writes: “Chernobyl … does prove one scary truth thing about radiation. It makes people blind. Dangerously blind to the truth.”

(N.B. Has anyone measured radiation levels at the op-ed department of the Herald Sun?)

“More people died from the scare than from the disaster itself,” Bolt goes on, “just as we now suffer more from policies to ‘stop’ global warming than from any warming.”

Bolt, who at the time of writing is yet to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, ended his piece by bemoaning the state of the media.

“Scares sell, and calm sense does not,” he laments, with no detectable trace of irony.

Grave encounter

Senator Pauline Hanson this week conducted an interview with Today from a cemetery, in what could only be an attempt to cement her reputation as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of choice for Australia’s xenophobes.

“Pauline, you’re in a cemetery this morning in Rockhampton… Why?” asked host Deborah Knight, wisely.

“Deb, I find cemeteries fascinating,” replied Hanson, who is by all reports going through a big Jean-Paul Sartre phase right now.

“These people here,” she said, referencing the audience of corpses lying beneath the ground upon which she stood with a graceful sweep of her arm, “these people have been through depressions, recessions, wars, hardships that Australians will never ever feel or, you know, come across in their life.”

The senator, who in recent years has attempted political suicide on many occasions but ultimately never been successful, also used her gravestop to let Australians inside her political thought process – complete with her trademark Kerouac-esque stream-of-consciousness rhetoric.

“I think that, you know, what’s happened to this country all comes down to the decisions of politicians and I’m a politician so the decisions that I make, you know, it’s all about the future generations and we have to get it right.”

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about this interview in a cemetery with a former Dancing with the Stars contestant tells me Australia may not be getting it right.

Meanwhile, one of One Nation’s previous senators has inexplicably risen from the dead.

Former mining consultant Malcolm Roberts has been re-elected as a senator for Queensland. Roberts, who once penned an extraordinary climate-change-denying screed clocking in at 300,000 words – for context, James Joyce’s Ulysses is just over 265,000 words long – titled CSIROh! will now be paid a base salary of more than $211,000 a year by the Australian people so he can spend more time telling us climate change isn’t real.

We await his press conference from the Gympie cemetery.

Cutting-edge news

In a disturbing incident, seemingly manifested into reality through some kind of secret Murdoch witchcraft by commentators from The Australian, ABC journalist Emma Alberici has almost had her fingers severed in a blender.

Alberici, who was controversially almost severed from Aunty last year by former chairman Justin Milne, wrote of the incident on Twitter: “Advice: Don’t put fingers in stick blender blade to wash it while it’s still plugged in to the power.”

Well, now it makes sense why Annabel Crabb was chosen to host Kitchen Cabinet.

Fake that, Donald

As if the Alberici drama wasn’t enough for Aunty, the public broadcaster also had to deal with the ire of United States president Donald Trump.

Trump recently had a bizarre interview with the US ABC news network, during which he delivered a sob story over the press coverage he has received.

“… I’m treated badly by the press – and nobody’s ever been treated badly like me,” he says. Adding: “Abraham Lincoln was treated supposedly very badly. But nobody’s been treated badly like me.”

In case you didn’t finish the Spielberg movie, Abe got shot in the head at the end.

Trump, furious that the news network aired the footage of him saying those exact words with his own mouth, proceeded to accidentally tag the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a tweet that concluded with “More Fake News”. Aunty responded with a GIF of a koala, and some helpful direction to the US ABC news Twitter account the president meant to denigrate.

“President Donald Trump”, “fake news”, “GIF of a koala”. I encourage you, in an act of crushingly depressing mindfulness meditation, to close your eyes and take a moment to let that oh-so-2019 combination of words echo through your brain.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 22, 2019 as "Gadfly: Minister for minibars".

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Evan Williams
co-writes satirical sketches for the ABC’s 7.30 with Mark Humphries. He has also written for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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