Diary

Gadfly
Moving on to greener onions

We’ll be filling in as your Gadflies for Richard Ackland this week, as Facebook has banned him from writing this column.

Tony Abbott, the former prime minister who ate through Australia’s crops like an aphid, is likely to be appointed as an adviser to the British Board of Trade. While we were initially thrilled at the possibility of being able to trade Abbott for someone else – David Attenborough, perhaps? – it appears we misunderstood the nature of the arrangement.

Concerns have been expressed that Abbott, who was born in Britain before tragically relocating to Australia, will not be operating in Australia’s best interests. In fairness to Abbott, that is entirely consistent with his tenure as prime minister, when he was operating in Rupert Murdoch’s best interests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Abbott’s appointment as a “good hire”, although take that with a grain of salt as he’s the man who hired Scott Cam as Australia’s “national careers ambassador”. Abbott has made no official comment on his appointment but sources close to him tell us the former PM’s eventual statement will involve a series of long pauses and something about shirtfronting trade barriers.

Labor and Greens MPs expressed outrage that a former Australian PM could essentially be working as a foreign agent, and some on the conservative side were similarly unimpressed. “It’s an indictment on the Morrison government that they couldn’t find him something,” lamented Sky News host and recruitment agency Rita Panahi. To the contrary, we commend the Morrison government on this lack of appointment and encourage them to continue not hiring such esteemed talent.

Abbott, who hasn’t said how much he’ll be compensated for the role, is still on his $300,000-a-year parliamentary pension. In his defence, he has announced plans to donate the entirety of that pension to himself.

The British Board of Trade must have been impressed that, since arriving in Britain, Abbott has already delivered a speech accusing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of running a “health dictatorship” and slammed the media for spreading “virus hysteria”. Our loss is Britain’s loss.

The British Board of Trade meets four times a year, leaving the former PM ample time to pursue his other passions, including shallots, scallions and leeks.

The press conference we had to have

While one former prime minister was lining up a new job overseas, two others were back in Australia defending superannuation. Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd held a joint press conference on Monday, with Rudd speaking from Brisbane and Keating from his home in Sydney, although given the amount of antique French clocks and classical music contained therein, it technically counts as a European state.

“Superannuation is a bit like a bath,” Keating told reporters. “The water in the bath is the savings. So, the government has taken the plug out of the bath…” The metaphor was not one of Keating’s finest, leaving several elements of the financial system open to interpretation. Are franking credits a rubber duckie? Are the bubbles the age pension assets test? And what is the bath bomb? The capital gains tax? Worst of all, Keating’s “big picture” message in this case turned out to be an involuntary mental image of our treasurer in the tub, all soapy.

In Brisbane, Rudd, who was sporting a shaggy grey beard that made him look like an amateur craft beer brewer who accidentally fell into a suit, was far less literary in his remarks. “That is the biggest bullshit argument I have ever heard,” he said in response to the government’s suggestion that there could be slower wage growth if superannuation went ahead. The jury’s out on whether he was channelling genuine anger or once again struggling with a teleprompter script.

Current Labor leader Anthony Albanese came in at the end of the presser to say something or other about the Rabbitohs.

BonusKeeper

Andrew Leigh, the Labor MP with a BA from the University of Sydney, a PhD from Harvard and a physique that looks like a sausage skin stretched over a skeleton, highlighted a number of firms that have been receiving JobKeeper payments, and then paying massive bonuses to executives.

We look forward to the government’s announcement of a robo-CEO scheme to hound the nation’s dole-bludging executives into submission. Star casino, Leigh revealed, had received $64 million in JobKeeper payments and then paid chief executive Matt Bekier an equity bonus worth $800,000. It’s a change in strategy for the company, which normally prefers welfare payments be deposited directly into the Queen of the Nile.

The story of the Kelly gang

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, a prominent member of the Sky News faction of the party, has used a speech in parliament to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19. Kelly’s speech was then shared on Facebook by Pete Evans to his 1.5 million followers, the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez of misinformation.

Evans, who now makes Uri Geller seem like Alexander Fleming, has spent the past few years trying to out-humiliate himself since season one, episode 20 of MasterChef when, in the challenge to prepare tea-smoked duck breast with ravioli of water chestnut, pear and duck liver with blood orange sauce, spinach and crispy fried ginger, he was defeated by one of the amateur contestants. Bizarrely, it was soon after that loss in 2009 that Channel Seven decided to make him co-host of their new show My Kitchen Rules. The rest, as they say, is a complete shitshow.

In response to Craig Kelly’s remarks, deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth quipped “with regards to the comments made in parliament on hydroxychloroquine, I think Australians are very clear which Kelly should be listened to in Covid-19 and that is Paul Kelly”. Coatsworth didn’t specify that he meant acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly, so Craig spent the week reading columns by The Australian’s editor-at-large, watching old Swans games and parsing the lyrics of “How to Make Gravy”, and he’s still yet to find one mention of hydroxychloroquine.

Craig Kelly, whose profile on the Australian Parliament House website lists his “qualifications and occupations” before entering federal parliament as “export manager 1996-2010”, and not “scientist”, is something of a social media superstar. Earlier this year, The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age crunched the numbers to show that Kelly’s profile has more engagement and sharing on Facebook than the pages of Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese. It’s starting to look as though the “information superhighway” has a Thelma & Louise ending.

But before you drive off that cliff, let us warn you that reading Kelly’s page is an experience that makes you want to shut down for “deep cleaning”. It’s as if the right-wing scrawlings in the Sky News toilet cubicle came to life in a Facebook page, leaving you wishing Tim Berners-Lee dropped out of Oxford and never ended up inventing the internet.

In response to coronavirus conspiracy theorists, emboldened by people such as Craig Kelly, Victoria Police assistant commissioner Luke Cornelius said in a press conference last week he was tired of dealing with the “tin-foil hat” brigade, full of “so-called sovereign citizens”. He said it’s all “batshit crazy nonsense”. Of course, Cornelius would say that, given everyone knows the assistant police commissioner is a hand-picked appointment of Bill Gates*.

* (Source: www.facebook.com/CraigKellyMP). 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 5, 2020 as "Gadfly: Moving on to greener onions".

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Evan Williams and Mark Humphries co-write satirical sketches for the ABC’s 7.30.