A long line of thieves

In August 1786, William Roberts of Cornwall was arrested for stealing a little more than two kilograms of yarn. No one knows what he wanted with that much yarn. Maybe Billy planned on yarn-bombing one of the many mediaeval monuments around Cornwall. Whatever the case, the justice system was taking no risks with this yarn aficionado, and sent him to Sydney – a fitting punishment for anyone, even to this day. A few years later, Roberts married Kezia Brown, originally from Gloucester, who had been convicted of stealing clothing. Perhaps the two bonded over their love of fabrics. Clearly sartorial choices mattered a lot to them.

Brown and Roberts’ descendant, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has long felt a connection to his ancestors, thinking of them every time he pulls on a pair of Jay Jays chinos and asks his social media team to poorly Photoshop two left sneakers on his feet. It’s that empathy for Brown and Roberts’ suffering that led the PM to respond to critics of Australia Day with, “You know, when those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either.” It was the rhetorical equivalent of feeling sympathy for the bruised knuckles of the guy who just punched you in the face.

Yet the prime minister continued pulling on this thread this week with a speech on January 26. After briefly name-checking First Nations peoples for their “strong, ancient and proud culture and their survival in the face of dispossession and colonisation”, he quickly moved on to detail the misery and suffering of his ancestors who “came as convicts, not to start a new world, but because they had been banished from the old one. Condemned and outcast by Empire, they too overcame.” In a show of self-restraint, Morrison did stop short of wailing, gnashing his teeth, tearing his shirt, slapping his breast and demanding Australia Day be renamed as William Roberts Day.

But it’s mystifying that a man who feels such sympathy for the suffering of his ancestors seven generations back can’t summon anything of the sort for Indigenous Australians who feel that “Australia Day” dishonours the massacres and genocides their own ancestors endured, as a result of those people on those vessels who weren’t having a particularly flash day.

The prime minister of the First Fleet has often drawn on the suffering of his yarn-stealing great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Curiously, he often leaves out the happy ending – that, after a few years of misery, Roberts did end up being gifted and owning an extremely large and valuable farm.

Racism is as racism does

Pulling on a thread from his boss’s jumper, Coalition backbencher Andrew Laming decided he hadn’t been getting enough attention recently and, in the modern politician’s equivalent of a toddler throwing poop at a wall, posted some old-school racism on Facebook. The Queensland MP – who once had to fire a 20-year-old staff member for being racist on social media – did as the kids do and was also racist on social media: “Deny it’s Australia Day,” he posted. “That’ll help petrol sniffing and school attendance in remote Australia.”

When asked to apologise, Laming said, “No one could objectively call these comments racist – that’s because they’re not.” Of course, Laming, who last year posted a Photoshopped image of Annastacia Palaszczuk in a Nazi uniform – the Queensland premier’s grandparents were tortured by Nazis – is internationally renowned as an expert on what is and isn’t acceptable commentary. Back then, he admitted he was only sharing a meme he’d found. This time, though, he can take full authorship credit.

The reason no one can call Laming’s comments racist is because in Australia, for some reason, you can say all the racist things you want but if you’re then called a racist for them, you can sue for defamation. So obviously this column is not suggesting the racist comments are racist.

The last time Laming made the news was when he launched a defence of Craig Kelly’s love of hydroxychloroquine – in spite of medical advice warning that it is dangerous bullshit. Laming said it was a situation of “fact against fact”. His inability to understand what is and isn’t racist makes a lot more sense when you consider that this is a man who thinks conspiracy theories are facts.

Current medical advice is to avoid whatever Andrew Laming is sniffing.

Always Bowing Corporation

The ABC bowed to pressure this week and dropped a reference to Invasion Day in the headline of a guide to events around the country on January 26. The backdown came as a surprise to anyone not paying attention to the ABC’s current long-term strategy of bowing to any pressure from the Coalition.

For using “Invasion Day” in that headline, the ABC was slammed by Australia’s national broadcaster, News Corp, in a series of articles in The Australian – a publication so heavily subsidised by taxpayers, and so beloved by government politicians, that at this point the fact we pretend it’s privately owned is actually quite insulting to how capitalism is supposed to work.

Criticism of the ABC’s use of an accurate label to call the day what it is also came from Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon. This came from the playbook of Labor’s own long-term strategy – always doing exactly what the Liberal Party is doing in the hope of being a weak-sauce version of the Coalition and thus securing its own defeat at the next election.

Full Court

If you’re known by the company you keep, then Kerry O’Brien, Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo and Peter Kingston clearly want to keep their friendship circle dickhead-free.

Some say it all started when Canberra GP Soo said she would be returning her 2016 Queen’s Birthday honour in protest of tennis player Margaret Court being given a Companion of the Order of Australia this year. But, in actuality, it started when Court decided her post-tennis life wasn’t filled with enough bigotry and abuse hurled at the LGBTQIA+ community. The former tennis star has served and volleyed all kinds of horrendous statements over the years in her professional capacities – both as a minister for a Pentecostal church and as a loathsome crank.

Even former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull took time off from his exhausting Twitter schedule to note this week how ironic it was for him to be receiving an honour for his contributions towards marriage equality on the same day as Margaret Court. Others have noted it’s ironic he’s receiving an honour for his contributions towards marriage equality at all. It’s kind of like giving the award for “having the least flash day” to the arrivals of the First Fleet.

King Biden

No one has heard from or cared about American politics for more than a week now, and frankly it feels strange. Four years of stress headaches have left us a little empty – like the days after you break up with a pyromaniac lover and keep expecting the house to burn down around you, but it just stays… unburnt. There’s relief, but also a residual craving for dangerous excitement.

Joe Biden has, however, been hard at work. Since the Oval Office was fumigated and sanitised, the new president has been sitting at his desk signing executive orders nonstop to undo the damage done by Donald Trump. Every major decision made in the past four years is being rescinded. This includes Trump’s offspring having to be tolerated by the world, Kellyanne Conway being allowed to speak publicly, and a government policy that separated migrant children from their parents in giant prisons.

No word yet on whether America is considering a new system of government where executive orders can act like a king’s whimsical decrees, and the only thing stopping one mad king’s orders from being carried out is if he’s replaced by another, less mad, king.

Ah, democracy. It burns.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 30, 2021 as "Gadfly: A long line of thieves".

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Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.