Jenny will save us all

Being a politician means learning to carefully deliver sentences that have been crafted by experts who know that everything you say will be parsed and dissected. This is why prime ministers employ speechwriters – people adept at reading the warp and weft of social discourse and threading a path for their boss that will offend few and please many.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison really should think of hiring such a person. Or, if he has already, it might be time to ask them why they didn’t take five minutes to Google, “As the father of daughters…” This is the phrase burped out by men in positions of public prominence when they are asked what they think about subjects such as sexual assault and have to come up with reasons to hide their obvious lack of empathy.

A quick search would’ve led the PM’s staff to Matt Damon, who Jason Bourne’d his way through an interview about working with sexual predator Harvey Weinstein by saying, “As the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.” Scrolling down the results page, they would have been reminded of the time United States Senator Mitch McConnell defended his annoyance at Donald Trump’s tendency to grope women by saying, “As the father of three daughters…”

It would seem that a man’s concern for the sexual assault that women experience is directly proportional to how many daughters he has. As the father of one daughter, I am forced then to barely muster a shrug. Although I do own two cats and so spend a lot of time worrying about their wellbeing. It’s not my fault, it’s maths.

When asked about the rape allegations levelled against a colleague by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, the prime minister of Australia said his wife, Jenny, told him, “You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?” Which then poses the question, what would he want to happen if it wasn’t his girls?

“Jenny has a way of clarifying things…” the PM went on to say. Credit must go to Jenny then, who brought the story to Morrison’s attention after his entire staff failed to do so for two years.

Covid patience

As Victoria returned to lockdown, the state regressed to the habits it hoped could be forgotten.

Within 24 hours of Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement of a snap five-day lockdown, we were all rubbing in the hair dye, ordering too much alcohol to our homes, having strangely lucid dreams and adhering to lockdown fashion with trackpants on our legs and bin liners over our heads.

Okay, perhaps that last one was limited to the returned travellers undergoing hotel quarantine at the Holiday Inn in Melbourne’s CBD. Footage emerged this week of the Covid-positive travellers being transferred from the inner-city hotel because of water damage, filmed by some of Australia’s top tabloid outlets. Channel Nine, the Herald Sun and Daily Mail Australia – none of which have ever been known for indulging unnecessary frippery such as “journalistic standards”, “fact-checking”, “accuracy” or “not destroying the lives of private citizens to feed their click-hungry managers and hordes of reprobate readers”– didn’t wait to find out why the travellers had donned the bin liners, instead deciding the bin liners were, in fact, makeshift PPE.

Since the footage first came out, the quarantine guests, staff and the premier have confirmed that bin liners were actually used to protect their identity from media outlets such as 9News. Which is probably why 9News has not bothered to correct the headline that claims the liners were PPE, a headline that is the first Google search result when you look up “bin liner quarantine” trumpeting its factually inaccurate story.

North Face/Off

Daniel Andrews has become more than a political figure to Victorians. He is now a fashion icon, the buzz around whether he’s wearing a suit or a North Face jacket reaching hysteria not seen since that time Lady Gaga wore raw meat on a red carpet.

Opinions about Dan have become a heuristic for judging compatibility on dating apps; if you think he is the Messiah sent by the Lord God above to carry us on his shoulders through this crisis, so that every time you look back it’s only his footprints in the sand, then you shouldn’t match with anyone who thinks Dan is basically Kim Jong-un without the cheeky smile.

There’s no middle ground, by the way. Pick a side and die for it. There’s no space for anyone who thinks he’s done a good job in the circumstances but also that there are real questions to be asked about overpolicing, or why the untruth was peddled to the public that quarantine hotels had undergone a ventilation audit when they hadn’t, or why the head of COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, Emma Cassar, claimed the traveller using a nebuliser did not declare it even though, in an interview with The Age, he said he did. Meanwhile, journalists who dare ask the premier questions that aren’t, “Why are you so great?” or “What shampoo do you use?” are pilloried for it.

No state in Australia has spent so much time watching press conferences before, and many Victorians are not at all liking seeing how the sausage of news coverage is made. But the fact is the sausage has always tasted horrific; why did anyone think that making it wasn’t a bloody battle full of pedantry and confrontation?

Second wave rider

The Victorian premier might be adding another plaudit to his list of achievements, having been nominated for a prestigious leadership award for his work steering Victoria through the second wave. The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership claims to be a non-partisan independent award celebrating political leaders each year. Last year, the award went to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, which now makes this a personal issue for Victorians who can’t just let Sydney win like that.

The premier is nominated alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt, among others.

The prime minister has been nominated for the much-vaunted “Shirking of Duties” award, which is a bronzed Hawaiian lei. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who when asked about a proposed reform package to JobSeeker, replied, “I’m not going to speculate on the speculation”, is nominated for the “Even Donald Rumsfeld Said What?” award. Health Minister Greg Hunt has been tapped for the first ever “Master of Non Sequiturs” award, after he was asked about the exact date of vaccine rollouts and responded that he needed to be careful about giving details in a “highly competitive global world”. Ken Wyatt, who thinks Eddie McGuire should stay on at Collingwood to learn from the “Do Better” report, has been nominated for the “Is That Why You’re Still in the Liberal Party?” award.

Who dogs the watchdog?

It was flattering for this author to discover his mental diarrhoea is being read by Gerard Henderson, who writes a weekly column on the media for The Australian.

If you haven’t read Gerard’s columns before, you’ve missed out on his laser focus and valuable insight, such as how many times Tom Ballard used the “F-word” in his now-cancelled ABC show. Or that one time someone dared criticise the alpha to Gerard’s beta, Donald Trump.

Every column reads like the manifesto of a serial killer who lacks the conviction to actually carry out the killing he so desperately wants to commit. Which is entirely different from this column, which reads like the manifesto of a serial killer who only hunts other serial killers.

Either way, being mentioned in Gerard’s column means your humble Gadfly has finally made it in Australian media and can now expect a pay rise from The Saturday Paper

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 20, 2021 as "Gadfly: Jenny will save us all".

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