Diary

Gadfly
Kelly rocks the boat then jumps ship

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a complicated relationship with boats. We all know he loves stopping them. He even has a trophy on his desk shaped like a boat with “I stopped these” written on it, lest he ever forgets how much he loves stopping boats. But he also likes making boats go faster, it seems. Once the boat is moving, if he hasn’t stopped it already, he hates things that slow down the boat. Or at least that’s the impression hydroxychloroquine spokesperson Craig Kelly got, as evidenced in his resignation letter handed to the PM this week, which read, “Some of my conduct over recent months has not helped the boat go faster.”

Kelly, the human version of a spam email hawking herbal supplements to aid your ageing erections, has decided to step off the boat to help it speed up. It’s a noble gesture to save the empty vessel that is the Liberal Party by throwing himself into shark-infested waters. Although the sacrifice is made a lot less impressive when you realise that he’s still clinging to the starboard bow, forcing the vessel to continue its rightward drift, while no longer being bound by the rules of its captain. Kelly has labelled himself an “independent Liberal”, which is similar to a “free-range Liberal”, a man with access to a wider world, but too institutionalised to dare step out into that world. So, the same as a “caged Liberal” but with the false illusion of freedom.

One thing Craig Kelly hasn’t clarified is what motivated his departure from the warm embrace of the Liberal Party. It definitely isn’t anything to do with the fact his senior aide, Frank Zumbo, has been accused of inappropriate behaviour against interns as young as 16. Zumbo, who looks like the guy who bought the herbal pills Kelly was hawking, has yet to be removed from his position as of the time I’m writing this. Kelly has defended his decision to keep his staffer on a taxpayer-funded payroll – despite multiple allegations of unwanted touching – by pointing out that Zumbo was “entitled to the presumption of innocence”, which proves Kelly is capable of understanding that a rigorous process of studying evidence and separating fact from fiction using expertise and analysis is essential to how proof works.

The MP is expected to return to posting about discredited Covid-19 treatments and denying climate change any day now.

JobSeek and you shall find

Never before has so little got us so little.

The government this week announced its long-awaited increase to JobSeeker, the first since Vanilla Ice was a musical sensation. Analysts and unions had been hoping the increase would be as much as $80 a day. Labor, which has long been advocating the increase, didn’t suggest an exact number, thus continuing their goal of being the political equivalent of a vaguely audible buzz that doesn’t do much except make you slightly annoyed. And the federal government responded to all the detailed analysis about the relative poverty line for a single person being $914 a fortnight by raising the dole to $615.70 a fortnight. Confirming there is no expectation too low for them to slide under like a limbo dancer with no spine.

The justification has been put forward that the $3.50 a day increase was the most the government could afford while factoring in the “considerable expense” to taxpayers. This is the first time the government has shown any indication that taxpayer expenses are a concern for them, unlike the time Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann billed us for the $60,000-plus it cost to fly them to swearing-in ceremonies after the last leadership spill, or Cormann spent $129,000 in his failed bid to get a job, or Dutton spent $36,000 on a chartered flight to announce grants he’d been advised against approving, or when the government paid News Corp $345,000 to build a spelling bee website.

It turns out the only way Australians on the dole can hope for more relief from the taxpayer is if they work as the flight crew on a plane Peter Dutton or Mathias Cormann are on. Or retrain to build websites for News Corp.

Never missing an opportunity to rub faeces into an open wound, the government also announced a new hotline that employers can call to dob in jobseekers who turn down a job offer while on the dole. Requests to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s office for a cost breakdown of the hotline have not yet prompted a response, nor has a query whether any employer who does make that dob-in call can then legally be wedgied. We don’t yet know what will happen if someone turns down a job as a hotline operator, as the concern is it will create an infinite loop of dobbing hotlines calling each other into infinity.

Crowning values

The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns forced us all to evaluate what is and isn’t important in our lives. For some, it was the realisation that their family was what they valued over work; for others an appreciation of trackie pants over any other kind of clothing.

For the Victorian government, it seems, it was finally understanding that just because the Crown Casino is responsible for more than 15,000 jobs across the state, it doesn’t mean it should also be allowed to launder money for human traffickers and drug dealers. It’s amazing what a few months of soul-searching and confronting your mortality can do to your values.

Quickly leaping into action several years after journalists first began reporting on these allegations, the Andrews government has announced a royal commission into James Packer’s Crown Resorts’ Melbourne casino. The announcement comes a week after Western Australia made its decision to institute a royal commission of its own, which makes this doubly embarrassing for Victoria, having to follow a trend set by WA, of all places.

The royal commission will take time, of course, which means the casino can stay open while the investigation achieves its goals. Think of it like Frank Zumbo being allowed to continue working in Craig Kelly’s offices despite police opening investigations into his alleged misconduct with several young female staffers. Just due process.

Married at last gasp

I don’t watch Married at First Sight, a reality TV show wherein strangers are paired together and married off by experts, because where I come from that’s called “arranged marriage” and there’s nothing weird about it. The expert, in my experience, is usually a Pakistani aunty who knows what she’s doing and if you don’t trust her, you’re bringing shame upon your whole family.

For MAFS to present enough novelty to lure Pakistani audiences, the premise would need a slight adjustment: two young people to meet of their own accord, fall romantically in love while going on dates and making out on futons in their respective sharehouses, then ending up married in an overpriced wedding that lasts as long as it takes one of them to stop pretending to be sexy all the time and start farting and snoring. It would be called “Married at a Reasonable Time Frame” and would probably make for much more compelling viewing.

It seems many Australians agree with me, as viewership numbers for MAFS have fallen 16 per cent at the premiere of the latest season, which features an all-white cast of hopefuls dreaming of a future in which they can leverage their modicum of celebrity into a gig as a breakfast show presenter for an FM station. Or as an Instagram influencer pushing sunlight and bleach as a cure for Covid-19.

The show’s new season, which continues the Australian media’s commitment to pretending no people of colour exist in this country – inadvertently protecting people of colour from having to debase themselves on reality TV – was watched by only 964,000 people this week. One assumes these are the same people who also represent the 64 per cent of Australians who are satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance as prime minister as per the latest Newspoll. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2021 as "Gadfly: Kelly rocks the boat then jumps ship".

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