Diary

Gadfly
The Turnbull of the screw

Sometimes, finding a job requires overcoming biases you didn’t even know stood in the way of your gainful employment. Having a non-Anglo name has been shown in repeated studies to hurt one’s chances. Sometimes it can be as simple as being the wrong skin colour. But nothing is more damning, it seems, than being a former prime minister.

Former PMs are so utterly despised by the job market, there’s no wonder Julia Gillard had to start a podcast – the last refuge of the useless (see Chris Lilley’s Ja’miezing). Kevin Rudd walked up and down the streets of New York, hoping to persuade passers-by to support his bid for United Nations secretary-general. His entire campaign was modelled on those spruikers outside Melbourne Town Hall during the comedy festival who try to catch you unawares just long enough to entrap you into sitting in the audience of their show.

Tony Abbott had slightly better luck, getting the gig of trade adviser to the British government – which sounded like a plum posting until you realise it’s unpaid and he’ll have to live in Covid-ravaged Britain.

Malcolm Turnbull probably thought he was doing a lot better than his peers. Just last week, he was appointed as the inaugural chair of the New South Wales government’s Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy advisory board. No doubt the former PM was excited about taking time out from his busy schedule of trolling Rupert Murdoch on Twitter to advocate for something he passionately believes in. It’s the kind of opportunity for environmental activism that can create real change, especially when one squandered all the real opportunities to do so as prime minister.

Unfortunately, the job-posting lasted about a week, with NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean announcing Turnbull would be back in the unemployment line. The criticism seems to be – as articulated by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – that Turnbull was proving to be a distraction. One assumes this means he was drawing too much attention to himself, and thus to the Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy advisory board, which is really set up to be more ornamental in nature. If people started expecting actual results, that could be disastrous for the original intentions of the board. Now, with Turnbull gone, we can go back to forgetting about its existence entirely.

The final nail in the coffin was hammered when Turnbull called for a moratorium on new coalmine approvals in NSW. Deputy Premier John Barilaro quickly leapt into action in defence of the coal industry – “defender of coal industry” being the only role more useless than podcaster – and attacked the former PM for criticising the poor, defenceless, innocent mining industry, which is doing it tough these days, it really is. One Nation state leader and handshake enthusiast Mark Latham went further, characterising Turnbull as advocating the closure of the entire coal industry. Latham said the former PM advocated switching over to growing grapes and breeding horses, which honestly is a platform a lot of people would get behind.

This is the third time Turnbull has been sacked by the Liberal Party over climate policy. At some point, the man has got to take the hint they just don’t like him.

He is expected to announce a new podcast imminently.

SociALT-media

The dopamine hit that social media provides can be addictive, a high whose only price is your privacy. It’s no wonder then that so many of us spend all hours every day scrolling through Twitter, checking comments on Facebook, ogling muscular models on Instagram, singing along to sea shanties on TikTok, mocking family members on WhatsApp, mocking colleagues on Slack, mocking anyone who doesn’t like the thing we like on Reddit, and so on.

It’s tough to keep up with so many social media apps and their constantly changing nature. Which is why most companies run those accounts using social media managers – highly trained professionals who can leverage data, massage algorithms and trend topics. It’s a highly paid and competitive industry that’s about to get a new expert in its ranks. Alleged upskirt photographer and foliage-as-camouflage aficionado Andrew Laming. Everyone’s least favourite Liberal National MP – a competitive field – has been found operating more than 30 Facebook pages and profiles. He allegedly used all those pages to attack his critics and bolster his personal causes. No word yet on whether he’s used the profile to drive up prices on whatever he was selling on Facebook Marketplace, which this columnist has certainly never done.

There is a chance Laming was just trying to investigate the platforms. As the prime minister, who has refused to fire Laming, said just a few days ago, “I think the problem with social media is it is much less social good these days and much more social harm.” Who’s to say Andrew Laming wasn’t just trying to see exactly how much social harm can be caused? For science.

Whatever the reason, Laming has certainly proved how efficient he is at social media management. Once he’s finished the empathy training course, perhaps the government will hire him as a social media adviser.

The upshot is we now have to suspect that every social media account is run by Andrew Laming. Until proved otherwise, it’s safer to assume the entire internet is composed of alternative identities he runs, which actually makes sense when you think about it. The only question is how does he remember all the passwords?

The minister for fighting other women

Comedians are always told to punch up. Politicians, it seems, can only punch down. Take Senator Amanda Stoker, who seems to have misunderstood the remit of her role as assistant minister for Women.

Stoker’s first act in her new role was to lash out at Australian of the Year Grace Tame, because that’s always a great look; to attack the Australian of the Year who was sexually abused and spent years fighting to give sexual abuse survivors a voice.

Tame accused Stoker of supporting a “fake rape crisis tour” on university campuses, run by Bettina Arndt, and of traumatising student survivors. The senator responded by saying Tame’s claims were “utter nonsense” and defended her own actions, saying she was providing “the right to speak for people who share a different point of view to you”.

Apparently the people who have never been given a chance to speak are those who dismiss the rape claims of women.

In unrelated news, Defence Minister Peter Dutton has begun issuing defamation threats to social media users who dared to call him a “rape apologist” on Twitter.

The online backlash came after Dutton described what allegedly happened to former staffer Brittany Higgins as a case of “he said, she said”. It is not with regard to when he claimed that pregnant rape victims on Nauru were “trying it on” by seeking abortions in Australia and then changing their minds.

Unseen vaccine

At this point, by the time every Australian gets the vaccine, the rest of humanity will have ascended to the stars and become a galactic species seeking out new civilisations. And Australia will still be here, waiting for Europe to send us another shipment of the only vaccine to report blood-clotting side effects thus far.

Now we can finally understand why the federal government has spent so much time and effort on failing and bungling everything it's ever attempted. From the NBN to the COVIDSafe app, from the au pairs saga to a man in parliament caught masturbating on a desk, the Liberal Party has shown an admirable commitment to utter failure.

All this time, we thought it’s because our political leaders were bad at their jobs. Instead, it turns out, all those examples were just minor bungles compared with the failure of a vaccine rollout during a global pandemic.

They were, if you’ll allow an analogy, injecting small failures into our bloodstream to inoculate us against the outrage we might experience at a monumental failure. They vaccinated us against their incompetence. It’s the only vaccine they’ve successfully rolled out. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 10, 2021 as "Gadfly: The Turnbull of the screw".

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