Diary

Gadfly
I’m the treasurer … Get me out of here!

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg must have been thrilled to finally provide the government with news coverage that didn’t involve anyone masturbating on a desk in Parliament House, an MP using attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to explain why he hides in bushes or Craig Kelly being Craig Kelly.

In a bold reminder that the federal government does actually do federal government stuff now and then, Frydenberg unveiled the 2021 budget with a daring claim: “Australia is coming back.” Other options considered include: “Return of Australia: The Reckoning”, “2 Australia 2 Furious” and “The Resurrection of Australia” (this last option was suggested by the marketing team at Hillsong).

The treasurer went on to list everyone in “Team Australia” – “doctors and nurses … teachers and students … businesses, big and small …” Conspicuously absent were any Australians currently in India.

With the arrival of the budget comes the inevitable lists of WINNERS and LOSERS, allowing the Australian media to indulge in its two great loves: reductive thinking and dividing people.

A complex national financial plan with nuanced detail that requires careful consideration, you say? Let’s explain it like a reality TV show! Voted off the island this year are universities, the renewables sector and foreigners – whether that be foreign students, foreign tourists or foreigners hoping to migrate here. If you weren’t already on the island when this season of Team Australia started, you won’t be getting a rose.

Critics and supporters of Frydenberg’s third budget as treasurer have fallen along partisan lines. At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether someone has replaced most of the talking heads in the Australian media with a machine learning algorithm that spits out generic takes based on the “expert” analyst’s reactions to previous budgets.

To give credit where it’s due – and to prove I’m not a two-line algorithm – this is a budget that delivers on programs that will benefit women, aged care and childcare. For that it deserves a great deal of credit.

However, it does rather sneakily change the staffing roster for the promised national integrity commission from 75 to zero. The commission was already a fantasy, as unrealistic as a unicorn or a competent vaccine rollout, but now it has been confirmed as an impossibility. Australia may be coming back, but integrity is being told to stay away.

Last redaction hero

Former attorney-general Christian Porter is continuing his defamation case against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan, with the national broadcaster defending itself by arguing Porter was “reasonably suspected” of the crime he was alleged to have committed, without asserting that he was in fact guilty of it.

The ABC’s defence, if you want to read it, is currently available online. However, it appears to be written entirely with a black marker pen, as almost all of the document is redacted.

Justice Jayne Jagot agreed with Porter’s demand that key details of the ABC’s defence be suppressed until further notice. Surely nothing will persuade the public of Porter’s innocence better than suppressing details of the accusations, the investigation into those accusations or even who is paying for his $20,000-a-day legal defence.

Porter has also claimed the woman who made the allegations declined to speak with the ABC or Milligan before her death. His reply accused the ABC and Milligan of failing to gain the woman’s consent. This marks the first admission by a member of the Coalition that “consent” is an actual thing that matters – at least someone watched that milkshake video.

What do we call anti-anti-racism?

Relegated to the third spot on the Liberal–Nationals ticket for the next federal election, Amanda Stoker has been hard at work proving her bona fides as a conservative right-wing politician. As an example, take last week, when she participated in an anti-abortion rally in Brisbane.

The assistant minister for Women has decided that women really don’t need as much choice as they think they do. Speaking to The Australian about situations where someone has fallen pregnant by rape, the senator said, “I have a very strong view that when it comes to later-term abortion, that is something that is wrong, and it is something we shouldn’t provide for. Now I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion.”

Stoker’s other prominent stance on rape has been to support Bettina Arndt’s “fake rapes on campus” speaking tour. The senator defended doing so as her attempt to protect Australians against the “deep harm” that comes from deplatforming. Deeper harm than is caused by rape?

Beyond being vocally pro-life, Stoker has also carved a niche for herself as a key anti-anti-racist. The senator decided the Human Rights Commission should no longer investigate systemic or structural racism, an intervention her spokesperson justified by saying Stoker was concerned with the use of the phrase “anti-racism”. There must be a more efficient way to describe someone who is anti-anti-racism…

Unfunny Finn

Last year Bernie Finn, the shadow minister for Autism in Victoria, drew attention to himself by posting a Photoshopped picture of Daniel Andrews that portrayed the premier as a developmentally disabled person. This week, deciding he’d been out of the news cycle for too long, Finn continued his attention-seeking with a stunt that was basically the media relations equivalent of urinating in public.

Posting a collage on his Facebook page that featured broadcaster Waleed Aly, Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, Andrews (again) and the offices of the ABC, Finn asked his followers where a Chinese rocket should land – referencing an out-of-control rocket that re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. He included a caveat: “For the benefit of humourless left-wing tossers, this is a joke.” It was helpful of him to admit that he does not have any idea what a joke is.

For those not familiar with Finn, he has form on this kind of edgy humour: in the past he’s joked that Daniel Andrews had sex with a goat; he’s refused to stand for parliament’s Acknowledgement of Country; and he believes rape victims shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions. At this point, he’s sort of a bargain basement cosplay of George Christensen.

Finn is quite obviously a parody of how an uninteresting, far-right politician might try to gain some relevance in the modern media landscape, because no one could actually be that unsurprisingly racist and misanthropic. Next year, when it’s disclosed at the 2021 Melbourne International Comedy Festival that Bernie Finn is actually comedian Greg Larsen’s least convincing satirical character, this revelation may result in the first laugh Finn has elicited.

Sorry not sorry

It’s hard to say, “I’m sorry”. There’s a swallowing of ego that so many of us struggle with, and then the actual words themselves. Just three syllables that carry with them the weight of guilt and admission of responsibility.

“I’m sorry” is what you say when you mean it. It’s what you mean when you say it. And if you’re Robert Doyle, who was Melbourne’s longest-serving lord mayor, you say it on the radio during an interview about the sexual harassment scandal that drove you from office but not directly to the women who alleged that you’d harassed them during your time in office.

In an interview so tearful that Christian Porter would have given it a standing ovation, Doyle told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell his actions had caused people anguish and pain. What he didn’t clarify was whether those actions were the alleged sexual harassment or the blanket denials offered through powerful lawyers that attempted to cast doubt on the claims made by multiple women. The interview is lengthy and, frankly, not that interesting. This is a man who once had a lot of power feeling bad about how he lost his power because he might have sexually harassed multiple women who lacked the power he had.

“Australia is coming back,” Josh Frydenberg promised when unveiling this week’s budget. Doyle’s interview is a reminder that some parts of Australia never went away. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 15, 2021 as "Gadfly: I’m the treasurer … Get me out of here!".

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