Diary

Gadfly
The eye of the storm

It’s been a fairly quiet week for the Morrison government. In the limbo between the budget and next week’s session of parliament, everything’s gone a bit (more) dull in Canberra. We can expect several scandals to break simultaneously on Monday as everyone plays catch-up.

Silence from Parliament House is almost as ominous as silence from the kids’ room when they are on a play date and you haven’t heard the sound of anything breaking or someone crying for a couple of hours. At some point you have to accept the silence is because they’ve done something so monumentally heinous you’re better off not knowing.

Given recent precedent in Canberra, we can only hope someone isn’t sexually relieving themselves on a bit of furniture as they inject themselves with hydroxychloroquine.

Empathy crashes as capitalism takes off

In these quiet moments, when our nation’s leaders give a humble satirical columnist precious little grist for the mill, it falls to the corporate sector to step up and fill the void. After all, politicians aren’t the only grossly overpaid dimwits willing to sacrifice their own offspring for a buck. As journalist Jon Ronson found during the two years he spent interviewing business executives for his book The Psychopath Test, if you want to thrive in capitalism, a distinct lack of empathy is useful.

Enter Virgin Australia’s chief executive, Jayne Hrdlicka.

Making a call for international borders to reopen once a sufficient number of Australians have been vaccinated, she said: “Covid will be part of the community, we will become sick with Covid and it won’t put us in hospital, and it won’t put people into dire straits because we’ll have a vaccine … Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu.”

Her declaration – that some people dying was tolerable as long as borders were reopened for international flights – ignited a storm of outrage on social media, which was surprising given the outrage over Palestine and Israel already consuming everyone’s Twitter feeds. It turns out social media users can multitask.

In Hrdlicka’s defence, she grew up in America, where the idea that some people must die in order for profit margins to remain steady is standard business practice. Blood sacrifices to Mammon, the corrupt god of riches, are taught in the first semester of any Ivy League MBA.

The fact we haven’t been killing the poor and the sick to feed our corporate overlords at a higher rate is probably why Australia’s productivity rates have been so sluggish in recent years.

You’ll remember Hrdlicka is also the president of Tennis Australia and was berated by some in the crowd at the Australian Open men’s final trophy presentation for merely raising the prospect of a vaccine. “With vaccinations on the way, rolling out in many countries around the world, it’s now a time for optimism and hope for the future,” she said, only to be met with loud boos. As it turns out, Novak Djokovic’s fans are not big believers in medical science.

Worryingly though, it appears they aren’t alone. A recent survey by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald found almost a third of adults in Australia said they were unlikely to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, key infectious diseases experts are warning that unless 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated, opening borders will lead to a third wave of infections.

In this context, maybe we’re being unfair to Jayne Hrdlicka. Vaccinate the willing, open the borders and let the anti-vaxxers sort themselves out might be the only way forward. Still, she probably could do with a lesson in what things should be said out loud and what stays inside the head. A lesson this columnist obviously also missed.

When a Liddle means a lot

A date for the federal election is yet to be set, but fighting has turned ugly already in the Victorian seat of Cooper. The Greens announced their candidate will be Arrernte woman, unionist, feminist and prominent writer Celeste Liddle.

If elected, Liddle could become the first First Nations woman to enter the house of representatives from Victoria, which is inspiring when you first think about it and then deeply depressing when you give it more thought.

Congratulations to Liddle for her nomination flooded in on social media from many quarters, but not from Labor’s Martin Pakula. Demonstrating a fundamental inability to comprehend the basics of democratic process, Pakula threw a tantrum at the Greens daring to challenge Labor’s Ged Kearney, the current MP for Cooper.

On Twitter, Pakula quoted from the Greens press release, which vowed to “fight back against the Liberals … [and] advocate for working people”. He criticised the party, and Liddle, for attempting to achieve these goals by “trying to knock Ged Kearney – someone who has actually spent her entire working life doing those things – out of parliament”. It revealed a surprising lack of faith in Kearney from Pakula, who seems worried about voters abandoning the Labor MP, despite all the work he attributes to her. It’s odd to see the minister for Sport not believing in running a race. As endorsements go, though, Liddle really couldn’t ask for a better one.

The seat of Cooper was previously known as Batman, until 2018, when people realised you needn’t honour a man who led a massacre through Tasmania and could instead honour a legendary Yorta Yorta activist, William Cooper, who led protests against Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.

Labor has held the seat since 1934, which might be why Martin Pakula thinks it’s the party’s birthright. The audacity of the Greens putting up a candidate who actually has a chance of winning it.

Who’s watching Rowan Dean?

If there’s one thing you would’ve thought everyone could agree on about the bombing of Gaza in the past fortnight, it’s that nuanced and reliable analysis will not be found in this satirical political column or on Sky News After Dark.

And yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who coincidently hasn’t had to worry about any headlines related to the ongoing corruption investigations against him in the past couple of weeks – took to Twitter to post a clip from Australia’s very own Sky News host Rowan Dean, labelling it “The truth>>”.

Australia usually only gets noticed overseas when either: (a) Bob Katter says something utterly weird on camera; or (b) a spider eats a crocodile. Dean manages to regularly combine both on his show, so it was only a matter of time before he got the international recognition he so desperately craves.

The previous time Dean got this much attention from overseas was when he continued to repeat the debunked and discredited claim that Joe Biden’s electoral victory was due to large-scale voter fraud. Before that it was when he told Tim Soutphommasane, then Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, to “leave the country”, after Soutphommasane called for more cultural diversity in media. Before that it was when Dean, a vocal climate change denier, labelled the boycotting of lessons by students advocating climate change action as “child abuse”.

The recent and devastating violence in Gaza, of course, raises many important questions, but the mystery of how Israel’s prime minister found the time to watch Rowan Dean’s show may well remain unanswerable. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 22, 2021 as "Gadfly: The eye of the storm".

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