Diary

Gadfly
Outbreak breakouts

During the height of Melbourne’s lockdown last year, many conservative commentators argued we were sacrificing our economy to protect the elderly, who would inevitably just die anyway. The federal government, it seems, has taken up the call for geronticide, even as the economy rebounds. It remains firmly committed to a vaccination strategy that’s been more of a vibe than a rollout, with confusing messaging around who qualifies, when they qualify and why they should avoid AstraZeneca even if they do qualify.

Then a few days ago, social media users began claiming anyone could walk down to one of the empty vaccine hubs in Melbourne and simply asked to be vaccinated by the bored staff.

This columnist decided to test that advice at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

The vaccine hub there was indeed empty, with almost no one lining up for a jab. As far as the eye could see was just staff scrolling on their phones, waiting to clock off.

Just a day earlier, the same showgrounds had housed Supanova, a geek convention where thousands upon thousands of cosplayers and sci-fi fans were breathing all over each other. As new cases pop up across the city, the state government no doubt wishes it’d set up a booth at the convention, offering vaccinations to all and signed photos of Brett Sutton for $65.

It turns out that Melbourne has forgotten the lessons of last year. Perhaps this scare is what the city needs to remember what months of home hair dye and crying into pillows feels like. There hasn’t even been a rush to hoard toilet paper despite the spectre of a new lockdown. We just don’t care anymore.

The confused nature of the vaccine rollout is more than partially to blame for the current Melbourne outbreak. One of the key vectors was well within vaccination eligibility, but was not vaccinated.

Schwartz Media journalist Osman Faruqi received a tip from someone within government that vaccinations would be made available to anyone in the north-eastern suburbs, regardless of age. The decision was then rolled back before an announcement could be made, and staff were threatened with consequences if more leaks occurred. It seems leaks to the media are of more concern than leaks from quarantine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected any criticism of the bungled vaccine rollout, describing Labor Party critics as “whingers” and claiming “every Australian was happy”. This is confirmed, at least in part, by the latest Australia Talks National Survey conducted by the ABC, which found 67 per cent of Australians approve of the federal government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Maybe we do all need to spend more time indoors, rethinking our choices.

Tea-total fascism

As Defence minister, Peter Dutton has myriad threats to Australia’s safety to worry about. From an increasingly antagonistic relationship with China, to the continued withdrawal of resources from Afghanistan ahead of the pullout by the United States and its allies, to a rapidly destabilising situation in the Middle East.

But the thing that keeps him tossing and turning all night, waking with sweat glistening on his scalp, is far more existential. For Dutton, Australia’s real enemy is morning teas.

Affronted by a morning tea in his department of staff wearing rainbow-coloured clothing to celebrate diversity and inclusion, he ordered Defence Force chief Angus Campbell to issue a proclamation banning events “such as morning teas where personnel are encouraged to wear particular clothes”. It seems Peter Dutton would prefer it if everyone in his department wore non-particular clothes and made no effort to celebrate their individuality.

He wants everyone to be exactly the same. No differences. No individual identity. Dress the same. Drink tea at your desk the same. Think the same. Be the same.

If only there was a technical term to describe that obsession with sameness and rejection of individuality...

Dutton wants to ensure his department “represents the people of Australia”. And, as we all know, the people of Australia don’t drink tea while dressed in ways that represent their individuality. That’s what foreigners
and spies do. In fact, if Dutton had any sense, he’d use these morning teas as an opportunity to find out who is a traitor to his Australia.

This latest pronouncement is in keeping with the plans Dutton announced when he first took over the Defence portfolio, vowing to stop “these woke agendas”. In his career, the Queensland MP has always tried his hardest to focus on fairness and equality and reject any kind of special treatment for individuals, unless those involved happen to be au pairs. Or white South African farmers.

Maybe someone finally told the Defence minister that tea originated in China and this is all part of his grand anti-China Defence strategy. Besides, real Australians drink coffee.

Upper Hunter, lower Labor

In what’s most likely going to be a preview of the next federal election, Labor was resoundingly beaten in a byelection in the New South Wales Upper Hunter region. The party’s candidate, a former coalminer, got just over 21 per cent of the primary votes, while the Nationals easily held the seat.

It turns out that pro-coal voters already have the Nationals to vote for; anti-coal voters in the Hunter, meanwhile, didn’t have anyone in the major parties angling for their vote.

Proving the party’s storied resilience against learning any valuable lessons from defeat, Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has been on a media tour, blaming the loss on Labor’s “brand” problem. According to Fitzgibbon, Labor isn’t pro-coal enough.

“We need to tackle discrimination, racism, and bigotry and all those terrible ills,” he said, before qualifying, “but not in a way which threatens the rights of those, the overwhelming majority, who do the right thing every day.”

It’s a statement that raises a question: Whose rights are threatened by tackling racism? One would assume only racists. This is exactly the kind of bold vision that has led to Labor’s new campaign slogan: Stand up for nothing.

Fitzgibbon’s feedback hasn’t been welcomed by his colleagues. At the federal level, Pat Conroy has gone so far as to tell him to “shut up”, saying his criticisms are damaging the ALP’s standing, a statement that implies the ALP has standing.

The continued public fighting has also drawn attention to Labor’s ongoing identity crisis, which is a welcome distraction from Labor’s decision to support the government’s bill to expand the indefinite detention of refugees. More coal, human rights abuse of refugees, a leadership team made up almost entirely of mediocre men in ill-fitting suits… The confusion over Labor’s brand is pretty easily solved. There is no Labor, just Liberal-lite.

Background view

Who watches the watchmen? Or rather, who backgrounds the backgrounders?

Well, if it’s the prime minister’s office, apparently that job falls to John Kunkel, Scott Morrison’s chief of staff.

Kunkel was tasked with investigating allegations that the prime minister’s media team gave negative briefings to journalists against the partner of Brittany Higgins.

The results were in keeping with every result ever delivered when someone is asked to investigate their own wrongdoing – mining companies that blow up heritage sites and police departments that look into racial violence committed by their officers – and found no “first-hand” evidence. “My chief of staff found in the negative,” Morrison said, phrasing his office’s innocence in the weirdest way possible.

The lack of firsthand evidence, it would seem, is due to no journalists in the press gallery being willing to confirm the backgrounding having taken place. This vow of silence has extended to Peter van Onselen, who in February tweeted his willingness to “name names, no problem”. Those tweets have since been deleted. Perhaps being a regular contributor to ABC’s Insiders requires one to keep what really happens inside, on the inside. Otherwise, you risk becoming an outsider.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 29, 2021 as "Gadfly: Outbreak breakouts".

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