Diary

Gadfly
Most cursed city

Remember that sound you heard on Wednesday, the one the seismologists registered, which startled flocks of birds into flight and shattered spectacles and wine glasses?

That was Melbourne. That was five million people cursing aloud when they were told that lockdown would be extended for another week.

At this point it’s quite clear that Melbourne has been cursed. Someone with a grudge against the city has built a miniature version of it and is now poking it with needles to enact voodoo vengeance.

Either that, or it’s due to a combination of delayed vaccines, poorly managed aged-care rollouts, population density unlike other cities in Australia, a state Health Department that’s still suffering from bureaucratic bloat and a federal government that seeks to benefit cities that vote for its own state candidates more than the opposition’s.

It’s probably voodoo.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, has described the new variant of Covid-19 as a “beast” and says it is “faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with”. The variant, now called “Kappa”, was previously called a sublineage of the “Indian variant”, until the World Health Organization decided it’s not helpful to name each variant after an entire country and reclassified all the variants under the Greek alphabet. So, apparently, we’re only supposed to blame the Greeks. They created Western civilisation, so it makes sense its demise would be laid at their feet as well.

Melburnians, of course, know how to lockdown. They are already in their pyjamas, cry-jogging in parks and blocking the state’s shadow minister for Emergency Services and Bad Timing, Tim Smith, on Twitter. People over 40 are lining up for vaccines in record numbers and posting photos of themselves getting the jab.

We’re still waiting on the finalised market research to confirm how many were inspired by Channel Nine’s video campaign featuring many of its beloved presenters telling Australians to get vaccinated.

Because nothing is more likely to inspire the most racially diverse city in Australia to get vaccinated than the least racially diverse line-up on TV telling them to do so, which included Eddie McGuire, who quit his other job over accusations of racism.

Responding to the criticisms of its lack of diversity, Nine then released an updated version of its vaccine promo, with added people of colour. Which is, to their credit, a lot better than the standard approach taken by the Australian media of yelling “I’m not racist you are” whenever confronted.

In the press conference announcing the extended lockdown, which probably garnered higher viewership numbers in Victoria than a dating reality TV show, Acting Premier James Merlino said he is renewing his request to the Commonwealth for “JobSeeker-style support” for the state. The prime minister has previously urged the Victorian government to take “responsibility” for the lockdown, which was the first time he has been recorded using that word.

Many hope Scott Morrison might get on a roll and be motivated to consider his own “responsibility” over issues such as aged care, vaccine rollouts and offering help to all Australians, instead of just those who attend his church.

When is a victory not a victory?

Former attorney-general and generic template for a frat movie antagonist Christian Porter has dropped his defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. Meanwhile, Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman who made a historical rape allegation against Porter, has now said she sent a legal notice to Porter, following a press conference in which she says Porter “impugned my honesty and integrity”. Apparently, the former chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia wasn’t very good at legal things.

Columnists at The Australian are trying so hard to spin this as a failure for the ABC they’ve had to have a lie down because of the dizzy spells.

Porter has announced that he will recontest his seat of Pearce in the next election. It’s an electorate that contains within it the town of Northam, home to the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, where a mix of asylum seekers and criminals have been housed for several years. Last month, a 20-metre tunnel was discovered, dug by one of the detainees, that would have led to an escape if used. It’s this kind of Shawshank Redemption creativity that Porter, as the minister for Industry, Science and Technology, should be championing in his re-election campaign. Or at the very least, it can serve as his escape strategy if the voters of Pearce decide they want someone more capable of winning a defamation lawsuit.

Woke word games

In the wake of Porter’s decision to drop his defamation case against the ABC, there has been some concern at the national broadcaster about how to describe the end of the legal action.

Some journalists and presenters are being warned against saying Porter “lost” his case. The advice given, according to sources, is to only say the legal action has ended, without drawing any value judgements about the outcome.

It’s similar to the rhetorical hand-wringing that has gripped the ABC around the Gaza conflict in the past few weeks, with staff advised by an internal memo to avoid using the term “apartheid” with regards to Israel. The justification given was that “apartheid … [has] a special meaning in South African history”.

The policing is reminiscent of the time the ABC dropped a reference to “Invasion Day” after being pressured by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. On that occasion Fletcher criticised the ABC saying it had “clearly got this one wrong”.

It seems the use of non-inclusive language was triggering for him, and he needed the ABC to be a safe space.

It’s political correctness gone mad with these woke conservatives policing language like this.

Tweet repeat conceit

The marketing and public relations team at Harvey Norman really is doing it tough. First came founder Gerry Harvey’s refusal to return $22 million in JobKeeper overpayments – the kind of payments that could really help locked-down Victorians right now – but then the Harvey Norman Twitter account really threw them in the deep end.

On May 28, Twitter user @ sisyphysical claimed that “working for your god forsaken company” had made them suicidal within six months. The retailer’s official Twitter account replied with a face palm and hand-waving emoji. It’s really a remarkable innovation in technology and communication. In the past, humans would have to spend a great deal of time concocting complicated ways to communicate their complete and utter assholery. Now the same can be done with two taps of a keyboard. No confirmation has yet been received of whether Gerry Harvey was personally using the brand’s Twitter account, but whoever was behind the keyboard should be commended for nailing Harvey’s tone.

In the days since, after a massive online backlash, the Harvey Norman Twitter account has been taken offline, as have the accounts of the members of the digital marketing team at Harvey Norman. Of course, there’s also the possibility that the entire debacle was the result of a clever employee protesting against the ongoing low wages paid by Harvey Norman, despite its profits rising 116 per cent during the latter half of 2020.

Whoever was manning the Twitter account has just drawn more attention to the mistreatment of staff by Harvey Norman’s management and motivated a nationwide boycott of the store.  

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 5, 2021 as "Gadfly: Most cursed city".

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