Diary

Gadfly
Paterson Twitters on

Electing a political representative is neither a power lightly given nor one that should be casually accepted. Yet too often the personal indulgences of politicians are overlooked. A combination of apathy and lethargy seemingly dictates our lack of response to such leadership failures. As such, it is understandable so few politicians even bother pretending to care for the needs of their electorate.

Every now and then though, a politician remembers their duty. Driven by a sense of purpose, or perhaps a deep-seated respect for public office, they stand up and make the moral choice: they trawl through the tweets of ABC journalists to see what they’ve liked or retweeted.

Enter Senator James Paterson.

Cooked up in a vat in the basement of the Institute of Public Affairs, Paterson is the kind of young man who grows a beard to add some sorely missing gravitas but is one of the two people on Earth for whom the trick fails (the other being American senator Ted Cruz).

In a recent senate estimates, the young James earned his base salary of more than $266,000 by asking the ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, why Four Corners’ executive producer Sally Neighbour had liked a satirical tweet about Christian Porter by a satirical website, The Shovel.

Asked by this columnist what kind of resources he’d dedicated to this research, Paterson, the chair of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, responded that it was brought to his attention by a constituent who noticed the liked tweet in question. Apparently “see something, say something” is keeping us as safe as ever.

When asked why he thought ABC staff liking a joke tweet was worthy of senate estimates, Paterson said, “I don’t care what ABC journalists tweet unless it indicates they are not able to be accurate and impartial, as required by the ABC charter. That’s an entirely reasonable standard to expect of the ABC given the $1 billion taxpayer funding it receives every year.”

Which raises the great question of our time: does liking a tweet from a satirical website indicate bias? Well, that would depend on whether the senator thinks laughter is biased and comedy should be banned as well.

Also, just one fact check, the senator is incorrect when he states that the ABC is given $1 billion by the taxpayer. The current amount is $880.56 million, with another $10 million decrease coming next year.

But staff at the ABC are now more cautious on Twitter, fearful that stray likes or retweets will reflect badly on the national broadcaster. Sensing an opportunity for public service, your humble columnist has launched an initiative to like tweets on behalf of ABC staff members using my own Twitter account – for a fee, of course.

Offered a right of reply, as is only fair, The Shovel responded to Senator Paterson’s line of questioning thusly: “Full disclosure, Senator Paterson is actually a satirical character that we created to increase the exposure of our material. I mean it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? A 33-year-old man who spends his Saturday nights reading economics textbooks and trawling through the Twitter accounts of ABC journalists. No one actually thinks he is real, do they?”

DanAnon

Filling the hours in lockdown can be difficult as each day blends into the next. It’s the kind of environment in which conspiracy theories breed, like a fungal infection in the warm dark of a sock.

Many analysts and academics have warned of the surge in theories such as QAnon, due to many people having nothing else to do in lockdown except watch crazed videos on YouTube about tunnels under the earth and gangs of paedophiles waging wars against Trump supporters. Even Victoria’s Liberal Party is not immune, it seems.

With no real purpose or role to play during this latest lockdown, the state’s opposition has latched on to a new conspiracy theory, popular with anti-vaxxers and gym instructors alike: that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is somehow involved in a cover-up about his back injury.

Spearheading this dullest of conspiracy theories is Shadow Treasurer Louise Staley, the human embodiment of “I want to speak to the manager”. Staley has levelled a series of questions for the premier to answer, answers to all of which have been on the public record since Andrews first announced his injury. She also demands to know why he’s being paid a salary while on sick leave, betraying a fundamental lack of understanding of how sick leave works, which would usually be surprising for a shadow treasurer but in this case really isn’t.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said that “it’s extraordinary to have a leader of the state to have been away from the office for such a long period of time”. It was a good point that sparked serious questions, such as: “Since when did the Victorian Liberals have a leader?” and “Who the hell is Michael O’Brien?”

As conspiracy theories go, the premier faking a back injury is milquetoast. Especially when a more obvious and gripping conspiracy writes itself: that Acting Premier James Merlino pushed Daniel Andrews down the stairs because he was sick of the entire state being obsessed with Daniel Andrews’ “big daddy energy” and wanted his own time in the sex symbol spotlight. This, at least, would be more believable. Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, had better watch his back.

Fighting the Goodes fight

One of the AFL’s most accomplished Indigenous players, Adam Goodes, has rejected an invitation to the league’s Hall of Fame.

Being the class act he always has been, Goodes chose not to make the decision public so it wouldn’t distract from the other inductees.

The AFL’s response to Goodes’ continued dignity and consistency in demanding a higher standard of behaviour from an industry built on concussions was predictable. Footy legend Tim Watson criticised Goodes for not repairing his relationship with the AFL, claiming that “time is a great healer”. Apparently, time may heal but it doesn’t teach empathy or tact, given how long Watson has had to consider Goodes’ experience.

Defamation trial marches on

Now that Christian Porter’s defamation trial is no longer clogging the headlines, we can return to the real defamation trial of the century: Captain Australia Ben Roberts-Smith versus Nine newspapers.

The super soldier is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation over a series of reports that alleged he committed war crimes while stationed in Afghanistan. The newspapers alleged Roberts-Smith executed two teenage Afghans on separate missions and that he kicked an unarmed man off a cliff before having him executed. The Victoria Cross recipient denies all allegations.

During opening arguments this week in Sydney, Roberts-Smith’s lawyers said their client isn’t an “ostentatious psychopath”. It wasn’t entirely clear whether the offence was Roberts-Smith being characterised as “ostentatious” or as a “psychopath”.

One of the witnesses expected to appear for the Nine newspapers is Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife. He has launched urgent Federal Court proceedings to block evidence she has that might affect his defamation case, but the judge in that case this week raised concerns he was not told a crucial affidavit was sworn by a lawyer, Monica Allen, who Roberts-Smith was reportedly in a relationship with at one stage.

“I wasn’t aware of any of this,” Justice Robert Bromwich said. “I’m uncomfortable with the situation.”

Meanwhile, Mark Latham – the man Member for Kew Tim Smith wants to be when he grows up – has proclaimed his undying support for war crimes, tweeting, “There are no crimes against the enemy in war.” This is a shocking defence of the brutality inflicted on Australian troops on the Kokoda Track and in prisoner-of-war camps in various wars. Those silly Genevans, with their conventions that Australian has signed onto, should be notified immediately of Latham’s insightful commentary.

The [Interesting] Gerard Henderson

Loyal media watchdog and friend of this column Gerard Henderson recently turned his sights back on The Saturday Paper – or “The [Boring] Saturday Paper”, as he describes this publication.

Having seen what normally excites Gerard, we’ll happily take the criticism. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 12, 2021 as "Gadfly: Paterson Twitters on".

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