Diary

Gadfly
Banking on Julia

Joining the Liberal Party has always been an ideologically driven decision. It is a pledge to uphold the values outlined by Robert Menzies in 1944: traditionalism against the march of modernity, minimising government intervention in the ability of the individual to generate wealth, and a commitment to harassing the daylights out of women while calling yourself things like “big swinging dicks”. It isn’t just a commitment to the party of John Howard, Malcolm Fraser, Harold Holt and Robert Menzies; it’s also a commitment to the party of Andrew Laming, Christian Porter, Craig Kelly and Eric Abetz.

At this point, none of Julia Banks’s revelations are shocking. Alleging Scott Morrison’s office backgrounded against her when she announced she was quitting politics would be shocking, if we hadn’t already heard detailed accusations of the prime minister’s office backgrounding against Brittany Higgins’ boyfriend. Finding out a cabinet minister sexually harassed her would be shocking, if Nationals MP Anne Webster hadn’t described a similar experience in March.

Banks’s decision to not make a submission to the ongoing review into parliamentary workplace culture because she does not “trust the process” would be shocking, if we hadn’t just learnt that Barnaby Joyce now has a role on the women’s safety taskforce. Being erroneously described by the prime minister as emotionally unstable would be shocking, if we hadn’t all been rendered unstable by his oft-changing vaccine rollout commitments.

The prime minister’s office has, of course, said it was not aware of any sexual harassment and has rejected claims about the nature of those conversations. Banks described Scott Morrison as “a menacing, controlling wallpaper”. The pattern on that wallpaper seems to be denials of backgrounding and ignorance of harassment. Just don’t peel it off, because who knows what’s hidden behind it.

Keeping the ‘man’ in ‘Bowman’

What happens when you’ve already scraped the bottom of the barrel? Apparently, you preselect Henry Pike as the candidate for Bowman in the next election.

Pike’s elevation comes after Andrew Laming said he wouldn’t recontest the seat, probably to spend more time on all that empathy training. Following Pike’s success, branch chair Craig Luxton has resigned.

The problems with Pike begin with the fact that he’s been backed by Amanda Stoker, the federal government frontbencher who has been tasked with driving change in the treatment of women. Henry Pike is, of course, the only man out of the five-candidate field for preselection. Stoker has described Pike as “the real deal”. It turns out that “real deal” was dealing out really graphic messages about women in the group chat.

In one message, written when he was a Young Liberal, he said it “states quite clearly in the Bible that f****** a fat chick is a sin beyond redemption”. In another, he said: “But you will still punish their p****.” It’s clear why he’s considered a qualified replacement for Andrew Laming, who issued apologies to two women in his electorate for his comments to them on Facebook and refused to apologise for that time he said, “Deny it’s Australia Day. That’ll help petrol sniffing and school attendance in remote Australia.”

Pike has also issued a statement saying “Like lots of men, I’m embarrassed about some of the things I said when I was younger and would never say today.” Like lots of men, this hasn’t affected the upwards arc of his life.

The prime minister has made it clear inside the party that he wants a “strong female candidate”, which many have pointed out Henry Pike isn’t. Unless the Liberal National Party understood him to mean he wanted a candidate who had strong opinions about females.

Other options for Bowman that are no longer in the running included Maggie Forrest, whom Peter Dutton described as a “person of substance and integrity” in a letter of support, which has damned her substance and integrity forever. Peter Dutton also wrote a reference for Henry Pike, which means these days it’s easier to get a letter of reference from the Defence minister if you’re a religious conservative stoking fears of “wokeism” than it was to get one from him when he was Home Affairs minister and you were an au pair.

Labor’s candidate for Bowman is Donisha Duff, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman with a background in health, education and youth support. She has so far received little attention, because we’ve not learnt any lessons from the past few thousand years of human history.

Pfizerror

Erring is, as the old saying goes, the most human of traits. And who among us hasn’t erred? Just last week, I locked myself out of my apartment and had to ring all the intercoms at random until someone let me back in. Then there was the time Josh Frydenberg reported JobKeeper would cost $60 billion more than it did. Classic erring. Just the treasurer reminding us of how human he is.

Or how about all those errors that resulted in more than 470,000 incorrect welfare debts being generated through robo-debt, with $721 million being refunded. If error is human, and forgiveness is divine, the amount of forgiveness Australians have had to dole out to their elected officials should generate enough divinity for us to be manifesting miracles on street corners.

Perhaps this is part of the agenda of the Liberal Party’s religious right. They will give us all the chance at apotheosis, especially as we’ve been presented with yet another “error”.

It turns out, the Pfizer vaccine has been accidentally on purpose administered to 163 year 12 students at St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill in New South Wales. In a classic comedy of errors, it seems the school administration ignored all the medical advice that’s consistently said Pfizer vaccines are limited to people over 40, and asked Sydney Local Health District if their students could get vaccinated. It’s an important lesson in demanding preferential treatment regardless of the needs of others that is no doubt part of the curriculum at one of the most expensive Catholic boys’ schools in the country, which currently charges $50,000 a year for boarders.

NSW Health decided that since Indigenous people between 16 and 19 are eligible for the vaccine, it would be a great time to erroneously vaccinate 163 boarders at the school, of which about 4 per cent are likely Indigenous, based on data provided by the school. This resulted in non-Aboriginal Australians benefiting greatly by using Aboriginal people as an excuse for their actions, something that has never happened before and will never happen again.

The only thing standing in the way of our ability to achieve divinity by forgiving NSW Health’s error is Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who has told journalists: “It’s happened out of a million vaccinations. Move on.” That order to “move on” is likely also directed to teachers lining up at vaccination hubs and to the Aboriginal peak health body that has been left out of the national vaccine task force meetings.

The motto of St Joseph’s College is In meliora contende – to strive for better things.

It turns out, one of those things is better vaccine access than the rest of us. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 10, 2021 as "Gadfly: Banking on Julia".

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