Diary

Gadfly
The Hopkins solution

There is a moment in Alan Moore’s seminal comic book series, Watchmen, when the genius mastermind controlling the world from the shadows reveals that the only thing that can bring humanity together is fear of something new. We are bound most tightly when we are bound by a hatred of the unknown. To that end, he engineers the conclusion of the Cold War by manufacturing evidence of an alien invasion, persuading the proverbial superpowers to unite against a new foe, which doesn’t actually exist.

Australia experienced a similarly manipulated unity in the past week, when a country torn asunder by lockdowns and inter-city rivalries, duelling premiers and varied financial support payments, suddenly pulled together in the face of a grotesque alien enemy that threatened the nation as a whole.

Katie Hopkins emerged on our shores amid lockdowns like a grotesque Cthulhu-esque monster teleporting into our midst. For those unfamiliar with Hopkins, she’s that breed of celebrity that only Britain manages to produce, a person with a poorly constructed face and controversial opinions, if your idea of a controversial opinion is whatever your One Nation-voting uncle says after a couple of beers at Christmas. Boringly unimaginative in their racism, they’re celebrated by Australia’s most embarrassing humans: Mark Latham and commercial television producers.

Rumoured to have been flown here as a guest on Celebrity Big Brother – a TV show that stretches the boundaries of the word “celebrity” as much as it increases the mental degradation of anyone being forced to watch it – Hopkins quickly got into trouble for boasting about breaching hotel quarantine. Hopkins said she had been “lying in wait” by her door for workers delivering food to her room, so she could “spring it open and frighten the shit out of them and do it naked with no face mask”. Our front-line workers have long been celebrated as heroes, but now it is time to recognise them also as victims.

When asked why Hopkins was allowed into the country above the quarantine cap, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said: “This does happen from time to time; it actually happens reasonably regularly that state governments approach the federal government on the basis that there is an economic benefit to some people coming in over the quarantine caps.”

This is an important message to all the Australians trapped overseas who cannot return: try being more cartoonishly racist so that Australian TV producers think you’re worth putting on a terrible reality TV show, and the New South Wales government petitions to have you brought over so Channel Seven can make money from advertisers.

Regardless, by providing us with a villain for everyone in the country to hate equally for different reasons, Katie Hopkins and Endemol Shine – the company behind Celebrity Big Brother – reminded us of our shared values: rejecting naked British racists.

Hopkins was sent back to England soon after, thus enjoying the full Australian experience of coming here, being locked up, then deported.

Breaking Obeid

In 2006, former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid won a defamation case against Fairfax Media and was awarded more than $150,000 in damages and more than $1 million in costs. The focus of the defamation trial was a series of articles by investigative reporter Kate McClymont detailing Obeid’s corruption. According to the Supreme Court, McClymont shouldn’t have called Obeid “corrupt”.

About the same time, Obeid made a rare speech in parliament, offering a long and bizarre assessment of the journalist.

“McClymont obviously gets her thrills by being constantly in the company of the bad guys, the heavies and the sleazy insiders who claim to know things,” he said. “McClymont has been mixing with scum for so long that she no longer knows who is good and who is bad, what is real and what is made up. She has become the journalistic equivalent of a gun moll with glittering associations with the not so well to do. Despite this being well known, management of The Sydney Morning Herald continue to grant her prime, unscrutinised space.” It’s the kind of speech that would have got an entire episode of Annabel Crabb’s Ms Represented devoted to it, if it wasn’t so utterly standard for the men in parliament.

McClymont did get the last laugh, not by falling back on defamation lawsuits – the first refuge of the Australian scoundrel, it seems – but instead by sticking to her journalistic skills. All this was made easier because Eddie Obeid continued to set standards for barefaced corruption that would qualify him for a spot on the corruption Olympics podium. He was literally minister for Fisheries, if that isn’t a big enough giveaway. Yet even as he prepares to go back to prison, he doesn’t have to return the money he got from The Sydney Morning Herald.

The latest evidence of his corruption is conspiring with his son Moses and Ian Macdonald over a lucrative mine licence. The Crown case was that they conspired for Macdonald to commit misconduct in public office. A court found the trio guilty of creating a $30 million windfall for the Obeids.

NSW Labor has celebrated the verdict, announcing, “no one is above the law”. A statement from the party said: “There is no room for corruption in public life or in business or in any profession for that matter.” The retroactive realisation that corruption is bad in “any profession for that matter” is a worrying detail, given it’s really not that hard to just say, “corruption is always bad”. Perhaps NSW Labor is still having trouble completely condemning a man known as a “powerbroker” in the party, dominating the right-wing faction of Labor, which is another way of saying “all of Labor” these days.

Obeid’s faction used to be referred to as The Terrigals, because it was formed in his beach house in Terrigal. If he had a house in Burrumbuttock, Mount Great Groaner, or Delicate Nobby, we would be living in an even more interesting world.

Neither a race nor a plan

With more states entering lockdown, and vaccine hesitancy still worryingly high, Scott Morrison emerged from a curry-induced stupor to say he “doesn’t accept” that he’s responsible for the lagging vaccine rollout.

This is the first statement he’s made since the time he debunked the rumour he’d once soiled himself in a Maccas, thus confirming he’d definitely soiled himself in a Maccas.

Speaking with Adelaide’s FIVEaa radio the prime minister said: “Right now, under no plan was there any plan that said we’d be at 65-70 per cent vaccination in this country. Under no plan.” Because repeating the words “no plan” several times is surely the best way to instil confidence in the country’s leadership.

There was, however, a plan to have four million vaccinations by late March, which Morrison announced on January 25. Greg Hunt doubled down a few days after that, and said the plan was to have 20 million adults vaccinated by the end of October.

All of which means the plan might well actually have required 65-70 per cent vaccination by mid-July, except we now know there was “no plan” and more of a vague intention. Perhaps even an unsubstantiated rumour.

The PM continued deflecting responsibility when speaking with ABC Adelaide. It was unfair that Australia’s vaccine rollout was being criticised but not New Zealand’s, said the prime minister who once told protesters to be grateful they weren’t being shot at, like in other countries. Apparently, his entire approach to governance is pointing out it could always be worse – and then proving that true.

Duck, duck, milkshake duck

The greatest race of the 21st century is the one to achieve viral fame. With enough TikTok likes, Twitter retweets and Instagram shares, one can achieve the kinds of celebrity once reserved for reality show contestants and the guy in the village who sat on a pumpkin.

Viral-fame enthusiasts have been trapped in an escalating arms race, doing everything from running through forests in Japan where people commit suicide to bending over in tights again and again.

Sydney-based comedian Jon-Bernard Kairouz has achieved viral fame in the most 2021 way possible, by accurately predicting local Covid-19 cases five days in a row.

The predictions, which were quite obviously the result of him having access to a leak, ended their streak of accuracy when reports swirled that NSW Health had set a trap to catch his source. This is consistent with the NSW government’s ongoing war against online comedians, following John Barilaro’s use of an anti-terrorism squad to arrest a Friendlyjordies producer. That is a sentence we should all be ashamed that I have had to write.

Further confirming there are no surprises anymore – because we’re all so used to the chaos that is our existence, we can now see patterns in it – nobody was shocked to discover the TikTok comedian leaking case numbers had made racist jokes in the past. No word yet on whether he’s been asked to appear on Big Brother.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 24, 2021 as "Gadfly: The Hopkins solution".

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