Political satire in the era of ScoMo and Albo

The political cartoon managed to sum up the chaotic election. Photo: @johnshakespeare/Twitter.

Biting, well-observed and hilarious satire thrived under a leader who almost invited it on himself through his bumbling and bulldozing. Gary Nunn looks at the highlights – and what’s to come under the new Labor government.

I’m calling it. It’s the greatest cartoon of modern Australian political satire. 

Anthony Albanese, Toto in hand, looks mildly overwhelmed as Russell Crowe, in full gladiator outfit, commands him to unleash hell. On Albo’s arm, lest he forgets, is 1+1 = 2. 

Above him, flying in on a red parachute, is Kristina Keneally. In a tree next to her is Adam Bandt in a Google (it mate) T-shirt. Behind that, Clive Palmer is an overinflated barrage balloon.

Handing out teal paint in a teal sports car is Simon Holmes a Court, with independent candidates splashing it all over incumbents about to lose their seats. Zali Steggall is Olympic skiing down the roof of a house below which Katherine Deves is scrubbing off a pavement rainbow a child is painting. ScoMo, ukelele in hand, wearing high vis, is being hosed by a disgruntled woman voter. 

“The election campaign we had to have” is the title of John Shakespeare’s cartoon for the Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s astute because, like all good satire, nobody is safe. Everyone is lampooned. There’s no discrimination. 

It’s also a hint at how Anthony Albanese – a leader already hailed as more compassionate and empathetic than “bulldozer” Scott Morrison – may be satirised during his tenure.

ScoMo: the satirist’s dream

Some leaders are born satirised, others have satire thrust upon them.

Scott Morrison, it seems, is in the former camp. 

Almost immediately after the unpopular PM’s departure, three words tweeted by Shaun Micallef summed up how satirists had a different feeling to much of the country: “I miss him.”

It’s understandable that he would: ScoMo was a satirist’s dream. 

One of the more popular Twitter accounts was the parody account of Scott Morrison: Scotty from Marketing, PM of Australia. 

Aping ScoMoisms, he told us that “it’s not my job to concede,” rhetorically asked “How good was the 2019 election!” and scolded journalists: “To the “journalists” asking me about Covid: both government and opposition have bilaterally agreed that the pandemic is over! Move on!”

As with much good satire, some tweets, such as this one about his Minister for Women, were so close to his tone, they almost seemed (worryingly) authentic:

“Yes I am aware that Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker addressed an anti-abortion rally and in a free country like Australia she has the right to choose to attend that rally and nobody else has the right to make that choice for her.”

A personal favourite was his tweet about his wife on mother’s day:

“Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working mums out there. Jenny loves her new iron and ironing board!” 

The parody account has been inactive since Scott Morrison’s loss in the election. Photo: Tileah Dobson.

Jenny and the girls

The more ScoMo thrust his wife, Jenny, into the spotlight – particularly any time he needed to be reminded to seem empathetic – the more satirists saw her as fair game.

A Rational Fear had a field day with this, composing JJJJJ Jenny and the girls, a song that lampooned the fact, when it came to women, he could only relate to those he was related to. 

Dan Ilic’s comedy podcast had another field day with “Cheque Builder” – a program that used pork barrelling novelty-sized cheques to build houses and resolve the housing crisis.

“We beat a bunch of kids!”

Comedian Mark Humphries had his own satirist’s field day when a court found that the government didn’t have a duty of care to protect kids from climate change. 

Jubilously rejoicing, Humphries and government colleagues, in between releasing confetti and streamers, exclaim: “We beat a bunch of kids! We don’t have a duty of care!” and “This is like if David & Goliath had the right ending!”

Meanwhile, Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney (of Get Krackin’ fame) lampooned the hectoring, condescending tone in Scott Morrison’s bungled explanation of complex, impenetrable Covid restrictions.

“You’re allowed to have a cheesymite scroll – up to six of them – but you can’t have a finger bun – for obvious reason – it’s in the name, finger bun, very unhygienic.”

And then: 

“You can exercise in pods of 10 inclusive of one live dolphin.”

And then there are the barre classes which are allowed but “must go on for 18 hours” as “punishment for being the kind of person that does barre.”

The same genius comedy duo mocked the former PM’s attempts at empathising with female victims of sexual harassment when they advised on how to look empathetic: “Get the chin involved!” they instructed, showing how to wobble it into the illusion of genuine empathy. 

Honest Government Ads

Without a doubt, the most stinging satire during ScoMo’s “primeminstershit” – as they call it – came from Juice Media’s honest government ads.

Juice Media’s Honest Government Ads have put a hilarious spin on politics in Australia. Video: TheJuiceMedia/Youtube.

The polished, smiling, glossy delivery juxtaposed perfectly with the biting satire.

ScoMo wasn’t a Prime Minister but a “Prime Marketer.”

Jenny was “minister for reminding complete psycho to empathise with rape survivors.” 

Matt Canavan, in high vis, was “minister for CosPlay.”

A presenter on a giant calculator announces that “lower income earners got *types numbers*…fuck all!”

Many first became aware of Juice Media during their bushfires honest government ad. In it they introduce their new and updated climate policy: “get fucken used to it!”

In which they announce:

“Dead animals, dead reef and a dead tourism industry? Get fucken used to it!”

And this doozy:

“If terrorists had caused half the damage the bushfires had we’d go to war, but as it was caused by our donors, we rewarded them with more coal mines!”

The Coalition government is labelled “The most corrupt gaggle of egregious shit lords, led by a member of a delusional apocalyptic cult whose idea of leadership is to force someone who has lost everything to shake hands before telling them to get fucken used to it!”

They finish on this stinger:

“Where the bloody hell are you? We can’t see you through all the smoke. Authorised by the dept for thoughts & prayers.” 

Satire in the age of Albo

It’s obviously very early in his leadership, but how might satirists lampoon someone like Albanese, a leader many find more agreeable and relatable than “bulldozer” Scott Morrison?

Already, satire king Dan Ilic has given us an inkling. He plays a slightly camp-style advisor from the “middle part” of Europe whose job it is to make Albanese look as nondescript as possible. 

“Beige beige beige beige. Look at those bricks! You can’t even tell there’s a man there!” he says, looking at Albo’s notorious photoshoot for the Australian Women’s Weekly, adding that the only cuts, under his leadership, have been his weight. 

What to expect next

How will the most stinging Australian political satire – the honest government ads – respond to the era of Albo?

“It really depends entirely on how this new government acts, especially on climate, which has been our key focus area,” Giordano Nanni from Juice Media tells The Sentinel.

“Currently, Labor is squarely a legitimate target for our honest government ads since it has a Shit-Lite climate target (that’s an objective definition according to the science, since Labor’s 43% emissions reduction by 2030 target is projected to put us on track for 2C warming by end of the century – better than the 3C warming we’d get under the LNP’s climate policies, but still catastrophic).”

They predict their infamous honest spoof ads may also focus on how Labor will achieve that target. 

“Will it be through phasing out coal and gas and transitioning rapidly to renewables, or will it be by expanding fossil fuel extraction and greenwashing them with dodgy carbon credits,” Nanni asks.

“If Labor acts in line with the science, we’ll turn our attention elsewhere. But if they take the piss, we’ll be there ready to continue making honest government ads about them too.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after it was announced both countries will be hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year. Photo: Anthony Albanese/Facebook.

The role of satire

The purpose of satire in any reasonably healthy, well-functioning democracy is to hold up a mirror to society’s foibles, speak truth to power, expose corruption, neuter ego, undercut braggadocio and hold to account the most powerful in the land.

When that land is Australia, where our draconian defamation laws gag media outlets from exposing charlatans, con-artists and power abusers, the role of the satirist intensifies in importance.

We may look at Putin’s Russia and shake our heads gravely at a nation brought up on sheer propaganda.

But you only have to look at the nation’s most powerful men – Christian Porter; Peter Dutton – to see who’ll lawyer up and sue the minute their character and behaviour is called into question. 

Defamation is the enemy of satire, and we live in the defamation capital of the world.

Fortunately, we also live in a country where creative political satire thrives. But the balance treads a fine line; fear of defamation risks neutering, censoring or compromising the artistic integrity of our satirists.

These two things are not mutually exclusive; democracy lovers should guard the right to speak truth to power with all their might.

A country that gags, instead of laughs at itself, cannot be truly free. 

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney SentinelTwitter: @garynunn1.

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