Our serried ranks of interstate and overseas readers may not be aware that in the last two weeks Melbourne has been convulsing with laughter at the Comedy Festival. More or less. It has now been running for 34 years, and is certainly successful, although a lot of it is left-wing mush. I do not go along much these days, since the Age became its principal sponsor. I decided that any comedy festival that had a Fairfax newspaper sponsoring it had already proved its point and had found the motherlode of bitter irony. But this year it surpassed even its own achievements and hit the jackpot with two new milestones. The first one showed that there is no end to a comic’s material that can be dug up and that, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the dressing room, lo and behold, at the bottom of the garbage pile there is some untouched piece of refuse that might get a few laughs. That happened in the performance by Isaac Butterfield on April 11 with his punch line: ‘imagine the joy of people when they heard the Jews were sent to the gas chambers.’ Yes, just imagine. A Jewish woman in the audience wrote to him saying how cruel it was to say such things that caused immeasurable hurt to so many people. Young Isaac thought he had the last word, with his riposte of side-splitting mirth: ‘If you can’t stand the heat get out of the oven.’ That contribution was about par for the course, where every joke has to end with ‘f…Tony Abbott.’ But, fortunately, the organisers took the opportunity of laying down a lofty new marker in the cause of freedom of expression by noting that Isaac was really cool and would not be censured. Look, they declared, ’Performers are able to express their views, even those deemed offensive.’ Well, that should go well as part of the next campaign to abolish the notorious Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
It has also segued neatly into the second milestone. The festival has thrown itself with enthusiasm into its new role of carrying the banner of free speech into the public square. For instance, Barry Humphries had got himself into hot water by having a good-natured shot at the ‘new fashion’ of transgenderism. ‘Eh? Fashion?’ screamed a dozen transgenderists and their camp followers and a lynch mob of moral censors, baying for Humphries’ blood. But he pressed on, asking courageously in The Speccie. ‘How many different kinds of lavatory can you have?’ he asked. ‘And it’s pretty evil when it’s preached to children by crazy teachers.’. Well, by a remarkable co-incidence, the organisers decided that this was the right time to strip his name from the famous Barry Award for best comedy act in the festival and rename it the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Award. This masterstroke was delivered with the same rebranding skill as the old Soviets showed when christening the No. 35 Ballbearing Factory of Leningrad. So much for the noble sentiment of protecting Humphries’ ‘expression of his views, even those deemed offensive’. Everyone can be offended, it seems, but some can be offended more than others. Thus we note for posterity that Melbourne’s is the first and only comedy festival that has turned itself into a headline act and become the laughing stock of the comedy world for stifling humour with the dead hand of conformity. Surely it should be put on the world heritage list.
Meanwhile, at the other comedy festival, the federal election, I have a minority view about Bill Shorten’s ham-fisted answer on the ALP’s plans to impose new taxes on superannuation. When asked by Sky News’s rambunctious James O’Doherty if he had plans to impose new taxes on superannuation, Shorten swore black and blue that no, there would be no new taxes. Trouble was, he had overlooked the little package of a $34 billion tax hit on superannuation contributions that he had announced months before. When his minders told him he had made a bigger fool of himself than usual, he had to admit: ‘Oh, those ones! I must have misheard or misunderstood the question.’ He then explained there would not be any new, new taxes, apart from the old new ones he had already announced, because the old new ones were old ones and hence they could not be new. Scott Morrison’s attack line was that Shorten was a liar and was hiding secret new taxes to hit superannuants when they were not looking. Now, here is the minority view: I do not think he was lying. The new taxes were on the record and could scarcely be hidden. Anyway, politicians don’t lie, contrary to popular belief; they are like real estate agents, who also don’t lie, because to lie you have to know the difference between lies and the truth and neither of them has the faintest idea which is which. Nor do they care. But nor do I think the defensive Labor luvvies in the ABC and elsewhere were right in saying that Shorten simply misheard or misunderstood the question. Come off it! How could you do either, when the question was clear, commendably rude, and repeated twice? I know why Shorten stuffed it up, and it is a serious issue in public policy and one that explains why the current election campaign is so dispiriting. Both sides are making grossly irresponsible promises in making such large handouts with never a thought of economising, or encouraging self reliance or personal responsibility. The same goes for incomprehensible billions in taxes that are thrown around. There are no restraints and untold billions just come and go with the wind. No wonder Shorten was so blasé about $34 billion. But we will end up paying the price for it as we work our way to bankruptcy and the people lose all sense of their own responsibilities.
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