TV

Charlie Pickering Gleefully Destroyed Cory Bernardi And The Anti-Halal Movement On ‘The Weekly’ Last Night

If you had any doubts about 'The Weekly', this segment will make you a believer.

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Before it even premiered, ABC’s The Weekly drew accusations of being a carbon copy of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, with a dearth of original ideas. Some episodes since its debut have been well received while others have fallen relatively flat, but the shadow cast by John Oliver was always going to be a difficult one to step out of unless The Weekly could prove it had something distinctive to say.

With last night’s episode, The Weekly found its breakthrough moment, putting to air a smart, funny, forthright and brave piece of television that could have a genuine impact on an important national debate: halal certification. The anti-halal movement has gained significant traction in recent months; almost 80,000 people are members of the ‘Boycott Halal in Australia’ Facebook page, and last week conservative Senator Cory Bernardi, whose idea of an effective anti-terrorism measure is to ban the burqa, secured a six-month Parliamentary inquiry that’s ostensibly about food certification in general, but is already attracting submissions of magnificent lunacy like this:

It was into this minefield that Charlie Pickering and crew stepped last night, and the results are nothing short of brilliant. Have a look.

First off, did you know that Barnaby Joyce could be a rational and constructive voice on anything, let alone halal certification? I sure didn’t, and now I feel a little bad about laughing at him so heartily last week. Not really bad, just a little bit.

Second off: was that not the shit? That was the shit, I mean.

It would’ve been so easy to spend seven minutes playing the man and not the ball — if anyone’s ripe for mockery, it’s Bernardi — but instead they methodically and clearly presented several of the biggest arguments on the “danger” of halal certification, before dismantling them with equal parts humour and insight.

The halal certification nontroversy is one that’s clouded with a vast amount of misinformation and hysteria, and seeing that garbage get calmly and systematically hosed down has the potential to ease a lot of anxious minds who’ve only encountered the issue in passing. Hearing from people with skin in the game who don’t fit the dominant media narrative, like the food exporters who rely on halal certification to stay viable, took a debate with well-established, narrowly-defined boundaries and turned it inside out; it made a stale argument new. That’s a remarkably difficult thing to do, but it’s hugely effective if you manage to pull it off.

Bernardi’s already taken to Twitter to disseminate, trying to shift focus onto the treatment of Australian animals overseas and claiming that the inquiry’s only tangentially about halal certification. Pickering wasn’t having a bar of Bernardi’s nonsense there either.

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Merits of the report aside, even running a segment like this in the current political environment is a laudably ballsy move. The show has gone after a member of a government known for its ideological antipathy towards the ABC, an attitude to media scrutiny halfway between Big Brother and a shrieking toddler, and a habit of trying to silence its critics through unscrupulous methods. At the very least Bernardi and co. are going to use this report as yet more “evidence” of the ABC’s secret plan to turn the nation’s youth into rabid Marxists; it’s possible that Bernardi will quietly get himself a seat on the next Senate inquiry into ABC funding, and do his best to make them pay for it.

Most importantly, though, it was a great bit of TV. Not ‘good’ for a new show, not ‘good’ for Australian television — that monologue could stand up against anything out there in TV comedy right now. If we get one segment like that a month from The Weekly, that’s still a noticeable increase in the amount of quality Australian programming that can make people laugh and think at the same time.

This is funny, angry, intelligent TV, and Australia’s already a little bit better for it.