The Outrage Over Tex Perkins’ One-Finger Salute To Scott Morrison Is Nothing But A Distraction

Tex Perkins giving the bird to Kirribilli was a small symbol of frustration. Sure, it was crude, but now is not the time to play polite.

Outrage over Tex Perkins' one-finger salute on ABC New Years' broadcast is a distraction

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Performing in Sydney Harbour for the ABC’s live broadcast New Year’s Eve celebrations, renowned Australian musician Tex Perkins dedicated his performance of ‘The Honeymoon Is Over’ to Scott Morrison, and flipped the bird towards the Prime Minister’s Kirribilli home.

A small moment of dissent against a man who plays cricket on his harbour-side lawn while Australia’s fires make international news, it has, inevitably, become a minor controversy. Both the Australian and wrote it up with a sense of outrage.

The former grabbed predictable quotes from Liberal senator Eriz Abetz (as well as a former ABC chairman) about the “completely unacceptable” gesture, with the latter rounding up the ‘shocked’ responses on social media.

“Both the ABC and Tex Perkins need to apologise for this un­reservedly,” Abetz said. “To have allowe­d him back on stage after he had behaved in that manner is indicati­ve of no oversight.”

In a statement to the Australian, the ABC distanced themselves from Perkins’ actions, calling them “clearly his personal opinion, and not that of the ABC”. But it is not just his opinion. The anger towards Morrison is palpable, as he continues to tip-toe around the climate crisis worsening our country’s bushfires.

Arguments over what is obscene ignore those being committed in our federal government’s silence — that of doing nothing while we suffer. Or worse than nothing: it is active contempt. Speaking to a private function of cricketers at Kirribilli yesterday, Morrison insisted that the fires are happening “against the back drop” of a Test match, saying Australians will “be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers”.

“Whether they’re started by lightning storms or whatever the cause may be,” he said (via The Guardian), “our firefighters and all of those who have come behind them to support them, whether they’re volunteering in the front line or behind the scenes in a great volunteer effort, it is something that will happen against the back drop of this Test match.”

But when the fires have taken over 5.1 million hectares (and counting) of this country, killed at least 19 people since October (and nine alone since Monday), destroyed hundreds of homes and decimated an estimated half a billion of our wildlife, they simply cannot be the back-drop of a cricket match. The scale is larger than both last year’s Californian and Amazon fires put together.

The fires burn at the forefront of our lives and minds. To ignore this is to ignore both material reality and our collective psyche.

To speak of cricket uniting the country is to offer Ocker platitudes instead of action. It’s the same kind of Australiana lip-service that, ironically, sees Perkins’ ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ appear in Morrison’s ‘How good is Oz rock! (ScoMo’s classics’ Spotify playlist.)

To be fair, Morrison’s office essentially shrugged off Perkins’ middle finger, telling the Australian that “Tex is still high up in the Prime Minister’s playlist”. Of course he is: Morrison is used to ignoring the message behind the noise, whether he’s in Kirribilli or Hawaii.

Perkins’ statement was a small symbol of frustration, and sure, it was crude, but now is not the time to play polite. The argument over what can and can’t be discussed right now — how it’s ‘not the time’ to talk about Australian’s carbon footprint, or our choice to open the Adani mine — is a way of shutting down any mention of the climate crisis as merely political point-scoring.

Civility always comes into the conversation when it is against the government; of course, free speech is worth defending when it’s promoting bigotry, and it’s perfectly fine to joke about countries sinking into the rising sea ocean.

Perkins is far from the only public figure to cause controversy for expressing anger. When 7.30 reporter Laura Tingle tweeted out her admiration to journalists (ABC and otherwise) covering the fires, a stray response arguing there was “no balance” in reporting caused her to break a usual no-comment rule.

“What, like, ‘on the other hand, it’s ONLY 4.6 million hectares of Australia that are burning’,” she wrote. “A rare editorial engagement: go fuck yourself.”

Responses shaming Tingle’s lack of civility shift the conversation, and try to act as if our increasing bushfires are merely an issue to theorise over, rather than react directly to — something, in turn, that makes us act out of fear and fury.

Most of us cannot step back from something that threatens our lives for decades to come; fuck anyone who does.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. He is on Twitter.