With Malcolm Turnbull In Charge, Spare A Thought For The Satirists

There's one group of people who miss Tony Abbott even more than Andrew Bolt.

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The majority of the party room and the country may have wanted Abbott gone during the leadership coup, but there was a small section of the population who wanted him to stay: satirists.

Under the Mad Monk’s leadership, satirists were living through the golden age of gaffes. When Tones wasn’t putting his foot in his mouth, he was putting a raw onion in there.

But suddenly, our walking facepalm of a PM was replaced with someone seemingly qualified for the top job.

Unsurprisingly, it’s been a tough transition.

When selecting his cabinet, Prime Minister Turnbull differentiated himself from Abbott by recognising that women, not just a woman, should be included.

And after a radicalised Muslim teen opened fire on Parramatta police station, Prime Minister Turnbull didn’t further alienate the Australian Muslim community by putting the word ‘Team’ in front of our country’s name, as if our nation were now playing in some kind of terrorism World Cup. Rather, he sent a nuanced and compassionate message to Australian Muslims and non-Muslims, encouraging the nation to work together to fight radicalisation.

Perhaps most striking, though, is that our Prime Minister’s media addresses no longer seem bound to the three-words-and-under slogan rule, and his soundbites — unlike Abbott’s “coal is good for humanity” — don’t violently clash with the laws of science.

Worse yet for satirists, other reliably silly members of parliament appear to be upping their game.

Senator Ricky Muir, first known to the Australian public for flinging kangaroo faeces at his brother, has come to be seen as one of the more balanced members of parliament, writing impressive op-eds about citizenship laws for the Guardian; Clive Palmer hasn’t fallen asleep in the House all year; and Jacqui Lambie … well, okay, she’s still as mad as ever, but you get the point.

With each passing gaffe-less day, it’s becoming clear that the Abbott-era was a Halley’s Comet of incompetent government, passing by us in a flash the likes of which will not return  for many years to come. Right-wing warriors Rowan Dean and Andrew Bolt, perhaps the only people in Australia who miss Abbott as much as satirists, appear to hold hope of a Rudd-esque resurrection to the top job.

It would be impossible, surely, for Abbott to get back into the Lodge when he has news headlines like these on his CV, which read as if they have come straight from satirical newspaper The Onion.

Tony Abbott embarrasses Australia by praising Japanese WWII military, ‘getting on the sake’ and posing for ‘crotch-shot’ photo opportunity

The Independent, 10 July 2014

Tony Abbott says he went too far likening Bill Shorten to Nazi Goebbels

The Guardian, 20 March 2015

No more national parks as Tony Abbott pledges to support loggers as the ‘ultimate conservationists’

Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 2014

Tony Abbott raises eyebrows after linking WWII D-Day memorial with policies on mining and carbon taxes

Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 2014

Australian government spends $4 million on ‘stop-the-boats’ telemovie

Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 2015

Tony Abbott says Australia benefited from foreign investment because it was ‘unsettled’ before the British

Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 2014

Supermarkets the answer to the financial woes of China and Greece, says Abbott

Australian Financial Review, 7 July 2015

Top achievement as Minister for Women was carbon tax repeal, PM says

SBS news, 22 December 2014

With Malcolm now in charge, these headlines will be necessary evidence in proving to doubting future generations that such a mad government did actually exist.

Meanwhile, satirists will speak with each other about the Abbott era in hushed, wistful tones for decades, until eventually the next walking facepalm enters the Lodge, and Australia experiences another golden age of gaffes.

Evan Williams’ Australian Leader Eats Raw Onion Whole: Headlines From The Government That Broke Satire is out now through Black Inc.

Book cover


Evan Williams has written for the Monthly, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, McSweeney’s and Crikey. He also wrote for ABC2’s daily satirical news show The Roast.