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I’m more worried about Mark Zuckerberg than this government and its tracing app

The government has released its coronavirus tracking app, and people are worried about privacy. The concern is that “COVIDSafe” marks a descent into an Orwellian fever-dream that features actual fever.

I know this, because many people have said so on social media. And I know that after they hit send on those Facebook posts, the site automatically ticked the “worried about privacy” box on their profiles, so they can be offered gold bullion and VPNs.

A new app released by the government aims to help trace the spread of coronavirus, but how well does it work and what data does it store?

Our privacy is constantly being eroded, whether by CCTV, scammers or our beloved smartphones – search for “Google Timeline” or “iPhone significant locations” if you’d like to experience acute paranoia.

But the COVIDSafe app might just be the first privacy incursion that benefits us, instead of advertisers or the state. We’re a little short on rights just now – freedom of movement and association, for starters. I have to pretend to exercise just to leave the house. We can’t even enter Queensland – so there is some upside. But we need to be able to relax these restrictions while controlling new infections.

Of course, we shouldn’t have unqualified faith in a government that gave us robodebt and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton – although I still trust it more than Mark Zuckerberg.

Members of groups that the government frequently targets, like minorities and journalists, understandably won’t be convinced. Fortunately, they don’t have to be. We only need 40 per cent uptake of the app – call it nerd immunity.

Besides, is COVIDSafe really the app to usher in a scary digital panopticon? Every day, the app begs me to open it, because apparently it needs this for the Bluetooth connection to work properly on my iPhone. If it has to be full screen to reliably function, as some have suggested, my main concern isn’t privacy, but that COVIDSafe is a lemon.

If the government’s app strategy doesn’t work, the alternative is a more laborious, imperfect form of contact tracing – where the government also gets to find out our movements. Living in a society always means giving up freedoms for the collective good – and this seems a reasonable trade-off.

In future, infection control apps could become invaluable in flu season, or to control STIs. I’d also love an app that warned me of approaching anti-vaxxers – not because I’m worried about contracting their measles, but because I really don’t want to hear their views on vaccines.

That said, if the government introduces a more intrusive app, I will gladly take to the streets. But only with an app to tell me whether the people next to me in the barricades have COVID-19.

Dominic Knight is co-host of The Chaser Report podcast.

When ‘Get Krack!n’ took a crack at itself

Get Krack!n was already the funniest show on Australian television before Wednesday night’s finale tore its own premise to pieces. The Kates, McCartney and McLennan, have always targeted themselves as unsparingly as their genre, in the tradition of the two Larrys – Sanders and David – while adding an acidic feminist humour all their own. They even score consistent laughs from their chyron jokes, awkward overlay and irritatingly cheerful production music.

But the decision to get real-life Indigenous actor mates Nakkiah Lui (Black Comedy) and Miranda Tapsell (The Sapphires) to guest-host the final episode, playing upon their public images as an outspoken activist who appears on Q&A and an endearing, popular rom-com specialist respectively, enabled a commentary on race that took Get Krack!n well beyond its usual evisceration of morning television.

It was a watershed moment for the medium, not least when McLennan’s waters broke. Even McCartney and McLennan hosting a show packed with female co-stars broke ground, but this finale was all Lui and Tapsell’s. Unsurprisingly, both contributed to the writing. Tapsell’s advice on how to make it as a black woman in TV – “Be bright. Be breezy. Don’t make a white lady cry. Don’t mention genocide” – was devastating, as she purported to teach Lui how to fake bland geniality instead of challenging the audience with the reality of indigenous lives.

To steal another great joke from the show, Tapsell and Lui changed the face of mainstream Australian TV comedy, simply by starring in an episode of mainstream Australian TV comedy, which just goes to show how low the bar of mainstream Australian TV comedy is.

It was effortlessly hilarious, until it deliberately wasn’t, with the kind of superb one-liners mixed with sharp social commentary that feature in Lui’s own acclaimed plays, and made Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette a global phenomenon. Get Krack!n’s similar blend of comedy and anti-comedy also deserves a global audience. And I won’t spoil it by explaining quite how they did it – not when it’s available free on iView.

But perhaps my favourite gag was the throwaway line that snarkily dismissed one of our best known performers, when a production assistant gave  Lui “darker shapewear” that previously belonged to Chris Lilley. No white guys playing Tongan schoolboys here.

We must have more from the Kates, of course, but this episode asked a more important question. Why aren’t there many more Indigenous faces on our screens? And specifically, Lui and Tapsell, all the time? They’re such excellent performers that they nail their parody-presenting in every scene here – surely they’d out-host just about everyone who’s a daily fixture on network television?

In the meantime, we can only hope Tapsell and Lui keep “decolonising this shit” on a regular basis. Sunrise producers, you know who to call.

I’m planning to sleep through NYE

At midnight on December 31, as 2018 ticks over to 2019 and revellers’ cheers erupt across the eastern seaboard, I fully expect to be fast asleep.

Couples will kiss, singles will hug awkwardly, and Auld Lang Syne will be sung despite nobody knowing what an “auld lang syne” is. The air will be crackling with good cheer and, shortly afterwards, thick smoke from the fireworks. And I plan not be conscious for any of it.

I know New Year’s Eve is supposed to be the ultimate party night, the one night when we all go hard and push through until dawn. These days, it’s also the one night where Sydney’s allowed to stay open late. In Melbourne, it’s just another day of sensibly managed 6am closures, ho hum.

But as dull as I’m planning on being tomorrow night, I’ve had my fair share of late nights this year. And I’ve spent many of them the same way I used to spend NYE – awake long after midnight, hanging out with someone who can’t speak intelligibly or walk without falling over, and is liable to spew at any moment.

My nine-month-old daughter is an awful lot cuter than your average tipsy partygoer, however. And she frequently wears nappies and bibs, adult versions of which really should be handed out by the authorities on NYE. It’d beat most 3am portaloos.

I always worried that when I became a parent, I’d miss going out, and while I occasionally pine for a carefree night on the tiles – or indeed any kind of flooring – it’s far easier than I’d expected to write off the biggest night of the year.

Everyone should experience a Sydney New Year’s Eve at least once, but when you’ve lived here a while, the novelty wears off. It’s always the same experience – gorgeous harbour, impressive fireworks, immense difficulty getting a decent view of said harbour and fireworks, police barriers everywhere, packed crowds, pissed crowds, and a commute home that’s so long and involves so much walking that no matter how hard you go, you’re sober by the end of it. By which time you’re so exhausted that you promise yourself you’ll watch it on TV next year, no matter what bizarre experiment the ABC serves up on its coverage.

And while I’d be spending midnight in bed even if the harbour display was promising to top the extraordinary twin spectacles they pulled off for the millennium and Olympics in 2000, I’m not entirely sold on firework guru Fortunato Foti’s plan to wow the crowd this year. 2018’s big innovation is pastel fireworks, in lime and peach, two shades more associated with gelato and activewear than eyeball-popping visuals.

I’m fascinated to know where he got the idea. Were fans telling Fortunato that they loved his fireworks, but wished the colours could be more muted? Are heritage authorities insisting that our fireworks match our Federation bungalows? Or is the country’s preeminent nanny state going to see in the new year with a giant replica of nanna’s favourite cardigan spanning the Harbour Bridge?

And what’s the plan for next year? Fireworks inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey?

I do pity the event designers, though, because it’s Sydney’s one night of getting a free tourism ad onto news bulletins around the world, and really, what’s left to do after all their past brilliance? They’ve done rain from the Bridge deck, fireworks from atop the Bridge span, and fireworks off the surrounding skyscrapers. There’s no structure left to launch fireworks from, except perhaps that one bizarre train that always rumbles across the Bridge in the middle of it all.

Sydney has also projected every conceivable thing onto the Opera House, from pinball machines to Alan Jones’ mobile number. What fresh ideas are left for NYE? I could only think of immolating a giant cruise ship, ideally one of the ones that blocks the view during Vivid. Or maybe we could make many architecturally conscious Sydneysiders’ dream come true and detonate the Cahill Expressway at midnight? Now that I would come out to see.

Thank goodness for the 9pm fireworks, which are pitched as child-friendly, but really, they’re parent-friendly – they let parents pretend that their kids have seen the main attraction before bundling them off to bed. They weren’t around when I was a kid, and I’m sure I ruined several parties for my mum and dad with my determination to stay up until midnight. These days, parents can start doing jelly shots at about 9.15.

But not me. Not this year. I’ll be happy to lie down next to my daughter’s cot and sleep through the last few hours of 2018 alongside her. I don’t need to say “happy New Year” at midnight – one is guaranteed; next year will be the year she learns to walk, talk, and hold her drink – as in, hold her own bottle. I can’t wait.

Besides, I want to get all the sleep I can before she wakes us, one hour into 2019. And then four hours into it. Auld Lang Syne!

Questions for the Sandpaper Three

This year has featured some spectacularly poor decisions. Peter Dutton’s leadership challenge, Justin Milne’s mutually assured dismissal and the Central Coast Mariners’ Usain Bolt misadventure were all epic pieces of incompetence.

But none holds a candle to Australia’s two best cricketers and a gormless newbie getting busted ball-tampering. After years of scandals about picked seams and sticky sweets, our tactical geniuses thought it’d be bonza to use sandpaper in front of multiple high-definition cameras.

It was a worse Bunnings slip-up than any barbecued onion. And those involved seem to be under the misapprehension that they can talk their way out of it. On Wednesday Cameron Bancroft fingered David Warner, saying that he complied with his request to ball tamper because he “didn’t know any better” and “just wanted to fit in”, like a 13-year-old at the cool kids’ table – except he was 25 at the time.

When I was in the 13Ds, my entire team knew better than Bancroft. We lost every match, and while I’m not sure cheating would have helped much, it never occurred to us to try.

Ricky Ponting called this twaddle for what it was – an attempt to “rebuild his brand”. I’m not sure whether Roxy Jacenko was involved (she appeared with the Warners while David gave that deeply unsatisfying press conference), but it couldn’t have been any worse if she started marketing Bancroft bows on Instagram.

Steve Smith told Fox Sports that he should have asked himself “if this goes pear-shaped, how’s this going to look?” Thinking about the optics of getting caught is certainly an improvement on his decision-making in Cape Town, but how about not cheating because it’s, y’know, wrong?

Smith’s revelations about the team management telling players they were paid to win were interesting, because Cricket Australia seems not to realise that it’s in the doghouse as well. All its hype about the awesome “summer of cricket” fails to acknowledge that this is a mediocre summer by comparison, and it’s partly to blame.

So where’s Cricket Australia’s year-long penalty? Why hasn’t it made one of the days of each Test free to say sorry for its mismanagement? Why isn’t the chief executive apologising at every home Test match, and better yet, padding up at lunchtime to be personally pelted by the Milo kids?

I want to see the Sandpaper Three play again, but they need to acknowledge they’ve permanently sandpapered the lustre from their precious personal brands. They won’t even get a sponsorship deal from Black and Decker.

And the next time anyone wants to interview them about the incident, they should respond like Smith should have when cheating was mooted in Cape Town – with a big fat no.


A message to visiting expats: shhh

At Christmas time, Santa isn’t the only one circumnavigating the globe to deliver joy. At this time of year, it feels like the entire million Australians who live overseas fly home for beach time, family time, and frenzied catch-ups with those of us lucky enough still to be deemed their friends.

I love seeing my expat mates – they’re lovely, clever, entertaining people who are doing terribly well in NYC or Singapore or Kalamazoo or wherever is lucky enough to have them. But as our globetrotting pals regale us once more with their tales of their glamorous existence exhibiting avant garde paintings in Shoreditch or collaborating with the UN in Geneva or saving lives in rural Myanmar, I have one small request.

Beloved expat buddies, could you please refrain from those subtle, snide comments designed to show how utterly you’ve transcended Australia? You know the ones – about how you can’t have a global career in this backwater, or how we aren’t on the map for major events, or how you can’t imagine not being able to fly to Europe for the weekend.

We never contradict you, we just think quietly to ourselves that you’ve become a bit full of yourself since you bought that one-way ticket overseas – and you know how much we Aussies dislike people who are too full of themselves. Or at least, you used to.

It might also be prudent to cool it with those broad declarations about how bereft Australia is of intellectuals/culture/world-class anything. They only make you seem snobbish or uninformed.

Besides, we know living overseas isn’t necessarily so splendid. America’s full of guns, Trump supporters and Trump supporters with guns, whereas Britain isn’t shooting itself in the foot over Brexit, it’s trying to amputate the limb.

Patronising expats should take care, and remember they hail from the land of the boomerang. As unlikely as it may seem when you’re young, childless and career-driven, you expats often decide to move home so your kids can grow up like you did, in a comfortable, pleasant place with a good climate and quality, subsidised education and health care. You’ll find yourself wanting to spend time with your parents while you can – and getting their help with the kids.

Then, during Christmas catch-ups, you’ll hear your expat friends desperately trying to convince themselves that they’ve made the right decision, and you’ll wince with self-recognition. And then you’ll smile, and remind yourself the beach they’ve flown halfway across the world to visit is a short drive from your house, and that living here isn’t so bad after all.

If Trump can be president, why shouldn’t Tom Hanks be next?

Whether you consider yourself one of “Trump’s Aussie Mates” like Mark Latham, or view the President-elect as one of the Four Businessmen of the Apocalypse, one thing cannot be denied about Donald J. Trump. Of all the candidates who ran in the US election, he was undoubtedly the most entertaining.

Hillary Clinton was predictable, safe and samey, a policy wonk who probably spends her holidays devouring briefing papers by the pool. Whereas Donald Trump spent his career slapping his name on gaudy buildings, and firing people on television. If the voters had been looking for traditional qualifications like experience, it would have been as easy as choosing between Trump University and Harvard.

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2016 might be ending, but we can expect worse in 2017

David Bowie. Alan Rickman. Prince. Muhammad Ali. Leonard Cohen. Sharon Jones. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. The list of the icons that we’ve lost this year reads like a morbid update of We Didn’t Start the Fire.

At times, the deaths have come so rapidly that we haven’t had time to process one before being slugged by another. In January, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey within eight days. And just since Christmas, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and then her mother Debbie Reynolds.

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I’m over Pokémon Go… what’s next?

On Sunday night, I found the best Pokémon I’ve ever seen. Right in the middle of Hyde Park, inappropriately close to the Pool of Reflection, I discovered a Golduck worth a whopping 917 combat points – more than anything in my Pokédex.

If you’re one of the rapidly dwindling number who isn’t playing Pokémon Go, that’s like coming across a $100 note, if the $100 wasn’t worth anything except in some stupid game.

But I was excited. With this spiky-headed blue creature in my Pokéarsenal, I could win my first Pokégym battle and capture the nearby obelisk for Team Red. Continue Reading →

Sydney shouldn’t shut down just because it’s cold

Sydneysiders used to hibernate in cold weather. After months of beach dips, backyard barbecues and outdoor festivals, we’d shut ourselves away from May to August, only leaving the house if paid to do so.

In winter we shivered under our doonas and hugged hot water bottles because as a matter of pride, we refused to build our houses with central heating. I mean, we aren’t Melbourne.

It’s a vibrant time of the year for Sydneysiders, when the glow from the 23-day festival takes over the city.

Our winter social calendars were emptier than a screening of Zoolander 2. It was unthinkable to attend weddings, parties, or anything beyond a pub with a roaring fireplace and the footy on a big screen. Continue Reading →

LinkedIn is the worst

Even LinkedIn’s slogan, “Connect to opportunity”, is nauseating. But it’s now worth so much that if everybody in Australia tipped in $1000, we’d still be $10 billion short.

If you haven’t used LinkedIn, imagine Facebook if every user had their boss looking over their shoulder the entire time, so that instead of sharing amusing distractions, they instead raved about their passion for generating shareholder value.

LinkedIn is like a school reunion with only the people you didn’t want to keep in touch with, boasting about their career accomplishments to try and make you feel inferior. It reads like the fake employee testimonials in a recruiting brochure. Continue Reading →