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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.

Why Sydney’s still Australia’s best city

Sydney is finished. As my dear friend Andrew P Street told the ABC yesterday from his new base of Adelaide, Sydney is a cesspit of overpriced houses connected by hopeless public transport, where you can’t get a drink anywhere at all and every single cultural centre has closed down. The only tourist attraction in my hometown these days is tumbleweeds.

Nobody wants to live here anymore, he says, so every single Sydneysider is currently scheming to move to Hobart, the Gold Coast or even Adelaide. Sydney is a city that “punishes you for living in it”, Andrew has written, as often as our courts are punishing Salim Mehajer.

Well, I’m convinced. We should all leave immediately. Go ahead — I’ll sacrifice myself by being the last one out.

Hobart is waiting for you, and it’s sort of near the amazing MONA! And how about the Gold Coast, which now has its very own train line? Get to it!

Okay, so that was a blatant attempt to push down Sydney property prices. But it won’t work, because the fact is that for many of us, this city is the only place we’d consider living. Well, maybe Melbourne.

Admittedly, Andrew isn’t the only friend of mine who has left Sydney this year with the unreasonable demand for a house with a backyard that’s less than a forty minute commute from where they work. He’s not even the only one called Andrew.

A few years ago, I was drinking with a bunch of commercial lawyers who were all bemoaning the impossibility of buying a place where their kids could frolic in even a modest-sized patch of grass.

Gosh, I thought — if none of you high-salaried corporate workaholics can afford it, how on earth can someone making a crust as a writer?

More Australians leave Sydney than move to it. The Herald recently published a study saying that 129 of us leave Sydney each day, while only 85 move here. But instead, people move here from overseas, as happens in places like London and New York, too. The result is a more diverse, globalised city. And while we may not have backyards, we get to live in a city that’s one hell of a playground.

This town is full of people who are determined to stick with Sydney’s unique blend of almost obscene natural beauty, cultural and nightlife (which is in many ways better than ever, thanks to the small bar laws) and food culture (still terrific), and all the perks that come with being a big city.

So, we move to smaller homes — I’ve been an apartment-dweller for nearly 20 years because I prefer being in the centre of things to having space. We mortgage ourselves to the hilt to get a tiny foothold into the city’s property market, because we know it’ll almost certainly be a great investment.

And guess what — property prices are actually falling in many areas for the first time in years. Slightly. We’ll soon be able to afford housing again, in only 80 or 90 years’ time!

Just this past week, I watched one of my favourite bands play the Opera House, discovered a hidden underground cocktail bar, had truly excellent sushi and watched a seriously funny play written by a fellow Sydneysider that was all about the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal culture. I hardly spent any time in my apartment except to sleep.

Sydney’s is headed towards the diversity and vibrancy, but also the population density, of Manhattan. That comes with innumerable benefits but some enormous challenges. We need to lift our game in all sorts of areas — public transport and affordable housing among them. But personally, I can’t imagine living somewhere where I wasn’t a cheap bus ride away from some of the world’s best beaches.

Well, unless I got offered a great job in Melbourne.

Have we been wrong about Canberra all these years? Nah

What if Canberra became fabulous and the rest of the country didn’t notice? What if the negative impressions formed when we were forced to meet our local MPs during that mandatory Year 6 visit to Parliament were wrong?

Well, that’s precisely what no less than the Lonely Planet guide reckons has happened.

Yes, it’s Canberra’s moment of recognition for something besides being the nation’s most notorious compromise after the NBN.

A few years after recognising NSW’s oft-overlooked second city of Newcastle’s transformation to an artsy, hipster enclave of relaxed cool, the LP team has returned to lavish praise on NSW’s third-biggest city.

Canberra takes third position in the list behind Seville, the Spanish city that tourists ignore because it’s not Madrid or Barcelona, and Detroit, a place which it will be news to just about everyone isn’t still a decaying hell-scape.

In other words, this is a list of cities that nobody currently visits. I hadn’t even heard of several of the cities on the list (Matera? Guanajuato?) and they’ve included San Juan, Puerto Rico despite the hurricane. In other words, it’s an incredibly contrarian list.

But even though it was clearly drawn up by the kind of people who bore us at dinner parties by raving about places we’ll never visit or want to, Canberrans are understandably delighted by the fact that Lonely Planet has ranked them above such tourist Meccas as Antwerp, Oslo and Kaohsiung.

But before we all swallow our pride and, for the very first time in our lives, visit Canberra by choice, let’s look at the list of reasons for LP’s accolade, shall we?

‘Packs a big punch for such a small city’

That’s a pretty big qualifier, making Canberra sound like the little engine that could, in keeping with its extremely little railway station.

And sure, Canberra is incredible — for a city that’s a 10th the size of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

It’s a thriving metropolis, compared to, say, Dubbo. But is it must-visit in 2018? Let’s look closer.

‘National treasures are found round almost every corner’

This is undoubtedly true, because despite its size, Canberra is packed with national-level institutions — more galleries and museums than any child could stand being dragged around, and if you’re especially nerdy or a negligent dual citizen, there’s also the High Court.

Being a confirmed dork, I’ve always loved visiting these places, and the NGA is one of my favourite public buildings in the country.

And of course it should be noted that its oversize institutions are all courtesy of our tax dollars, including the Parliament, which was, at the time of construction, the most expensive building in the world.

Our politicians were typically generous to themselves when they built three parliaments (including the ACT’s) within the city’s first 100 years.

But does this mean Canberra’s institutions are better than other Australian cities’?

Of course not. If I was advising an overseas visitor where to go for an amazing museum experience, I’d send them up the Derwent to MONA.

I will note though, because it still irritates me whenever I visit Melbourne, that Canberra’s National Gallery is an awful lot more “national” than Victoria’s.

‘Exciting new boutique precincts have emerged, bulging with gastronomic highlights and cultural must-dos’

If you read further, you’ll learn that this basically means that you can get good coffee in Braddon. LP is also into locavore dining and sampling wine from the local vineyards, just like several dozen other Australian regions.

As for the “cultural must-dos”, I couldn’t find much on their list beyond the folk festival and Floriade. (They’ve got a writer’s festival now, but doesn’t everyone?)

LP’s editors are fans of the emerging regions like NewActon (note the lack of space), which is almost as dorkily Canberran a name as “Civic” — I haven’t been there, so I’ll take their word for it.

But LP’s list of Canberra’s best sights is almost exactly the same stuff we visited in school — the NGA, Portrait Gallery, Parliament, War Memorial, Questacon — and the Carillon, which I’m still not entirely sure why my Year Six class visited in 1988.

‘This is the first year that Canberra will host a Test cricket match at the picturesque Manuka Oval’

Yep, Australia takes on Sri Lanka in 2018, and that’s a genuine reason to visit — unless you’re from Hobart, in which case you’re bitter that Canberra stole your Test.

It seems churlish to note that this hardly makes Canberra a must-visit destination as opposed to any of the cities that get Tests every year, so I wouldn’t dream of pointing it out.

‘The Australian War Memorial will take centre stage as it hosts the 100th anniversary of the WWI Armistice’

I don’t want to belittle the great job the War Memorial does each and every year.

But as it’s hosted several compelling centenaries recently, including Gallipoli, this feels a little bit like they were already running out of reasons why one must visit Canberra in 2018 after, um, the second one.

‘Significantly, Canberra is establishing a permanent Reconciliation Day’

And the third and final reason to visit in 2018 is a day off for non-visitors — from next year the state’s public holiday calendar includes Reconciliation Day “to symbolise commitment to tolerance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians”.

Sure, it’s a nice idea, especially as it replaces the incredibly ephemeral “Family and Community Day”, which sounded like a day designed by, well, public servants, but it’s as yet unclear what there will be for visitors to do in Canberra on this day.

‘Criminally overlooked Canberra…’

Now, c’mon. I know that they have to come up with new places to visit every year, but every Australian is forced to visit Canberra at some point, so we aren’t exactly overlooking it.

Canberra is grand boulevards leading to roundabouts which accidentally return you back onto the exact same boulevard you just drove down — Burley Griffin designed it that way so visitors couldn’t escape.

Sure, it’s leafy, and packed with major institutions, but if you go hunting for buzz or soul in Canberra, the closest you’ll find is a rabid Kingston bar during a sitting week.

I’m fonder of Canberra than most — I find it genuinely pleasant, I love the modernist architecture and the “bush capital” vibe, and unlike almost everyone, I’m actually interested in politics.

I understand why people enjoy living there, and especially raising kids in Australia’s only city designed for bikes.

Last time I went, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bunch of new, cool bars serving craft beer and great cocktails, and terrific eateries of the sort you now find in every other Australian city or major town.

But anyone who heads to Canberra next year expecting it to be vastly different from the place we toured by bus at the age of 11— or even transformed the way that Newcastle has been in recent years — risks being as frustrated as an out-of-town motorist who can’t figure out where the roundabout exit is.

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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Remembering Harold Murray Knight

Portrait of Sir Harold Knight by Bill Leak (1990), RBA collection

Portrait of Sir Harold Knight KBE DSC by Bill Leak (1990). From the RBA collection. Source: RBA site.

A remembrance shared at his memorial service – Friday 26 June 2015 at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

A Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire enters an official state function after a Knight of the Garter, but before a Knight Bachelor. He may attend special services in the order’s official chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral, and display a red circlet saying “For God And The Empire” around his coat of arms.

Bill Gates, Placido Domingo, Rudy Giuliani, Sultan Abdullah bin Khallifa of Zanzibar, Bono and Billy Graham are all KBEs, and so was the late Sir Harold Murray Knight.

But I am here today to talk not of KBEs, DSCs, or even the RBA. I am here to remember a man who proudly bore a different title – Grandpa. I somehow can’t call him anything else even at the age of 38. Continue Reading →