It was not so long ago that anyone who proclaimed that “the end of the world is nigh” was regarded as a suitable target for laughter, even ridicule. Not any more. Today members of the extreme green movement, who predict the cooking of the planet, are invariably treated very seriously indeed.
This is evident in the ABC1 comedy At Home with Julia, which is now halfway through its scheduled four episodes.
The program has been criticised by some as exhibiting a lack of respect for the office of the prime minister. This is a fair assessment. However, it is worth remembering that Julia Gillard is not the only incumbent prime minister who has been subjected to ridicule. John Howard was mocked by Max Gillies and also in the musical Keating! Bob Hawke was sent up by Gillies both on stage and in a television comedy.
At the halfway mark, the real victim of At Home with Julia is the prime minister’s partner, Tim Mathieson, who is an item of humour because of his idleness and his one-time profession as a hairdresser. The joke was extended in episode two, where the Julia figure remarks that her partner “is also in real estate, granted it’s more of a marketing role”. Well-educated comedians in Australia frequently target those with less formal education.
What is of political interest in At Home with Julia turns not on the politicians and public figures who appear as the characters on the show but, rather, on those who are ignored. The comedy is a co-production between the ABC and Quail TV. Debbie Lee is the public broadcaster’s executive producer and this role at Quail TV is filled by Rick Kalowski and Greg Quail. The writers are Kalowski, Amanda Bishop (who plays Gillard) and Phil Lloyd (who plays Mathieson).
It seems that the likes of Lee, Kalowski, Quail, Bishop and Lloyd do not regard the Greens as a laughing matter. Interviewed by Peter Van Onselen on The Showdown on Sky News last Tuesday, Kalowski defended himself against the criticism that At Home with Julia was either anti-Gillard or anti-Labor.
”This show – to the extent that it’s a political offender, it’s an equal opportunity offender,” Kalowski said. ”Kevin Rudd turns up on the show, Julie Bishop, Tony Abbott, Tony Jones from the ABC, Alan Jones turns up. You’ve already seen Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter, Tony Windsor. Wayne Swan turns up in the show, Paul Keating . . . he turns up on screen. There’s any number of politicians, on both sides of the political fence, who turn up.”
The problem with At Home with Julia is that it is not an equal opportunity political offender – because no Greens politicians make an appearance in any of the four episodes. In other words, Senator Bob Brown does not turn up. Nor do Adam Bandt (the Greens MP for Melbourne) or Christine Milne or Sarah Hanson-Young or Lee Rhiannon. Yet without Bandt’s support for Labor in the House of Representatives, Gillard and Mathieson would not be residing in The Lodge.
How did this come about? Well, according to Kalowski, it’s all due to mere happenstance. In an email exchange last week, Kalowski advised that Bandt did make an appearance – along with Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor – in the first cut of episode one. But Bandt disappeared from the final version since his appearance was ”not the cleanest thought-line for that story”.
Kalowski also explained that the Greens were to be satirised in episodes five and six when At Home with Julia was envisaged as a six-part production to be shown on ABC2. When the comedy was moved to ABC1, the number of episodes was reduced from six to four. So the Greens escaped a mocking.
It speaks volumes for both comedy and political comment in Australia that no one at the ABC or Quail TV realised the implications of leaving the Greens out of what is supposed to be an equal opportunity bagging of all sides of Australian politics. At Home with Julia has become yet another taxpayer-funded program on the ABC that either criticises or laughs at Labor and the Coalition – but only from the left. It is as if the Greens are in a ridicule-free zone.
Yet, to some of us, the Greens and their supporters are a suitable target for humour. There is something inherently amusing about the likes of Al Gore in the US and Bob Brown in Australia, flying from conference to conference on carbon-emitting jet aircraft, urging the rest of us to reduce our carbon emissions. Gore even travels in a private jet.
Then there is the ”end of the world is nigh” phenomenon. Such a millenarian outlook used to provide much food for comedy. But it seems that predictions of the end of the world are only funny these days when they are the product of a religious, rather than a secular climate-focused, mindset.
There is no conspiracy here. No one at the ABC or Quail TV consciously decided that At Home with Julia should not laugh at Brown’s doomsday world view or Rhiannon’s insistence that her Communist Party member parents never, ever supported the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
It’s just that no one made a conscious decision, in Kalowski’s words, to have Bandt, Brown or Rhiannon turn up in At Home with Julia.
This provides yet another example of the relative weakness of the conservative intellectual tradition in Australia. The British-based Barry Humphries or the American P. J. O’Rourke would see humour in the Greens. But there are few such comedians the world over and virtually none working in Australia.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.