Category Archives: politics

Navigating Centrelink: A Modern Tragedy in Endless Parts

 

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I make the call with the rejection letter in my hand. The phone rings for a moment, then the line goes dead. I really never thought I’d long for the days when being on hold to Centrelink for hours was the best possible option. Now the phones don’t work at all.

I drive to the office, there’s no parking. I park in a nearby shopping centre and walk out of the carpark. I’m aware that this is technically illegal, but it’s fairly hard to care about such trivialities when you have a family member – let’s call him Sam – who is homeless, physically and psychologically deteriorating, and being incessantly hounded by debt collectors. How odd that Centrelink staff are so implausibly difficult to reach and yet for some reason the debt collectors they employ appear to have infinite time and resources.

The Centrelink office is predictably packed. I join the queue of people staring at their phones and muttering irascibly. A young family lines up behind me, they are utterly incredulous about the length of the queue. Obviously, they haven’t had to do this for a while.

I reach the front after about fifteen minutes, and manage to make my request without breaking into tears, so that surely counts as a win.

“I’m trying to help a family member. We’ve been coming in here for four months I think.  Maybe it’s five? They still haven’t received anything. No money. No healthcare card. He can’t afford medication, he’s running up debts, he doesn’t have stable accommodation.” I pause, the attendant is still looking at me expectantly. I’m not sure what else to say. “Is there a way to get the application fast-tracked?” He nods and says,

“Take a seat, we’ll see what we can do.”

I feel weary and ruined, but I decide to try and make the best of the long wait time. I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule as a freelancer, although it does mean that the hours I’m spending here will take away from my earnings this week. It’s strangely ironic to note that visiting Centrelink is going to reduce your weekly income. Still, if I had a conventional office job I wouldn’t be able to contact them at all, so there’s that. I make a few work calls, answer a couple of emails and then crack open my book.

The young family comes and sits next to me. Their son, he looks to be about four, studies my face with the unabashed curiosity that only kids get away with.

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“You’re bald!” He pronounces, as though he’s telling me I have wings or a tail. I look up at him and laugh.

“Yes, that’s a true story.”

“But you’ve got lots of hair on your face?”

“Sort of the wrong way round isn’t it?” He nods.

“You’ve got a mixed-up head.”

“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that.”

I try and focus on my book, but the kid persists. “I have a magic watch!” he announces. As far as non-sequiturs go, it’s not bad.

“Yeah, it’s really magic? That’s cool.” He looks down, thinks it over and says,

“Nah, just pretend.”

“Ah, that’s a shame.” He changes his mind, perks up and says,

“Kidding, it IS magic! It can fast-forward time!”

“Well, I could sure use that power right now.” His mum takes him by the hand and says,

“Come on, let the man read his book,” she smiles at me and they disappear outside, leaving dad to wait for his turn.

I wait for an hour. I know most of the faces here now, the people at the check-in, the gigantic security guard with the dissonantly friendly smile. I try and not think about the severity of the situation. How the dozens of back and forth discussions I have with these people that seem so promising but then go nowhere are the last lifeline that is available to Sam.

We’d spent months compiling masses of medical documentation from Sam’s psychologist and GP, submitted it to Centrelink, and after a two month wait we received…a five-figure debt notice. Once I’d managed to yelp a panicked request down the phoneline I was told to ‘just ignore it.’ This was back when the phones still worked, of course. Then, finally Sam had a phone interview a few days before Christmas. We chatted to a friendly older lady for about twenty minutes and two weeks later the letter arrived: CLAIM REJECTED.

Apparently the opinion of a genial Centrelink employee who has never met him holds more validity than the shared medical opinions of his doctor and psychologist. I felt as though I’d doubled in mass, it became harder to transport the weight of my own body from one place to the next. For a few weeks, I felt anger and depression bubbling away beneath my skin. The slightest irritation would set me to screaming. I was embarrassed at my anger, and angry about my embarrassment. The thing I feared most- ending up in the same state as Sam – seemed like it was coming closer to reality by the very act of trying to help him.

I saw a counsellor of my own, vomited the whole story in a rapid stream as soon as she shut the door. I sobbed breathlessly for a couple of minutes, the first time I’d cried in front of a stranger in decades. She told me “You should have started seeing someone sooner, this is too much for one person to deal with on their own.”

Finally, my name is called. I push the memories of the past few months away and approach the desk. The lady there greets me with a warm smile, and asks me for the password for Sam’s file. I panic. He stopped checking mail and email years ago, as a result I’d had to reset all of his accounts; email, Medicare, Centrelink, phone. I have dozens of passwords stored in a folder at home. She looks at me expectantly.

“I don’t know, I can’t remember it.” She frowns.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you if you don’t know what it is.” I feel like setting things on fire, smashing chairs through windows, jumping from the nearest rooftop. I look at her in utter disbelief, close to crying for the second time today. Then I say,

“I have ID?”

“Oh yes! That’s fine too.”

I deflate with relief and hand her my driver’s license. She tells me that the claim is taking so long because it’s with the complex assessors. I tell her that we were informed that even though the disability claim had been rejected, we could reapply and in the meantime, Sam would be able to access Newstart. Until the claim is approved he can’t get a healthcare card and therefore can’t get medication. Apparently, one of the reasons his claim was rejected was because ‘he hasn’t consistently stayed on medication long enough.’ He can’t get medication until his claim is approved. But he can’t get his claim approved until he’s been on medication.

kafka

While I confess a great fondness for Kafka’s novels, I honestly never thought I’d end up inside one of them. She tells me she’ll attend to it personally, I’ll hear from her in a few days. I say thanks, exit into the blazing heat of the afternoon and walk the several blocks back to where my car is semi-illegally parked.

Everything on the radio annoys me, even the songs I usually love. The question that keeps buzzing furiously in my brain is this; I’m a well-educated, well-resourced Australian citizen who speaks English as a first language, if navigating Centrelink’s diabolical labyrinth is this harrowing for someone like me, how the hell does someone with limited English and/or education manage to make it out alive?

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I compose this little reflection in my head as I drive, feeling guilty for not having made a follow-up appointment with my therapist. The problem is; writing is much cheaper and more convenient than therapy. The news comes on. People are talking about how the Prime Minister has been yelling at his opponent, calling him a sycophant. The newscaster talks about the head of Australia Post earning over five million dollars last year. Much like the haggard, frustrated occupants of the office I’ve just left, these two receive their income from tax dollars. If men like this had to go through the same Kafkaesque nightmare as Centrelink clients to get paid, I wonder how quickly the systemic infrastructure problems would get fixed?

The Theory of Everything

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I’m tremendously excited to be have worked on The Theory of Everything as a part of the Brisbane Festival. The director, Thomas Quirk, produced one of my all time favourite theatrical works, The Raven, which was an interactive performance piece about Edgar Allen Poe. It also starred one of my best friends, the supernaturally brilliant actor Erica Field. It’s an honour to be working with Thom on this show, alongside other amazing theatre folk like Yvette Turnbull and Marcel Dorney. When I was in my early twenties, I had a massive band crush on his group Flamingo Crash, so it’s rewarding and bizarre to be collaborating with him on this project.

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For this show I was asked to write a bunch of loosely connected vignettes on subjects including physics, philosophy, love, death, elf magic and tentacle porn. Brisbane Festival shows always sell quickly, Friday night is already sold out and Wednesday is nearly gone as well so if you want to come along you should clickety click here. There are also tons of other amazing shows and some great multi-ticket deals. Check it out!

Love etc.

Heroes.

My kid brother and I have a tradition of going to see all the superhero movies. We load up on sugary delights and soak up 90 minutes of explosions and musclebound superhumans with our eyes. It’s appropriate that we accompany trashy action films with junk food, because they are essentially junk food for the brain; delicious, but not something you want as a staple diet. In between each trip to the movies I buy him a couple of books and we make a few outings to the library, beach, rainforest or museum. He’s turning fourteen this year, and seeing him standing precipitously on the brink of manhood has made me concerned about the world he’s about to inherit. As if the usual cavalcade of teenage catastrophes wasn’t enough – carbuncular colonisations, hormones roundhousing him 24/7, voice cracking and breaking like a collapsing shelf of ikea glasses – he’s also got to deal with the tremendous, steaming mountain of bullshit that we are going to leave his generation to clean up. And the locus of this monstrous mess is a prevailing  association of aggression with ‘strength’ and a refusal to engage in rational debate as a sign of ‘toughness.’

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“You talkin’ to me? Oh I’m sorry you weren’t? My mistake, terribly sorry please enjoy your evening. Thank goodness we didn’t let that escalate unnecessarily!”

Two weeks ago I was on my way home from seeing one of the greatest bands in the country right now, Blank Realm, and I had to sprint to avoid missing the hourly night bus. When I arrived I saw two men, one of them shirtless, calling each other c*nts and arguing with around the same level of intellectual discourse (and roughly the same sized vocabulary) as a couple of four-year-olds quarrelling over a Tonka truck. As I waited anxiously for the bus to arrive, the shirtless antagonist fired one last blast of expletive-laden vitriol at his companion before smashing his fist into the glass of the bus shelter. A cacophonic explosion of glass ruptured the air around me as he walked off into the night, knuckles trailing a red river in his wake.

Recently our Prime Minister described the prevalence of alcohol-fuelled violence such as this as well as more heinous actions like coward punches as ‘appalling’ and ‘utterly cowardly’, and so he should. Meanwhile, his own administration last week witnessed an incident of violence where a man in their care was killed and 77 others injured. Where is the public declaration of disgust, the contempt for the perpetuation of these abhorrent conditions? Instead we see the exact opposite, Abbott most recently describing immigration minister Scott Morrison as ‘strong.’  In the words of Inigo Montoya:

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People who overcome addiction are strong. People who stand up to injustice are strong. People who can watch Tony Abbott’s face spewing inarticulate dross for more than 20 seconds are zen masters with the strength of ten tigers. Morrison, meanwhile, continues to maintain operations in a manner that have been described by the UN as ‘cruel, inhuman, degrading and in violation of international law.’ History will judge Morrison a monster, meanwhile our elected leader describes him as ‘strong’, ‘decent’ and ‘no wimp.’

I don’t want my brother growing up in a culture where strength is associated with violence and oppression. I don’t want him growing up in a culture where rationalism, compassion and emotional intelligence are equated with weakness and abnormality. I don’t know how to fix this, but I know that the hordes of people who struggle to end Australia’s abuse of asylum seekers, the lawyers, activists, protestors, writers, journalists and  everyday people who continue to speak out against this malicious injustice, these are the kinds of people who show true strength. These are the people I hope he regards as heroes.

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Campbell: The Shocking True Story of a ‘Man’ Who Hated The Arts So Much You’d Think An Artist Stabbed His Puppy As Part of an Abstract Performance Piece

Dear Campbell,

Having just read the news that the Queensland Theatre Company censored a joke at your expense due to concerns that it might affect their funding, I thought I’d let you know that I’ve been inspired to write a play about your life. The current working title is Campbell: The Shocking True Story of a ‘Man’ Who Hated The Arts So Much You’d Think An Artist Stabbed His Puppy As Part of an Abstract Performance Piece.

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Sources say the joke was in the form of a limerick that began ‘There was a Premier who would grunt …’

QTC’s decision is a harsh reminder of the culture of fear and anti-art sentiment that your government has fostered. After all, not every arts body can have a key member married to one of your senior advisors thus securing themselves $3.3 million in funding now can they? And you certainly fired one hell of an opening salvo when your first act as Premier was to cut the Literary Awards during the National Year of Reading FOR WHICH YOU WERE AN AMBASSADOR. This was basically like PETA signing up a new spokesperson who then decides to turn up to a press conference wearing a coat made out of Snow Leopard skin whilst munching on a burger made from the flesh of the last black rhino.

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On a related note, your government appears to be aggressively anti-youth crime, as though you perceive Queensland to have a lawlessness problem roughly on par with New York in the early 90s. Your recent suggested changes to youth sentencing policy were in fact so abhorrent that they attracted a petition from Amnesty International. Try dropping our crime stats on someone from the southside of LA sometime and see how that goes down, I’d wager you’d get a fairly enlightening new perspective on things via a couple of knuckle sandwiches. If you read any literature on the subject, ever, you would know that the most effective ways to lower youth crime rates are to fund education and youth arts/recreation programs.

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The fact that your government recently placed the Phillips Group PR company on retainer for tens of thousands of dollars per month implies that you are finally getting the message that many of your government’s policies have been unpopular and that you need to find ways to gain favour with the public. HOT TIP: Taxpayers don’t usually love having their taxpayer dollars spent on overpriced spin doctors telling them that their tax dollars are being spent correctly. Especially when you are firing and cutting like some kind of pyromaniac slasher from a B-grade horror movie ostensibly in the name of reducing debt. Furthermore, if it has finally dawned on you that this is in fact a democracy and not a dictatorship, it might be wise not to anger people with highly developed communication skills and devoted audiences. Like artists, for example. Like the old saying says; Never kick a hornet’s nest while wearing a kilt.*

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I should let you know that the villain in my last novel, Zeb and the Great Ruckus, was loosely inspired by you. In that story the evil Czar outlaws art and exiles artists, thus forcing an artistic insurrection. I’d really hate for that story to become any more prescient than it is already. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to writing Campbell: The Shocking True Story of a ‘Man’ Who Hated The Arts So Much You’d Think An Artist Stabbed His Puppy As Part of an Abstract Performance Piece. I’ll send you an invite to the Premiere, Premier.

 

*I may have just made that up, but it is rather good advice.

 

 

 

 

 

Reduce Translink fares: 3600 signatures and counting…

SIGN HERE

Reduce Translink fares

Brisbane’s public transport prices are now the most expensive in Australia and among the highest in the world.

High prices are causing more people to choose to drive instead of using public transport thus increasing traffic, pollution and potentially raising the number of drunk drivers on the road.

Lowering the cost of living was a core election promise of the Newman government and one of the easiest and most direct ways to do this would be to reduce public transport costs.

The recently implemented ‘reduced’ fare increase and free travel after 9 trips are vastly inadequate half-measures. We request that Mr Emerson and his department urgently consider the following:

– Significantly reduced fares 

– Daily and/or monthly caps 

– Discounts for Health Care cardholders

– A review of the current zoning 

More information:

 

 Brisbane Times article

A poem for Christopher Pyne

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Christopher Pyne, you’ve got me pining for a time
When we had an education minister with half a mind
You stick to your area of expertise, I’ll stick to mine
If you need an expert on education,
a phone call my way would be well worth your while
If I need an expert on being a smarmy entitled prick,
I’ll keep you on speed dial.

VLAD = Very Lucky Australian Dictator

My dearest Newman

it’s your old pal JD here. As you know, I do my utmost to be a law-abiding citizen, no matter how ineffective, draconian or heavily criticised by experts the laws in question may be. After all, we all know that pesky experts just get in the way of progress, right? What with their opinions formed from actual experience and/or academic qualification, rather than the far more validating source of pure, irrational, gut-feeling. You’re a man who thinks with his gut, Mr Newman,  you don’t have time for consultation or due process, and I think that’s something that we all admire. Sure, the odd West End hippie might get questioned for drawing in chalk and police might start receiving death threats, but we all know that doing the (very far) right thing isn’t always easy. In fact, what’s confusing about doing the right thing is that it so often looks like exactly the wrong thing. On every conceivable level.

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Now, as much as I am doing my best to abide by these shiny new VLAD laws, much like Jarrod Bleijie I have only limited experience with the law and I am somewhat confused about the details. I’m hoping you can clarify a few things for me, thanks in advance for your assistance.

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1 Next week my book club is meeting to discuss Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. We often travel on bicycle, sometimes in groups of three or more. Should I call my lawyer and give him a heads up in case we get arrested?

sons of anarchy

2 Every third Wednesday I get together with my friends at the Sons of Anarchy fan club. We usually wear our official t-shirts but recently police have been questioning fans for showing off their affection for SAMCRO. Is it okay if we continue to wear the merchandise of fictitious American TV shows? Because I’d really hate to give up my official Mad Men smoking jacket just because police thought it was the name of a irate terrorist group with a gender biased recruitment policy.

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“Damn it Jeremy,  that’s the wrong Scorpion! You do this every time!”

3 I’m going to a costume party this weekend and a couple of us of thought it would be fun to go dressed as popular video game character Scorpion. Unfortunately, this means we would collectively be referred to as The Scorpions. While it’s true that experts say that the Scorpions don’t actually exist in Australia, you have wisely added them to your list of banned organisations and I just want to make sure that I don’t ruffle any legal feathers. I’ve also revoked my membership to other non-existent organisations like SHIELD, Weiland-Yutani, Lexcorp, Cyberdyne and the Australian Quidditch League.

4 I play in a band called the Bandidos, we mostly perform Latin flavoured covers of Miley Cyrus songs (you haven’t heard ‘Wrecking Ball’ until you’ve heard it played on the Charango, believe me!) and we all have matching jackets with our band name on the back. Will we be alright to go ahead with our performance at the West End retirement village next week? I really don’t want to disappoint Mabel. She’s 94 years old and this might be the last concert she see before she dies. I mean, she doesn’t hear so well these days, but damn can the old girl twerk!

fuck u newman

It’s true that hundreds of people have flooded your facebook page with angry complaints over the last few days, but they don’t have the same thorough understanding of the legal system as you.  Sadly, there have been some downsides to the new laws, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs right? And sometimes those eggs include mistakenly harassing a funeral cortege on their way to mourn the death of a 70 year old cancer patient. Thanks for reminding us that the separation of powers is ‘more of an American thing,’ just like the right to freedom from persecution is ‘more of a Canadian thing’, the right to a well-financed education system is ‘more of a Scandinavian thing’ and the right to a state ruled by a democratically elected leader who creates laws that actually work is ‘more of a Queensland circa 2011’ kinda deal.

Swarm Regards,

JM Donellan

PS

Don’t ever contact me again for any reason including the apocalypse.

 

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Dear Teresa,

After receiving personally addressed but entirely unsolicited mail from your office for the third time, I decided I would send you a polite request to never again send me any kind of communication at all, ever. This includes, but is not limited to, letters, phone calls, text messages, morse code, Da Vinci code, TV advertisements, billboards, semaphore, smoke signals, interpretative dance, gorilla grams, messages in bottles, tiny holograms delivered via droids, messenger pigeons and rickrolls.

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Even if some bizarrely selective cataclysm destroys all human life on earth except for me and you, I still don’t want to hear from you. I’ll be quite busy enjoying my post-apocalyptic life by growing a prodigious beard and staging a production of Streetcar Named Desire with a cast of rats and possums, thank you very much. And no, you are not invited to the premiere.

You want me to vote for your party. I get it. But unfortunately, this is impossible due to the fact that I have:

a) a conscience

b) a brain and

c) access to trustworthy news services that are not owned by Rupert Overfiend Murdoch

The only kind of boats we like around here are the ones that catch our food!

STOP THE BOATS! Except for the ones trawling the ocean. We like those ones.

Also, just a quiet word of advice from a fellow epistolarian, starting your letters with ‘the last few years have not been easy, particularly for local people’ in fucking Paddington is a bit rich. Round this neck of the woods you can’t spit without inadvertently hitting an antique shop, designer clothing store or obscenely tacky and overpriced seafood restaurant.

If you’re going to make comments like “immigrants should learn to wear deodorant, queue correctly and speak English in order to deal with racism“, then you’ve got about as much chance of getting my vote as I have of winning a gold medal for dressage whilst simultaneously reading War and Peace in the original Russian, preparing crème brûlée and reformatting my hard drive.*

In conclusion:

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP SENDING ME MAIL NOTHING ON EARTH WILL EVER CONVINCE ME TO VOTE FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM OF VERMICULAR, SOULLESS CRETINS.

Swarm Regards,

JM Donellan

* Have you ever tried reformatting a hard drive? It’s really hard.

Tony Abbott’s morning schedule

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 6.30 Tony is awakened by the sounds of the dozens of minimum wage employees that he keeps in a cage in his quarters gnashing their teeth and wailing. He throws them a few chunks of bread and a splash of water, chuckling as he tells them that if they’re good, more should ‘trickle down’ later on. He showers and sprays himself with a custom made cologne synthesised from the tears of illegally detained refugees before donning clothes manufactured by Chinese sweatshop orphan children.

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6.45 Tony sits down to a breakfast of sausages made from specially selected beef that has been live exported all the way to Indonesia and then back again, just so he can truly savour the succulent flavour of its misery. This is accompanied by his favourite beverage, a warm glass of human blood blended with the sweat of overworked single mothers earning significantly less than their male counterparts.

 

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7.00 Tony peruses his party’s digital interactions, both real and the other kind. Comments typically range from ‘you are a slimy, vermicular cretin who deserves to be beaten to death by a used dildo’ to ‘a bloody good bloke, I reckon.’ These two violently opposing views are a daily cause of confusion for Tony. Not least because, being no egghead, he finds the internet a very confusing place and often has to ask its inventor, Malcolm Turnbull, for guidance.

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7.15 Tony plugs himself into a complex neurological datafeed system whereby the agendas of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Australian Christian Lobby Group and other vested interests of advantaged elite groups are channeled directly into his brain. The great number of commanding overlords constantly vying for control of his relentlessly sneering facial orifice creates something of a problem however, as his subjugated will often struggles to figure out which agenda to foremost represent. This, clearly, is the explanation for his famed interview habit of pausing for periods of time roughly equivalent to the life cycle of the common fruit fly.

 7.45 Tony spends twenty minutes on the treadmill with a picture of Katy Perry on a screen in front of him, so that he can stay budgie smuggler body fit. His minder’s initial concerns that he would figure out that the image was a mere reproduction and not actually Katy Perry have long since faded. Tony tirelessly trots towards the vapid pop star who, despite being about as clever and interesting as a bowl of soggy Weet-bix, still appears to be able to defeat him in verbal combat on the matter of gay marriage.

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8.05 Tony selects a leisure activity, either burning photos of gay couples that he continues to vehemently deny the right to be married or, if he’s feeling frisky, a good ol’ fashioned round of puppy kicking.

 

cthulu8.20 Finally, he completes his morning ritual by sacrificing a union leader to Cthulu. Although he is already allied to Newscorp, Big Coal, Big Oil, Weiland-Yutani, Monsanto, Wolfram & Hart, Lexcorp, Voldemort, the Devil, Cyberdyne and the Soylent Corporation, Abbott is a man who likes to hedge his bets.

 

8.30 It’s time for Tony Abbott to go to work! Another day of sleeping through key votes, making verbal gaffes so embarrassing that they make international news, getting thrown out of parliament and failing to kiss babies (a task that is literally easier than taking candy from said babies). Yes, it’s time for Tony to start his busy day as the leader of the Liberal Party. An actual job that he actually has in real life, surely the most ridiculous and terrifying thing on here.