A multitude of dead parrot experts, amateur Spanish inquisitors, lumberjacks and various representatives of the Judean People’s Front converged on London’s O2 Arena five days ago to witness the surviving members of Monty Python taking the stage together for the first time since 1980.
Tickets for the show sold out in 43 seconds and the audience – aglow with nostalgia for comedy’s only genuine global supergroup – loved every minute.
The only nagging critique was that the septuagenarian Pythons hadn’t come up with any new material for the show.
But who writes material like that any more? Where else would you find that unmistakeably Pythonic blend of dizzy nonsensicality and stubborn denial of the bleeding obvious? In Australia, it turns out.
What follows is the edited transcript of an actual doorstop press conference given by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison last Saturday:
Q: Minister, is there a boat in trouble off Christmas Island?
A: It is our standard practice as you know, under Operation Sovereign Borders, to report on any significant events regarding maritime operations at sea, particularly where there are safety of life at sea issues associated, and I am advised I have no such reports to provide.
Q: Is there a boat?
A: Well, I have answered the question.
Q: … So are you saying that boats are not leaving (for Australia)?
A: We are always ready for boats that may arrive and we always anticipate that they may seek to come and we are always ready. We are ready today, we were ready yesterday and we will be ready tomorrow and the government’s policies will continue to prevail.
Q: So Mr Morrison, you are not even going to confirm there is a boat, you are not going to say what is happening if people are in the water? Their boat is leaking, we are told – leaking oil – and you are not going to say anything about that situation?
A: What I have said is that it is our practice to report on significant events at sea, particularly when they involve safety of life at sea. Now there is no such report for me to provide to you today. If there was a significant event happening then I would be reporting on it.
Q: So what does that mean?
A: You are a bright journalist. I’m sure you can work it out.
Q: No, we are asking you, Sir. You are the minister.
A: And I have given you my response.
Q: So could you clarify, Sir, for us – at what point does an event become a significant event involving a boat on the water?
A: When you see me here standing and reporting on it.
Q: And you are standing here reporting.
A: I am not. I am saying there is no such report for me to provide to you today.
Q: Are you saying that it could be a hoax that people are saying they are in trouble?
A: I am not saying anything of that at all. I am not confirming any of these matters. This should come as no surprise to you. This has been our practice now for the entire period of this operation. This is another day at the office for Operation Sovereign Borders.
The transcript gives us a tantalising glimpse of what another day at the office of Operation Sovereign Borders might look like (Hey Scott! Have you got that parcel ready for the courier? “We are always ready for couriers to arrive and we always anticipate that they may seek to come and we are always ready. We are ready today, we were ready yesterday and we will be ready tomorrow.”)
It also reminds us that the history of immigration policy in Australia is embarrassingly replete with Python-fodder.
When the Czech communist and anti-Nazi agitator Egon Kisch attempted a speaking tour of Australia in 1934, the Lyons Government tried everything to stop him achieving landfall, bouncing him in Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. When – in desperation – he leapt off the boat in Melbourne, breaking his leg in several places, he was taken into custody and processed under the Immigration Act, which at the time required new arrivals to take a dictation test in a nominated European language. He passed tests in several languages, but flunked when asked to write out the Lord’s Prayer in Scottish Gaelic. Later, the High Court overturned the decision. Not because of the situation’s utter absurdity, but because Scottish Gaelic was not a European language.
In more recent times, we have Liquid-Papered whole chunks of our coastline out of our migration zone, so that people arriving in Australia cannot be said to have actually arrived; tried to tackle the people-smugglers’ trade in human beings by … organising a people-swap with Malaysia; and now, we make boats disappear by ignoring them.
It would be funny, if it wasn’t so awful.