There are many ways to spend a Friday night, and watching Geoff Shaw play the bagpipes at the Wheeler Centre is definitely among the weirdest.
It was a serendipitous accident of timing that although comedian Sammy J had booked Shaw months in advance, his appearance was at the end of the week in which the member for Frankston had been suspended from Victorian Parliament. The event was billed as part of the series Sammy J’s Democratic Party, and Shaw was the first guest. As the crowd milled around the door, we wondered whether he would show — after all, earlier in the week Shaw failed to show up to the vote that booted him out of Spring Street until September. But show up he did, and in a dark grey suit and pink shirt with his collar sitting awkwardly on top of his jacket, the independent MP didn’t quite look like the standard Wheeler Centre set. Sammy J (real name Sam McMillan) managed his guest well, achieving numerous laughs while prodding Shaw on some of his more controversial opinions.
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The crowd was just as interesting as Shaw himself, including many members of the Victorian press gallery, who had spent much of their week with the member for Frankston. There was also a healthy contingent of young Labor members, who heckled Shaw when they felt he was out of line. Shaw managed to entertain and offend in equal measure, and after a few jeers McMillan called the crowd to order.
McMillan opened with a song about how he wished he lived in a marginal seat and closed with a poem on the difficulties of finding enough puns on “Shaw” to keep up with the rogue MP, tapping into the frustrations of both Victorian voters and subeditors.
As Shaw entered to Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love, many in the crowd weren’t sure whether to clap for the man who later said that he didn’t hate gay people but hated sin, which he considers homosexuality to be. He also compared his views on abortion (he’s against it) to people’s opinion of his beard, saying, “you can’t please all people all the time”.
McMillan opened questioning by asking Shaw “have you ever been suspended from school?”, and this set the tone for the night, with Shaw acting like a schoolboy in trouble. (For the record, Shaw was never suspended at school but spent a few Saturdays in detention for smashing windows with tennis balls.)
As ordered by Victorian Parliament two days earlier, Shaw apologised to both Parliament and the Victorian people twice, but like a schoolboy laughing through his apology, it left the audience (and Premier Denis Napthine this morning) unconvinced.
There were times that it was hard to believe we were watching one of the most powerful men in Victorian Parliament, like when McMillan questioned him on the use of his parliamentary car for his own business — “the old rorty-rorty” according to McMillan — and Shaw answered, “at school we had out of bounds, sometimes you go close to the boundaries and some people don’t like that and try and close the boundaries in”.
Shaw converted to evangelical Christianity at the age of 25, when he attended a service after seeing an advertisement in the paper and claims his sore knee was healed. Shaw also said he was surprised by the media fuss that followed his maiden speech, in which he mentioned God: “I didn’t think state politics was that interesting before that.”
Shaw says he intends to run as an independent at the November election saying, “if I win, I win; if I lose, I win”.
After his poem about the difficulties of continuing to find puns on “Shaw”, McMillan said he had discovered a little-known talent of the member for Frankston — the ability to play the bagpipes. Watching Shaw play Amazing Grace seemed like the perfect end to a night in which you weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the man who has brought down a premier and could have brought down the government.
In a way, one must feel sorry for McMillan — there’s no way the next edition of his Democratic Party with Lindsay Tanner will live up to the bizarre performance from the current member for Frankston.