Arsehat of the Year nominees Christian Porter, Bridget McKenzie and Gladys Berejiklian (Images: AAP)

As we prepare to guiltlessly drop 2020 on the Dignitas doorstep, it is tempting to think of the year as not so much a collection of highs and lows, but lows and lower lows.

In some parts of the country there were the long periods of lockdown. Then there was the truly exhausting carousel of scandals that has engulfed us, day after day, week after week.

As a result our annual list of nominees for Arsehat of the Year was even more competitive than usual.

In a year almost comically stuffed with chaos, corruption, lies and impunity, who managed to stand out? Who really helped make 2020 this bad?

But there were also moments of light, hence our candidates for Person of the Year. In the misery of 2020, who pushed back? Who impressed you? Who gave you hope?

Arsehat of the Year

Christian Porter: There was his ongoing prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K, and the alleged misconduct that made him a national security risk. But Porter, summing up the impunity with which this government operates, ended the year with an attempt to gut Australia’s workers’ protections.

Bridget McKenzie: Nominated for starting the year off on an appropriately grubby note with the sports rorts scandal, and then refusing to appear in front of the sport rorts Senate inquiry.

Alan Tudge: For allegedly covering for Porter’s risky behaviour and for his stewardship of the illegal robodebt policy. Some make the list due to unforgivable misjudgment or simply not being up to the job. Robodebt — and it is by no means just Tudge’s doing — was policy, it was a conscious, daily decision, and it destroyed thousands of lives. 

Dyson Heydon: The former High Court judge allegedly harassed and allegedly indecently assaulted associates throughout his storied career. 

Gladys Berejiklian: For burning down any chance of the first credible, scandal-free state government in New South Wales in a decade. Extra marks for risking it all — her job and her integrity — for a guy named Daryl. 

Joel Fitzgibbon: Why is the former Labor frontbencher on this list? He is a man who stuck to his morals, standing up for the little guy — multinational coal corporations. He resigned due to the ALP’s “mixed messaging” on coal mining jobs.

Jordan Shanks: For his defence of disgraced NSW Labor leader Luke Foley, for his defence of China’s policy on Uyghurs, his vague but undeniable menacing of other journalists and mainly for his Italian accent, which is hilarious as long as you’re a time traveling racist from 1972.

Scott Morrison: For leading an ideological war under the cover of COVID-19, for his truly dire leadership during the bushfires, for his many evasions and dishonesty, and perhaps most of all for what it tells us about the world that he’s seemingly as popular as ever.

Daniel Andrews: The Victorian government’s catastrophic mismanagement of the hotel quarantine system would be bad enough if Andrews didn’t also seem so determined to live up to the “Dictator Dan” moniker, the face of decisions like arresting pregnant mothers for Facebook posts and, while the state was distracted by the euphoria of lockdown’s end, felling one of the sacred Djab Wurrung trees.

Person of the Year

Daniel Andrews: So, yes, there was plenty to criticise the Victorian premier for this year. But, as the state suffered through the worst outbreak and strictest lockdowns in the country, Andrews showed up every day, withstood a barrage of attacks from a partisan media, and eventually, the tough choices he made paid off.

The chief health officers of Australia’s state and territories: Public servants and scientists were shoved into the spotlight and handled it spectacularly, resisting politicisation and saving Australia from becoming its own floating petri dish.

Brendan Murphy: Murphy, in particular, was the centre of Australia’s scientific and rational response to the COVID-19 crisis, the one time in the last seven years that the government has listened to the science. We only need to look at the current situation in the US and the UK to know how rare and valuable that apparently is now.

Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci: The husband and wife dream team who helped develop the Pfizer vaccine, already being rolled out in Britain. I believe this is what the kids call “couples goals”. 

David McBride, Dusty Miller, Witness K and other whistleblowers: The Brereton report was a shocking indictment of the culture of our armed forces, and we only know about what was allegedly done in our name thanks to bravery of those who spoke out. Meanwhile, Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery continue to suffer through the government’s prosecution. We can only express our thanks and admiration for their courage and principle.

The organisers of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia: They faced intense criticism and heavy-handed policing in their attempts to force a reckoning with our history, and our present. In the midst of this they ensured there were masks, sanitiser and social distancing at the protests so that not a single case of transmission of COVID-19 happened as a result. 

Matt Kean: After catching our eye during the bushfires, seemingly the only Liberal politician willing to draw the obvious connection to climate change, he ended the year by winning support from all parties bar One Nation for his renewable energy legislation.

Zoey McDermott: The woman who refused — but was forced — to shake Scott Morrison’s hand in Cobargo during the bushfires. We salute you, and hope you sanitised that hand.

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Peter Fray

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