Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

The Furnival is over

It’s nice to see Alastair Furnival back in the news. 

He was in charge of developing obesity, bad teeth and rotten skin for the Australian people while working in the office of assistant minister for diseases, Senator Fiona Nash.  

Furnival was many things. Chief of staff to Nash, 50 per cent shareholder in a junk food lobbying outfit run by his wife, Tracey Cain, and Pollie Pedal pal of Tony Abbott. 

He’s off the government teat now, thank heavens – but his letter to Senator Nash explaining how he kept his duties to the government separate from his PR and lobbying outfit has disappeared from the files. 

Amy Corderoy, health editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, along with others, has been trying unsuccessfully to get hold of the letter that Nash told the senate explained how everything was peachy keen. The response to the freedom-of-information request from the Health Department is that the relevant documents “cannot be found, do not exist or have not been received”. 

Maybe it’s about time we woke up to the idea that there’s no conflict of interest whatsoever in being concurrently a ministerial adviser in the Abbott government and a lobbyist. 

Anyway, Alastair’s brief return to the news pages put me in mind of the stellar advice provided by wife, Tracey, through their jointly owned operation, Australian Public Affairs. Apart from the beverages council, Cadbury, Oreo biscuits and Kraft peanut butter, one of APA’s earlier clients was the Judicial Conference of Australia – an oh-so-gentle log-rolling enterprise for the judiciary. 

Tracey produced a media strategy for the judges under the fitting title “Roadmap to Better Intercourse”. This was something many judges are anxious to achieve. 

The roadmap instructions are salutary. 

“Q: How should a judge identify a journalist? 

“A: You will usually find that journalists travel in groups. You will recognise them because they always sit at the back of the room, often arrive late and leave early, carry a small spiral notebook, and are constantly looking for someone to give them some background.”

For radio interviews judges were told to: “Speak slowly and clearly. Remember to breathe – stand up so that the air flows more freely.” 

And if their honours are asked to appear on telly, Tracey says they should remember to “wear plain clothes of solid colours, avoid stripes or bright patterns. Do not wear a hat or sunglasses unless relevant to the story.” 

She also gave a meeting of the JCA a lesson in something called “the ‘story clock’ formula to new areas of journalism”. 

That would have placed their honours ahead of the curve. 

1 . Winter is becoming

For a chilling moment I thought that must be Claire Underwood from House of Cards striding purposefully through the throng at the Midwinter Ball. The short hair, the toned arms, the piercing look, the lean frame. 

Then I saw Mrs Underwood holding the hand of the prime minister, so it could have been Mrs Abbott

Boy, you could have fooled me. 

Whoever it was, she managed to upstage Malcolm Turnbull in his chest-hugging Nehru-style dinner jacket. 

2 . Ashby puts A-G on a slippery wicket

James Ashby and his PR man Anthony McClellan must have been up all night polishing the media statement that claimed the now retired honey trap was vindicated by the full Federal Court in his harassment claim against Peter Slipper

Just to be a little bit clear, the full court examined the abuse of process issue and made no final findings of fact about the sexual harassment allegations. 

Now Jamie wants $1 million in costs from the Commonwealth because it funded Slipper’s defence. I suppose Mr McClellan’s $500 an hour must be part of the bill. 

This claim will present a challenge for Attorney-General George “Bookshelves” Brandis. When the previous government in late 2012 settled Ashby’s claim against the Commonwealth for a generous $50,000, Bookshelves was incandescent with rage. 

Since the purpose of the case was to destroy Slipper (even though he did a first-rate job of that himself), Brandis was not happy about the government doling out money to get Ashby off its back and out of court. 

“This is further evidence of how dishonest and slippery this government is,” he declared in what could only be a brilliant pun.  

Let’s hope it is just as dishonest and slippery for the Commonwealth to cash out Ashby and his lawyers on behalf of the indigent Slipper. 

3 . Hinzesight

Citizens may not be aware that Queensland is in the midst of judicial and constitutional turmoil. 

It’s to do with the appointment of Chief Magistrate Tim Carmody as the new chief justice. Timbo has given off too much of the vibe that he’s a devoted government Lawn Order man. So much so that the judges and the local bar association have been racked with dissent over his rapid elevation up the judicial food chain. 

But fear not. The current chief justice Paul de Jersey put all the strife aside when he delivered a speech to the Selden Society last week. 

It was on the pressing topic of knighthoods for chief justices – specifically the resurrection and installation in Brisbane’s Betty Battenberg Courts of Law of the imperial banners from the Order of St Michael and St George, which marked the gongs awarded to Queensland jurists Sir Sam Griffith and Sir Harry Gibbs. 

Anyway, de Jersey explained to the astonished assembly that he and his wife, Kaye, had been invited to a special service at St Paul’s Cathedral “in the presence of the Duke of Kent” to mark the “laying up” of Sir Harry’s banner. 

“The Agent-General John Dawson accompanied us in Queensland House’s Jaguar car with the Queensland flag flying: the long-serving driver Robin told us afterwards that intrigued Queensland tourists came up to him during the service asking what was going on inside of relevance to their home state.” 

This was followed by lunch at the Dorchester Grill with members of the Gibbs family. The CJ explained: “The Agent-General did not come to lunch, but he allowed us the continued use of the Jaguar, and even the Middle-Eastern potentate Dorchester patrons lifted eyelids when they noted the stylish arrival of the Queenslanders.” 

Where’s Russ Hinze when you need him? 

4 . A priest walks into the bar 

Just as the High Court was striking down the Commonwealth’s funding of school chaplains, the Victorian Bar was appointing one of its own. 

The chaplain for the Yarraside bar is Richard Wilson who, prior to his ordination, “had a successful career in the corporate world”. 

The bar’s health and wellbeing committee says that Richard is available to offer pastoral care to barristers “seeking to reconcile their personal beliefs with their professional identities”. 

Quite a challenge. 

The chaplain will also conduct a seminar for members at the end of the month. Briefs who attend can earn a vital point for their continuing professional development. 

God is merciful.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 28, 2014 as "Gadfly: The Furnival is over".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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