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

Soapy opera

Rigoletto kicks off Opera Australia’s winter season in Sydney. Opening night at Bennelong Point was a blast, with an audience composed of an alarming number of short men with poorly dyed hair. What is going on? At least Tony Abbott’s dye job looks reasonably slick, so it would be helpful if he could declassify the name of his barber.

The main distraction of the night was the arrival of agricultural minister Barnaby Joyce, slap bang in the middle of the A-reserve section. Maybe he was representing arts minister Soapy George “Bookshelves” Brandis, who was occupied fine-tuning section 18C.

Let’s hope Barnaby’s attendance at the Verdi extravaganza was a perk of office, like his expense-claimed appearance at the wedding of shocker-jock Michael Smith (money later refunded after he was pinged).

Shocker is in such fine form that last week he was defenestrated by 2GB for claiming that the prophet Muhammad was a paedo. He took to his blog to provide diagnostic and statistical analysis of the mental condition that applied to the father of Islam.

We’re fortunate to have an opera-loving polymath in the cabinet, and I couldn’t help but recall the moving doggerel recited by Joyce at Smith’s wedding: 

“Fair dinkum love isn’t about stiff posture and smart clothes.

It’s about wrestling on the couch in your tracksuit.

It’s not about oysters and candlelit dinners.

It’s about bringing home Chinese when your partner’s had a busy day…” 

As eye-moistening as the untimely death of Gilda in Act III.

At the drinkies afterwards conductor Renato Palumbo took one sip of the Australian wine and said, “Mineral water, please.”

1 . Boundless pains

Most of us of a certain vintage sort of mumble our way through “Advance Australia Fair” if ever confronted with a ceremonial moment. “Young and free... Girt by sea... Rich and rare... In joyful strains...” The bits in between are sheer guesswork. The version adopted as our national dirge has two verses, and for most the second is an utter mystery.

Not so for inductees into citizenship of the wide, brown land. They are expected to learn the whole thing by heart before they sit the exam. An Iranian friend who’s in the citizenship queue tells me he’s been committing it to memory, until he came upon verse two:

“Beneath our radiant Southern Cross

We’ll toil with hearts and hands;

To make this Commonwealth of ours

Renowned of all the lands;

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share...”

Hold it there. Surely some mistake. We’re not sharing our boundless plains with anyone from across the sea. Plane arrivals only, please, and we’ll decide who shares the plains.

Scott Morrison better organise a committee (chair G. Henderson) to redraft verse two.

Something like:

“If you come from across the seas

You’ll never be resettled in ’Straya.

Never, ever. Not on your nelly.”


“In joyful strains then let us sing, 

Manus or Nauru for yoooou.”

Improvements welcome.

2 . Libertarian outings

Suddenly, libertarians are out of the closet, celebrating the quiet victory of their small ideas. That’s if shrinking government, winding everything backwards and not doing anything new are “ideas”.

The vet and neophyte senator David Leyonhjelm is everywhere. He says he’s the first politician to be elected to any Australian parliament “on a purely libertarian platform”.

He seems to suggest that he was elected because he’s a libertarian and not because most of his voters manage to muddle Liberal Party with Liberal Democratic Party.

Maybe scoring first position on the six-metre senate ballot paper also had a tiny bit to do with it.

Anyway, Leyonhjelm wants to cage the entire Canberra administrative and legislative spending apparatus, which he calls “Godzilla”. He’ll put a stop to expenditure on coffee machines for the department of industry, chocolate factory upgrades in Tasmania and new logos for Centrelink. Good luck to him.

Just as ubiquitous is corporate libertarian John Roskam, from the Institute of Paid Advocacy. It’s barely possible to pick up a newspaper or look at a TV screen without Roskam leaping out at you.

There he was in last weekend’s Financial Review having lunch at Bistro Vue in Melbourne’s Little Collins Street with journalist Ben Potter.

Ben must have been enjoying the 2010 Saint-Chinian Viranel grenache and shiraz because he didn’t get around to asking any stumping questions.

Indeed, you’d have thought he would have emitted a fine spray of confit rabbit leg over the shirt-front of Mr Roskam when his IPA guest said: “We don’t do anything because a company or an individual has funded us to do it. The funding we get is to do something we’d like to do and we think is important to do.”

Choke... choke.

3 . Odd couples

The Regal Ballroom in Melbourne’s High Street, Northcote, is a vast and gloomy affair, lit only by ancient chandeliers. Last Sunday several hundred gathered for a session of what’s called People of Letters. It’s a charitable event for the benefit of Edgar’s Mission, which is dedicated to putting training wheels on crippled goats.

So, different people are paired and they read love letters to each other in full view of an adoring audience.

Among the pairs were Erik Jensen, editor of this organ, and his friend the journalist, biographer and commentator David Marr – a territory it might be safer not to explore right at this moment. There was also comedian Lawrence Mooney with starlet Brooke Satchwell, comics Josh Thomas and Hannah Gadsby, and barrister Julian Burnside paired with former politician Barry Jones.

The Burnside–Jones exchange was touching. Julian confessed to insecurities as a child but was inspired by Barry on Pick a Box. He decided that the thing to do was learn as many facts as possible. It was not much consolation for his single mother to have a 10-year-old who was trying to be Barry Jones. Fact-collecting was such an obsession that he created a card-based index to the contents of all the Time magazines that came into the Burnside home. This was done in the expectation that he would be able to “understand life”.

He was wrong about that, just as he was wrong about his early understanding of the law. “I imagined the law as a set of rules which blanketed society like soft snow, blurring the outline of all the ugly shapes to leave a pleasing landscape.”

After the event, one of the organisers emailed the participants to say that “somebody left behind a black ladies jacket in the green room”.

Barry Jones replied, with startling speed: “The jacket isn’t mine.”

4 . Relieving himself of duties

A final note on the unfortunate sacking of Todd Carney from the Cronulla Sharks.

Todd was horsing around with his wee – known in the trade as “bubbling”. In the process he was snapped for the benefit of the social media world.

Carney and Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, wouldn’t normally come into the same thought bubble, but Denning did address how a man’s livelihood could be affected by a trifling incident. See, Regina v Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council ex parte Hook (February 20, 1976). Harry Hook was a street trader at the Barnsley market and was banned because he answered an urgent call of nature. “He went into a side street near the market and there made water, or ‘urinated’ as it is now said.”

The Court of Appeal held that to remove Harry from the market was a failure of natural justice, because he was not present during the prosecution of the proceedings against him. Anyway, the punishment was excessive for a small amount of misconduct.

Todd should appeal. He’s got a dead Master of the Rolls with him.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 5, 2014 as "Gadfly: Soapy opera".

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

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