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

Conflicting properties

The importance of property rights is  one of the bedrock principles of the Institute of Paid Advocacy, along with free markets, free enterprise, free speech, free carbon emissions and freeloading for favoured sponsors.

So it comes as distressing news that the “think tank” is strenuously opposed to the government’s proposed copyright law reform, which involves clamping down on illegal downloads.

The change amounts to a new power to censor online material and “poses a significant threat to freedom of speech”, fumed freshly minted law graduate Simon Breheny, the IPA’s legal affairs man.

Hang about, doesn’t copyright come under the heading of intellectual property? If the IPA is now out of the property protection business, who on earth can we turn to if our estates are under threat?

I thought this was the same IPA that bravely sought to protect the trademarks and intellectual property of the tobacco boys against the evils of the plain packaging legislation.

George Bookshelves Brandis wants the internet service providers to do the police work on copyright protection, but as consumer groups have explained, blocking websites in an attempt to curb infringement would be like “whacking moles”.

For the IPA to be complaining about “tipping the balance in favour” of property owners takes us into fascinating, uncharted waters.

Happily, Simon and his IPA pal Chris Berg have come up with a line of defence that clinches their case. Copyright is only a “limited” property right.

That’s okay, then.

1 . Court appearance

What judges seek to do in their decision-making is prop up findings with dollops of law and solid, unassailable reasoning.

At a recent law conference, Michael Cameron, the in-house lawyer at News Corp (Surry Hills branch), asked NSW Supreme Court judge Lucy McCallum about cameras in the court.

She was the judge and jury in the Simon Gittany trial, where the accused was found to have murdered his girlfriend by throwing her off a 15th-floor balcony.

The judge said she’d received a request for the Gittany verdict to be filmed. Yes, said Cameron, that request came from me.

The use of cameras in courts has recently been allowed by NSW legislation, but Justice McCallum refused the request on a number of grounds: she wasn’t in the best frame of mind to be filmed, given the pressure to finalise a complex judgement; she didn’t think people would watch her head going up and down for hours as she read the verdict; and, with undue self-deprecation, she was concerned about “ageing skin” being seen on TV.

If ageing skin was a problem for the TV business we would be deprived of all those old lizards on nightly current affairs shows.

2 . A Pyne line

Another discomforting sight this week was seeing Coalition attack poodle Christopher Pyne go through the process of clarifying his state of knowledge about James Ashby’s politically inspired sexual harassment foray against then speaker Slippery Pete.

This arose after the 60 Minutes extravaganza in which retired “twink” Ashby said that in order to get his litigation against Slipper off the ground, Pyne had offered to arrange legal help and a staffer job elsewhere in the Coalition sphere.

Ashby told the spellbound Channel Nine viewers that if this tiny detail got out, Pyne-O-Clean would be forced to publicly denounce him as a “pathological liar”.

On Monday night, Poodles tried to make his denial as watertight as possible: “I had no specific knowledge of the allegations made by Mr Ashby and the first I knew that he was suing Mr Slipper was when I read it in the newspapers.”

Couldn’t be clearer, until later the next day “no specific knowledge” had been superseded by confirming that he did meet Ashby in his office and they did talk about the staffer’s prospects of future employment.

Funny that. The original was exactly the line used by Tony Abbott in May 2012 when the story was gathering momentum: “I had no specific knowledge of this until I read the newspapers.”

Touchingly, Pyne told the lad that if it was discovered a member of Slippery Pete’s staff had been in his office saying he felt uncomfortable about his boss, “it would affect my relationship with Mr Slipper as speaker”.

It gets weirder. He was asked if he could deny the “pathological liar” claim.

“Well, I certainly would not have used that language,” Poodles hissed, which leaves open the question of the language he did use.

Fortunately for the minister he has people of the calibre of Greg Hunt and Scott Morrison in his corner, declaring that they backed him “100 per cent”.

The PM ducked and weaved, but managed to say Australians would be pleased this “squalid, sordid, miserable period is now over”.

Now, if only that even older, squalid, sordid, miserable Gillard-AWU-slush-fund saga could be equally over.

3 . Mr Little

Barry O’Farrell, former premier of the Premier State, looked thinner and trimmer than ever as he entered the ICAC witness box on Tuesday.

The key issue was whether he or Newcastle bogannaire Nathan Tinkler had funnelled money to the campaign of disgraced former Liberal MP Tim Owen.

Tinkler is in the development business and as such is a banned contributor to NSW political parties.

Owen’s campaign manager had texted NSW hard-right bovver boy Mike Gallacher: “How’s our big man going with the $120k?”

Gallacher had previously told ICAC that the “big man” is not fatty Tinkler, but O’Farrell.

Had Barry gone on an extra special crash diet so he could convincingly tell the inquiry: “I don’t know who ‘the big man’ is”?

4 . Brick veneer

And so we come to one of the most exciting of Australian corporate endeavours – making bricks.

There’s no one better at it than the boys at Brickworks, a staunch opponent of the carbon tax and an inspiration to Team Abbott, particularly in the form of a derisory $384,000 tipped into the Liberals’ till.

No one wants to suggest that Abbott & Co don’t act in the national interest, as opposed to looking after party donors, but it’s worth wading into the undergrowth to see how the carbon tax business really worked.

The man at Brickworks, Lindsay Partridge, was stimulating the Coalition with messages about the tax – soaring house prices, sending business offshore, loss of jobs, squeezed profits, doom and chaos.

Hail to Tristan Edis at Climate Spectator for doing the sums. Tristan says that Brickworks had a direct carbon bill of $2.76 million, or 0.5 per cent of revenue. The annual report from the company said: “Good pricing outcomes in this division enabled margins to be enhanced despite flat volumes.”

In other words, the price of its bricks went up, above the increase in costs, and the brickies also received grants under the Clean Technology Investment Program, since abolished by the Abbott government.

As a result of those grants the company is expected to save $11.7 million on its energy bill. So, it passed on more than the increases due to the carbon tax and partook in a government scheme that allowed it to save money on its energy bill.

Seems like Partridge is not a brickhead at all. The important thing in getting rid of the carbon tax is that there’ll now be more money to donate to the Liberal Party.

What was that about partridges in pear trees at Christmas time?

5 . Plying trade

Spied in the Potts Point branch of Woolworths was James Packer sidekick and media tsarette John Alexander, purchasing a massive amount of Quilton toilet paper.

Quilton is famed for its abundant three-ply softness and absorbency, but doesn’t rate highly on the eco-friendly, recycled paper trail.

The application of luxury tissues, sourced from the most delectable timbers, is just what a Packer executive needs to make life at the rear end bearable.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 13, 2014 as "Gadfly: Conflicting properties".

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

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