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

Taming the savages

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Attorney-General Bookshelves Brandis must have forgotten Groucho Marx’s obiter dictum when he was accepted, just recently, as a member of Melbourne’s Savage Club.

His proposer was Financial Review journalist and man-about-town Tony Walker. The seconder was Tom Harley, whom Brandis had recently backed for federal vice-president of the Liberal Party.

Harley is a leading light in the Liberal Party’s Black Hand movement and a descendant of Alf Deakin. Serendipitously, five years ago Brandis delivered the Alfred Deakin lecture.
A trustee of the lecture series is… Tom Harley.

The Savage Club describes itself as providing a “rare ambience for the many member performances showcasing their musical, theatrical and artistic talents, and for wonderfully eccentric social occasions. Membership is offered to gentlemen only, based upon the criteria of good fellowship and shared interests.”

Let’s hope Bookshelves gets onto the library committee and massively expands the holding.

1 . Hack-tie gala

News is just in of the imminent arrival on our shores of Robert Thomson, amanuensis of lovely old Uncle Rupe.

It is intriguing that, with all the kilometres of newsprint at his disposal, ol’ Rupe prefers to tweet his sentiments on everything from Scottish independence to page-three girls in his London birdcage liner The Sun. Maybe it’s some form of messaging system for his obedient hacks.

Among Thommo’s appointments in home-town Melbourne is the launching of Media Legends: Journalists Who Helped Shape Australia, the ultimate hackiography of 81 dazzlers, including some, we are told, who helped shape the world.

It’s produced by a team led by the alternative premier, smooth behind-the-scenes flack merchant and powerbroker Mike Smith. Along with the usual suspects, such as the late Robert Haupt and Graham Perkin, we find names scarcely recognisable beyond the banks of the Yarra, such as tabloid ferret Andrew Rule and 74-year-old News Corpse boss Julian Clarke.

Among the bylines in this supreme exercise in journalistic narcissism is that of fragrant ABC TV breakfast hostess Virginia Trioli and Aunty’s chief spinner, Nick Leys. It’s also moving to see ageless Canberra luminaries Laurie Oakes and Michelle Grattan making the cut.

For students of the high artform of journos writing about each other, this soon-to-be-remaindered work should not be missed. It’s a snip at $90 for a cased copy, or $44.95 for the uncased version.

Thommo will do the honours next month at a glittering black-tie affair. The occasion includes the launching of a journalists’ Hall of Fame. No hint here, alas, of a Reptiles Hall of Infamy.

2 . Jeered science 

Who does that chief scientist Ian Chubb think he is?

There he was on Q&A last Monday getting stuck into climate expert, former stockbroker, wind farm denier and Abbott government business adviser Honorary Professor Maurice Newman.

Maurie recently laid out an inspiring argument that the science around global warming is akin to “primitive civilisations offering up sacrifices to appease the gods” and that the “political establishment” has made “science a religion”.

Chubb told the ABC audience that this “was a poor approach and it does not contribute to a sensible debate about a very important issue that affects the whole of humanity, all living things on the planet”.

What can you expect from the ABC?

I mean, Maurie has been a stocks and shares commission agent and a member of the Fathers’ Day Council, while all Chubb has are his Oxford degrees in science and no skill set in Newman’s newly discovered theory of “global cooling”. Get a grip on yourself, Chubby.

3 . Renewable ideology

The Sydney Theatre Company’s revue this year is called Open for Business. They have noticed that the PM’s current favourite three-word slogan implies his government is open to the suggestions of business; e.g. to water down laws on investment advisers, and cut the renewable energy target and other bits of pesky red tape.

There must be something to be said about the “expert panel” appointed to review the RET, led by Caltex man Dick Warburton.

Dick blew it by publishing modelling that showed the RET does not raise power prices. Is he an expert? At what? Are these questions we should also ask Maurice Newman?

The RET legislation actually says that any review should be done by someone who “possesses appropriate qualifications”. But who needs qualifications when we’ve got ideologues?

4 . East West may go south

As Victoria stumbles towards its November election, the $1 million-a-metre East West Link becomes entangled in judges, lawyers and the broad grazing stretches of Labor leader Daniel Andrews’ synapses.

Danny boy says he’ll scrap the 18-kilometre effort, which promises to save eastern suburbanites all of 10 minutes’ travelling time. He will rely on contracts being “unenforceable” if a challenge led by Moreland and Yarra councils gets up.

But that’s in December. Meanwhile, in a move so deeply sensitive that locals have been moved to tears, the contractor Lend Lease has written to people whose homes are to be compulsorily acquired inviting them to dinner to discuss putting the moolah from the compulsory acquisitions into, guess what, a Lend Lease retirement homes scheme.

Today activists are getting out their old ice-cream containers, berets, sunscreen, rags, overalls and paintbrushes to send a message to the Libs’ monochromatic transport minister, Terry “Muddles” Mulder. Inner-city daubers plan to replicate Picasso’s Guernica with a 100-metre-long mural on fences in Bendigo Street, Collingwood, that will be exposed or destroyed under Muddles’ master plan.

5 . Parliament’s screen door

Do the mandarins who run the nation’s Parliament House suspect there may be evildoers among the bureaucrats and political staffers who slave there?

That could be one conclusion to be drawn from this week’s latest security arrangements. Earlier in the year, the Department of Parliamentary Services put noses out of joint with a decision to drop all screening of MPs and senators, their families and staff and department employees, while requiring press gallery reptiles who work full-time in the building to continue to be screened.

In the wake of the nation’s heightened terror alert this week, new signs appeared on Wednesday saying that as Parliament House is a “safe work environment” identification must be displayed at all times.

Also, everyone entering the building must again go through the tiresome process of putting their keys, phones and other accessories in plastic trays to get through the screening machine. In sitting weeks, politicians sometimes manage to avoid this on the basis that they don’t consider themselves a risk to the nation’s security.

Perhaps this change in the level of parliament’s security status is a legacy of DPS supremo Carol Mills, whose on-again, off-again appointment as the top official in the British parliament has created intrigue in Westminster and Canberra.

Following a strongly worded letter from the clerk of the senate, Rosemary Laing, in which she warned British officials that appointing Mills would be “bizarre ... embarrassing ... [and] an affront”, Mills may appreciate the new “safe work environment” arrangements.

6 . This land is mine land 

“Is He an Aussie, Is He, Lizzie?” was the catchy ditty Barry Humphries sang when appearing on a BBC TV variety show back in the late ’60s. Your Gadfly was reminded of this question recently when our Barry, a star of the Brilliant Creatures series, made a speech before Adelaide’s deeply impressive beau monde.

He began, as is the custom these days, by acknowledging the area’s traditional owners, and then added, “Gina Rinehart ... Andrew Forrest”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 20, 2014 as "Gadfly: Taming the savages".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

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

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on September 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.