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

A passage through India

Your Gadfly returns after a sweep through Rajasthan. And what a comforting experience it was to realise that India and Australia have so much in common: a fast-growing class of extremely rich citizens, a gigantic pool of poor people forlornly hoping something might “trickle down”, a religiously inclined leadership giving the Muslims a bit of stick, an enormous enthusiasm for burning coal, and a lot of women at home doing the ironing or burning cow dung for cooking fuel – which I suppose is a form of renewable energy that should be stamped out.

In fact, Tony Abbott would be right at home if he were prime minister of India. There are enough 500 rupee Poms who’ve “stayed on”, pining for the Raj. It’s his sort of place.

1 . Revenue raisers

One handy revenue-raising method that Joe Hockey might consider can be found on the road into the old hippie resort of Pushkar.

The town has a slightly seedy air, replete with dropouts from the Israeli army lolling about smoking pot.

There is a barrier across the road into Pushkar and a clutch of shifty characters stopping cars containing hapless tourists and demanding cash to be let through. Our driver says they are “criminals”, but that they are protected by the local police, so no one defies their demands.

Presumably some of the revenue goes to supplement police incomes, but with a bit of imagination the scheme could be expanded to enhance a whole range of government services.

Bushranging redistribution – it’s the sort of thing the Obeids were doing in co-operation with the previous NSW government. With a bit of adaption it could be applied to the public good.

Another thing the Abbott government could adapt is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning about threats to the nation. He referred to an “invisible enemy”, which seems to be an enemy when you run out of enemies that can be identified.

Again, the possibilities are endless. Once the Islamic State is crushed we can still be happily kept on a war footing by the “invisible enemy”.

2 . On reading the Ozzzzzzzzzz…

A heartwarming feature of Delhi airport is the enormous pile of free Weekend Australians dumped at the departure gate.

It’s a grand idea to have Rupe’s massive organ available to travellers, even though eyes were being poked out as readers struggled in cramped seating to open the broadsheet.

After gazing at commentary that seemed all too familiar, torpor spread through the cabin and, only 10 minutes out of Delhi, pages of the tissue were drifting to the floor as passengers dozed off.

It was dreadful to see cabin crew trampling along a carpet of Gerard Henderson, Peter van Oscillate and Dr Paul Kelly’s inspiring messages.

Passengers remained comatose all the way to Singapore.

3 . Paying the price

One thing I did glimpse over the shoulder of a neighbouring Sikh was that The Australian has rebooted its business pages, apparently in an attempt to snuff life out of Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review.

A fortune has been lavished on more reptiles to distil the press releases of the corporate sector.

It all seems faintly familiar. In another life I worked for Maxwell Newton after he had departed as founding editor of The Australian. The mission, he told the small gang around him who were engaged in snaffling treasury secrets and selling them to the Japanese, was that The Australian was planned and designed largely with the purpose of taking on the Financial Review.

That was 50 years ago. If we are kind and assume The Australian has lost an average of $15 million a year for 50 years that is an investment of $750 million in trying to knock the AFR off its perch. If we get closer to the truth and average the losses at $20 million a year, then that’s $1 billion spent on this exciting, but unfulfilled, project.

4 . Power plays in times gone by

There is much to miss about Australia and its varied amusements – the fruity pronouncements of Bookshelves Brandis; the guttural gratings of senators Abetz and Cormann, specially Mathias’s side-splitting japes; the elevated discourse of Bill Shorten; and the maniacal, swivel-eyed zeal of Scott Morrison.

However, to arrive home to the death of Gough Whitlam was a sharp reminder of that other, possible Australia.

During the Whitlam years Gadfly eked out a living scribbling for The Australian Financial Review in the parliamentary bureau, giving special attention to Lionel Murphy and the attorney-general’s portfolio.

It was a heady time with legislation and constitutional boundaries being pushed and pulled. One of Lionel’s bold schemes was for a national scheme to regulate corporations and securities, yet there were uncertainties about the extent of Commonwealth power in this area.

Not to worry, Lionel told the cabinet, the government has powers over posts and telegraphs. “If companies don’t obey our corporations law, we can cut off their phones,” he explained to the bewildered ministers.

5 . Flanagan’s way

One excellent slice of news was Richard Flanagan carrying off the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

As the information floated out on the wires, Arts Minister Gorgeous George Brandis signed off on a press release congratulating Flanagan and declaring that “Australians will be immensely proud of Richard’s achievements”.

One of his achievements was to go on the BBC soon after the award and say that our environmental record and the destruction wreaked by the coal-sponsored government made him “ashamed to be Australian”.

Bookshelves might have felt like withdrawing his warm and cosy effusion. Only in April, he said that for anyone to claim climate science was settled was “ignorant and mediaeval”. Attempts to sideline climate change deniers were “deplorable”.

Flanagan is now uniquely positioned as both “acclaimed” and “ignorant”.

6 . The naked Spurr

I’m glad I didn’t miss the writings of Sydney University poetry professor Barry Spurr.

Bazza’s email musings about people he dislikes were made public on the New Matilda website under the heading: “The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist.”

“Abo lover … Mussies … Chinky-poos … whores” were all part of Spurr’s messages to friends and colleagues.

The university chancellor was described as “an appalling minx”. If footballer Adam Goodes had a disability, he would be a “complete role model for Australians today”, while neighbouring Aboriginals were “human rubbish”.

There have been proceedings in the Federal Court to block further publication.

Barry says this is all part, variously, of a “whimsical game” and later a “linguistic game” – made all the more fun by his role reviewing the national school curriculum.

There are no examples of Spurr’s work in Australian Poetry Since 1788, edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray, so I thought we could improvise some doggerel in his name:

There once was a poet called Spurr

Who enjoyed a linguistic slur

He damned the chancellor as an appalling minx

With whimsy aplenty for whores and Chinks.

I’ll leave the second verse to you.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 25, 2014 as "Gadfly: A passage through India".

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 July 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.