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

Pic won’t win Packer’s prize

What a night it was at the Keith Murdoch Oration at the State Library of Victoria. Sir Keith’s grandson Lachlan Murdoch did the honours and sunk his velveteen slipper into the government’s jail-journalists security laws.

All sorts of Murdoch retainers were there, plus hulking casino tsar James Packer. Maybe that was just a little awkward for the State Library, which concurrently has a display of the Nikon/Walkley photo finalists, including Brendan Beirne’s fabulous snap of Packer and David Gyngell landing blows on each other on a Bondi Beach footpath.

The picture, which is called “Bondi Biffo”, was mysteriously removed for the duration of young Murdoch’s speech.

The library explained that the event was a private function and the snap might “give offence” to the delicate sensitivities of the Packer heir. The fight, after all, was explained as a “personal conflict”.

As soon as the soiree was over the pic was restored to the wall, so the viewing public could continue to be amazed and offended.

1 . A-G goes it alone

It would be silly to ignore Monday night’s performance by attorney-general Senator Bookshelves Brandis on the ABC’s Q&A.

Bookshelves, looking like the love child of Mr Sheen and President Merkin Muffley from Dr. Strangelove, took us on an enchanted journey: Team Australia was an “inclusive” term because simply everyone is on the team; the raid by 800 police, with accompanying media, and the charging of one person was not “over the top”; and when the new national security law says people can be prosecuted for disclosing special secrets, that doesn’t include journalists.

What a relief. All those legal beagles have been reading the legislation upside down. Anyway, prosecutions need the approval of the attorney-general of the day so, ipso facto, the public interest is protected.

Federal copper Neil Gaughan, in the audience, chipped in that the sword seized in the raid “wasn’t plastic” – another huge piece of reassurance.

Tony Jones tells me that the structure of the show, with George holding the floor on his own and would-be panellists in the audience, was the way the producers wanted it. Some may think it gave a rather lopsided view of the issues under discussion, but Jones says it actually presented an opportunity for more people to ask questions.

Fortunately, no one asked the A-G to define “metadata”.

2 . Who’s wrong on human rights?

I’m grateful to the Bible Society for publishing a slice of a recent speech by Bookshelves on the role of Christianity as the basis of today’s human rights.

He kicked off his oration to the Bible bashers by declaring, “Australia has, in recent years, had much debate – some would say too much debate – about human rights”.

That’s right, there’s been too much debate about human rights, and what people have failed to understand is that Christianity is the founding father of human rights.

George complained that religious freedom has been under attack, “particularly in the national broadcaster and the Fairfax media. Almost invariably, their targets have been the Christian churches and, in particular, the Catholic Church and people of Jewish faith”.

How dreadful, especially since the Catholic Church has been so blemish-free. The A-G appears to be aping the belief system of the leading lights of the Abbott government, that everything is God’s work, even the goodness of coal. For heaven’s sake stop debating it.

3 . Andra winner is…

Strange indeed are the ways of newspapers. Take the case of Andra Jackson, a 30-year veteran of what may politely be called the hurly-burly of newsrooms, mostly at The Age.

There she specialised in covering refugee stories, although for reasons still unclear she was ordered off that round by the higher-ups.

She broke the story of Cornelia Rau, the unwell Australian resident illegally held as part of the government’s mandatory detention program.

The story ultimately led to Rau’s release from the Baxter detention centre.

After parting ways with The Age and mounting a case for unfair dismissal that was referred for mediation, Jackson found she could no longer place freelance articles with her old paper, despite a mediated undertaking that she would not be discriminated against.

So when she went to work on a story about Australia’s longest detained asylum seeker, Peter Qasim, she sold it to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Qasim, a Kashmiri, is a man without a country, released on the charmingly named “return pending” visa, meaning he could be kicked out at a moment’s notice. He has lived in this limbo for about 10 years and understandably is profoundly depressed.

Cut to bright spot: when the United Nations Association of Australia Media Awards were announced last month, Jackson’s piece took out the feature gong, edging out highly fancied and well-paid News Corpse reptiles Richard Guilliatt, Jamie Walker and Cameron Stewart.

Now Jackson, winner of three other awards, including a Melbourne Press Club Quill for best news story, would be the first to admit that, like many a pesky newshound, charisma and charm are not her strongest points. But cracking yarns are.

4 . The skinny on centre naming

In its wisdom Sydney University has named its exciting new obesity centre in honour of Charles Perkins.

Why would this outfit be named after a thin Aboriginal man? Vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence has a winning explanation:

“When we were looking for a name for the centre we thought through the stories of our alumni who had made a difference, who had a real transformative effect in the life of our country and we were particularly proud to identify the work of Charles Perkins as embodying the spirit of what we are trying to do here.”

More than $50 million has been stumped up from benefactors and ploughed into the project. Fourteen
new professorial chairs have been
funded mostly by individual donations. The whole thing is a big fat bonanza.

Why not badge the show in honour of a suitably porky alumnus, such as Roddy Meagher?

5 . Law deans warned

Chief Justice Robert French has been obliged to write to the law academic community to advise them to keep their noses out of pending High Court cases.

It’s distressing to realise that academics have taken it upon themselves to offer their learned analyses of issues to the judges privately, and behind the backs of the parties.

Last month French fired off a missive to Professor Stephen Graw, the chairman of the Council of Australian Law Deans, asking him to pull his troops into line:

“Communications with the court on matters pending before the court providing materials which are not accessible to the parties, a fortiori after the court has reserved its decision, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the transparency of the judicial process.”

Some scholars must have skipped the undergrad class about how the judicial system is supposed to work, with all the material that forms the basis of the litigation on the same table, for everyone to see.

“The provision to the court of drafts of articles is akin to unsolicited ex parte amicus submissions.”

Please make sure it stops, French requested the law scholars.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 8, 2014 as "Gadfly: Pic won’t win Packer’s prize".

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

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