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

Readers taken for a ride

Nice piece of writing this week in Guardian Australia from Alex Turnbull, son of Mal, who sunk his velveteen slipper into Uber, the taxi industry disrupter. 

According to Alex, Uber has a “screw you” strategy as far as the regulators are concerned, but does little to “rethink or reframe the regulatory landscape” for the taxi business. 

He predicts that Uber will probably end up as the dominant service provider in Australia because of its cost advantage. “Australia will be left with a large, vicious foreign player as a monopolist with a disregard for the law in its DNA.” 

Great stuff. However, in his haste to file his analysis, Turnbull junior failed to disclose to Guardian Australia that he is an investor in one of Uber’s competitors, taxi booking app goCatch. 

Oddly, the same article appeared two days earlier in The Australian Financial Review, where the editors added the disclosure: “Alex Turnbull is an investment banker and investor in goCatch. He is now based in Singapore, starting up his own investment fund.”

Alex, along with others scratching to make a quid, such as the Kahlbetzers, James Packer, Paul Bassat and the Libermans, have been involved in a $5 million capital-raising for goCatch. 

In fact, goCatch itself is running foul of the authorities in Canberra, where the toy town attorney-general says the app is not accredited to operate a booking service. 

All a bit reminiscent of Malcolm Turnbull’s famous 1981 plug in his old Bulletin column for a book by Coral Lansbury called The Reasonable Man: Trollope’s Legal Fiction

“It is refreshing, if not surprising, to find someone who maintains that that most pellucid of novelists, Anthony Trollope, owed his literary style to the law ... The book provides a fresh insight into the novels of Trollope and to an explanation for his style,” Mal wrote, without stopping to explain to readers that Coral Lansbury was his mother. 

At this point, of course, it would be remiss not to mention your own Gadfly keeps a column at Guardian Australia, too.

1 . Focus locked on press freedom

On that score: next week the great Alan Rusbridger sweeps into Sydney. 

Guardian editor-in-chief, pianist, visiting fellow at Oxford, visiting professor at the University of London and now visiting our home girt by sea. 

He’ll be speaking at the first Guardian Live event on press freedom and where it stands today: the publication of the Edward Snowden leaks, wire-tapping, surveillance, data retention and the potential for reptiles of the media to be prosecuted under security laws. 

Celebrity journalist David Marr will host a Q&A follow-up. It’s on Tuesday night at Carriageworks, so roll up. 

2 . Facts and fables

On Monday a clutch of judges, old and new, people from ICAC, and other eminences jammed into the common room of the NSW bar ’n’ grill, otherwise known as the NSW Bar Association. 

It was the launch of Keith Mason QC’s book, Old Law, New Law – a miscellany of stories about the “eccentric or excessive” behaviour by judges and others in the law business. 

Mason is a former solicitor-general for NSW and a former president of the Court of Appeal.

As retired judge John Bryson said at the launch, the book is a treasure trove of anecdotes and fables. 

Here’s one that tickled Gadfly’s fancy. It concerns Bill Dovey, QC, Margaret Whitlam’s father, who was a divorce expert and later a matrimonial causes judge. 

On the other side of a contested divorce case before Justice Reginald Bonney was Jack Shand, QC. Dovey was cross-examining the petitioner’s wife about the couple’s final argument before separation. 

Dovey: What did your husband tell you to do? 

Petitioner: He told me to get fucked. 

Dovey: And what did you do? 

Petitioner: I went straight to see Mr Shand. 

Dovey: You could not have gone to a better man. 

It’s too good not to be true.

3 . Littlemore mayhem

Gadfly is grateful for journalist and naval historian Mike Carlton’s contribution to the ABC news on Sunday following the death in a house fire at Bayview on Sydney’s northern beaches of cinematographer and former ABC cameraman Les Wasley and his daughter, Lindy

Les was known at the ABC as “Rhubarb” on account of his red hair and fiery temper. It was a nickname bestowed by the chief editor at Cinesound, Sid Whiteley, uncle to Brett. 

Carlton reminded viewers of the punch-up on board a Qantas flight in the early 1970s involving Wasley and Stuart Littlemore, then an ABC reporter. Another ABC type was also involved, but his name has been lost in the mists. 

In the hunt for finer details your Gadfly has been in touch with Juris Turmanis, who was the flight service director on this particular flight between London and Bahrain. These were the days before Murdoch hacks realised that ABC reptiles flew around the globe in first class. Juris even remembers the seat numbers – Les was in 2B, while Littlemore and the other fellow were behind him in 3A and 3B. 

The fight broke out in the upstairs lounge of the Jumbo 747 and just as Juris was heading up the stairway to see what was going on, Les came roaring down, with the other two in pursuit. 

Rhubarb was seriously dishevelled, with torn shirt and spattered in blood. There was more shoving and bellicosity until Juris told them to sit down and stop brawling. 

Moments later he turned around to see Littlemore and his offsider standing up, ready to scuffle with Rhubarb again. They were threatened with plastic handcuffs, but soon the cocktails had the desired effect and everyone nodded off. 

It was pleasing to see that only last week the great interlocutor was back in harness for the ABC in a defamation case. 

He was plying his trademark fighting skills in the form of cross-examination of a Grafton prison officer, suing over a 7.30 story that suggested he contributed to the death of a prisoner by failing to provide assistance. 

A few rounds with Stuey and the plaintiff withdrew, hurt. 

4 . Law and disorder

What a merry time is being had in the prison system of Victoria these days. 

The dead parrot that is dismal Denis Napthine’s gummint completely swallowed the tabloid-radio jock demands that it be tough on crime. So the jails are full to overflowing and can’t be built quickly enough. 

One result will be more crime and a greater cost to the community when those in the slammer are released, but that’s for dashing Dan Andrews’ mob to work out. 

As the mining boom in the West dies down, Napthine’s functionaries found that dongas were going cheap, so they were stuck on a truck and brought over to be used as cells at Dhurringile minimum security prison, 160 kilometres north of Melbourne, near Murchison. 

Fifty prisoners were shoved into the dongas, better known as shipping containers. There they sit, in the summer heat. Replacing them in the jail were medium-security prisoners, who were reclassified minimum security restricted C. 

These prisoners are on a farm and must wear electronic bracelets.

All very fine. But the trouble is, says Julian Kennelly, who speaks for the Community and Public Sector Union, monitoring is done from Ararat, 100 kilometres away, and the signal is intermittent. The signal has been known to fail up to 70 times a day. So the officers are phoned and asked to drop what they are doing and move Prisoner X into a clear signal spot. On average, shifting prisoners into areas where the bracelets can actually be monitored happens 35 to 40 times a day, says Kennelly.

This jail resembles a colander because of persistent prisoner leakage. 

Good to know the Lawn Order agenda of the outgoing government is working so seamlessly.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 6, 2014 as "Readers taken for a ride".

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

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