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

Gadfly: Great balls of hire

Readers are constantly seeking Gadfly’s perspective on the current political situation and I must say, straight off, how bowled over I was to hear Tony Abbott insist that the “people of Australia elected me as prime minister”. 

I know he’s getting distracted, but this one is a bit much to swallow. 

He said it last Sunday and the line must have worked so well that he repeated it during his Press Club eulogy on Monday: “It’s the people that hire, and frankly it’s the people that should fire.” 

This redesign of the Westminster system must stop, otherwise we’d have someone really popular elected as the nation’s leader, such as Nick Kyrgios

Actually 54,388 electors of Warringah gave Abbott their first vote in 2013, out of a total in the electorate of 94,405. That means out of 16.2 million people eligible to vote in Australia only 0.34 per cent directly voted for Tone. 

He’s quite right about one thing: “In the end, government is not a popularity contest.” 

1 . Them foreigners

The nation huddled around crystal sets and transistors to listen to the PM’s rousing vision of tomorrow delivered to National Press Club scribes, Canberra real estate agents and a selection of the finest handpicked claqueurs, including the cigar twins Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann, Bookshelves Brandis, Admiral Morrison and Warren (Zzzz) Truss

The theme was “I have listened, I have learned, I have acted”, and he went on to announce there will be increased scrutiny of foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land and greater efforts to enforce existing rules relating to foreign buyers in the Australian property market. 

This raises the question: What have refugees and foreign investors got in common? 

Answer: Both are foreign. 

When the polls are bad there is one trusty remedy – a resort to xenophobia. It usually works a treat. 

2 . Gruel Britannia

Just after Australia Day the PM hosted a select few for dinner in his Canberra parliamentary suite. It was more a blue- rather-than-black-tie night. A nice time was had by all, but it was noticeable that the main course consisted of roast beef with horseradish sauce, Yorkshire pudding, carrots and roast onion. 

Despite our land abounding in nature’s gifts, the PM can’t seem to shake off a preference for stolid English mains. 

The entrée of prawns and avocado with coriander salsa was a little more multicultural, and there was a good effort at a contemporary finish – raspberry and vanilla panna cotta. 

On one view the centrality of a British main course was bookended by a struggle to embrace other cultural influences. 

Also, in the PM’s office is an imposing bust of Winston Churchill, reflecting Abbott’s enthusiasm for wartime leadership. 

The frame of reference for the listening, learning, acting PM is all too clear: the bust, the beef, the Yorkshire pud. 

3 . Holy See levels get a rise

Over the years the Institute for Paid Advocacy has given Tony Abbott plenty of delightful policy suggestions. 

This is why I look forward to IPA executive director John Roskam’s nostrums laid out in his regular Financial Review column. 

John tries to compete with the country’s greatest living humorist, Rowan Dean, who also scribbles for The Australian Financial Review. But last week, Johnny clearly pipped Rowan in the amusement stakes.

“It’s entirely appropriate,” he wrote, “that a few weeks ago the Pope should talk about climate change. Climate change has after all become a matter of faith, not evidence.” 

The Vatican, in June, is to release an encyclical on climate change and Roskam is worried that it will compete with the IPA’s study of the same subject, called “Climate Change: The Facts 2014”.

He seeks to diminish the Pope’s prognostications by saying it’s unlikely the Vatican will acknowledge “there’s been no statistically significant change in the earth’s temperature for nearly two decades”. 

This is a view that, coincidentally and happily, syncs with large IPA donor Gina (Iron Queen) Rinehart, and you can arrive at such a conclusion if you cherrypick the facts. 

Have faith and ignore the findings of the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, both of which have come up with the tipsy warning that “climate change is more certain than ever”. 

4 . Bolt down an IPA at lunch

There’s been some important personnel changes at the institute too, and we’re pleased to report that young James Bolt (yes, son of ...) has graduated from research assistant to sending out the office mail. 

A missive that arrived in our inbox from James last week was something of a mixed bag of offerings.  

There was a complaint that any extension of the GST to overseas online purchases of less than $1000 would have devastating price consequences for consumers. For instance, he cites that Amouage Jubilation 25 women’s eau de parfum 50ml will rise $24.74 to $283.14. Worse still, a pack of eight Gillette Fusion ProGlide razors will go up by $1.53 to $16.80. 

Something should be done. No new taxes must be the answer. 

Then there’s an invitation to help fund a tour of Australia by right-wing Canadian scribbler, Iraq War enthusiast and Conrad Black supporter Mark Steyn

You should all tip in for that one. 

But the daddy of them all is the announcement that the IPA has launched a special “young members” category of subscription. If you’re under 25 and you sign up before March 27 you’ll go in the draw to win lunch with James’s dad, Andrew, and John Roskam. 

Oh, to be young again. 

5 . Gagged by a navy Thai

Peter Greste is free to enjoy prawns, and sand between his toes, but another Australian reporter has done a little jail time, and only Uncle Sam’s intervention may save him from a lot more.

The Abbott government is powerless to stop the prosecution of Alan (Moro) Morison, who edits a news website on Phuket Island and has inflamed the deskbound admirals of the Royal Thai Navy.

It took just a single paragraph from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters report on the violent persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority to land Morison in the clink for five hours, sharing a little cell with 90 others, including a confessed wife-killer. 

Backers cobbled together $3000 bail to get him out, but he’s charged with criminal defamation and computer crimes that call for a maximum of seven years’ porridge, or in this case, rice with weevils. 

Somehow the US State Department paid attention to the reporting on the Phuketwan website, which put Thailand among the worst of the people-trafficking nations. When Moro and Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian go back to court for a three-day hearing in mid-July, they hope US influence or attention from some arms of the touchy Thai government may kill the case.

Morison, 67, slipped away from jobs at sheets such as The Age to work around Asia for 15 years, the last seven on his Phuket site.

At one stage Thai hearts melted sufficiently to allow him back to Melbourne briefly to visit his ailing 91-year-old father. While he was here he attended a Fitzroy bar fundraiser for his defence, organised by Age-old hacks David Harrison and Mark Baker for the Melbourne Press Club.

As Moro tells it, drug smugglers switched to people trafficking because it’s better paid and the law doesn’t touch them. Up to 100,000 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh sail away in the October to April fleeing season, most hoping to get to Malaysia. Many end up on the Thai side of the border with Myanmar, where they are beaten up, their cries transmitted by phone to relatives back home who must cough up, or else.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 7, 2015 as "Gadfly: Great balls of hire".

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