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

Televising Murphy’s lore

As one of the world’s leading journalistic authorities on the ins and outs of the career of Lionel Murphy, your Gadfly was intrigued to hear that the Rake team and ABC Q&A ringmaster Tony Jones are behind a project to turn the life of the great Labor attorney-general into a TV drama for the Nine–Fairfax streaming service Stan.

Jones was sniffing around for information about Lionel a few months back and now I see why.

A good Murphy TV show would put the rather hokey House of Hancock in the shade. He was such a carefree character that it’s hard to imagine him in the political landscape of today – dominated as it is by stitched-up popinjays who never deviate from their leaden scripts.

On one occasion at a function, unaware of the family connection, he introduced journalist Andrew Clark to his father. “Andrew, I’d like you to meet Professor Manning Clark.” At a candlelit Palm Beach party he grabbed the artist Tony Edwards, who had long titian hair and was wearing a pink boiler suit, and swept him onto the dance floor in a close embrace.

One of Lionel’s great legacies was the passage of the Trade Practices Act, which the Coalition thought was the most evil law ever invented.

So it was good to see this legislation getting an airing in the discovery proceedings in which Iron Queen Gina Rinehart sought access to episode two of the House of Hancock, before it went to air.

Tom Blackburn, SC, for Rinohart, told the court that apart from actions in malicious falsehood and defamation it could be argued that professional paid actors portraying real-life people might be engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct. And here we were thinking deceptive conduct was the business of good acting.

There are no immediate authorities for this exciting new development, with Justice Peter Garling of the NSW Supremes saying it was “a novel proposal”, adding that if this argument applied to all the kings of England, then Shakespeare’s plays would be run out of town.

“They are all dead, your honour,” Blackburn said.

And Lionel is dead, so maybe the series about his life won’t be the opportunity to open up his legislation to new possibilities.

Nonetheless, there are heaps of productions, both stage and film, where live people are portrayed by actors. To mention a few: David Williamson’s play Rupert, depicting aspects of the career of Rupert Murdoch, who’s still alive (sort of); David Hare’s Stuff Happens, starring just about the entire Bush administration; the Stephen Hawking biopic; Keating! The Musical; and Fair Game, the story about US spy Valerie Plame, who was played by Naomi Watts.

If this new Rinehart-inspired corner of the law is allowed to fully flower then maybe actors could be made directly liable for misleading audiences about the characters they are portraying.

Penalties for breaching related provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act (the TPA’s successor) are in the realm of $1 million.

This could see a bit more rigour return to the theatrical profession.

1 . Wake up, Geoff

For $109, which includes a complimentary drink, you can get yourself a seat at the City Recital Hall (Sydney) to see “the greatest living Australian” in a one-man “revelatory show”.

The greatest living Australian, it may surprise you to know, is not Malcolm Turnbull but Geoffrey Robertson.

Geoffrey is presenting the world premiere of his show for one night only on May 2 and it’s called Dreaming Too Loud. Presumably it’s based on his book of jottings of the same name.

The blurb for the book mentions the great man’s “trademark intelligence, humour and humanity”.

Once we get past the overblown effusions, we get down to more modest claims in the announcement for the stage show:

“An intellectual inspiration for the global justice movement, Robertson returns from commanding Europe’s largest civil liberties practice to offer Australian audiences insights into the public and private events that have marked his life’s extraordinary trajectory.”

The flyer is a triumph of self-basting, presumably a sign Kathy Lette is writing her husband’s press releases: “One of the world’s foremost human rights lawyers … A career of illustrious and infamous cases … Pioneering achievements … [He] provokes, disturbs, entertains and above all, inspires.”

While the surgeons were performing his vowel transplant, they must have also slipped in a modesty bypass.

It sounds like a night that will leave you gasping.

2 . Bombers away

Footy and politics. There’s no place like Melbourne when it comes to the intersection of these two worlds. Perhaps it should be called Folitics.

Consider the recent appointment as the first female Viceroy of Victoria of spiky-haired AFL commissioner, Essendon fanatic and former family court judge Linda Dessau.

Those people not devoted to the back pages of Melbourne newspapers would be unaware of the bizarre turn in the drugs scandal, touchingly referred to as “the ongoing supplements saga”.

Essendon will be able to sign players from rival clubs’ VFL feeders for the pre-season comp, the much-derided NAB Challenge. This is so they can fill the places left vacant by the 25 players from the 2012 list who won’t play.

And why won’t they play? To protect the identities of 17 players provisionally suspended and charged with taking the banned drug, thymosin beta-4.

Gadfly is at a loss as to why the Bombers don’t simply borrow SAS balaclavas and give players alphabetical identities.

The legal tentacles of the scandal stretch to coach James Hird, who was suspended for a year and blew an estimated $1 million on lawyers, claiming he and players were forced to give evidence while not getting confidentiality. He has until next Friday to go to the High Court.

So what of the new governor in all this kerfuffle? According to the well-informed chief football correspondent for The Age, Caroline Wilson, Dessau did take some action. She quit as a judge of Essendon Women’s Network football woman of the year and was a no-show for the grand final week women’s lunch.

However, in terms of resolving the scandal, along with AFL commissioner Sam Mostyn, she did not get behind the “push for a speedier or more expedient result” – whatever that means.

The “supplements saga” continues to fester.

3 . All the president’s gender neutral

Meantime, the Victorian Bar has been manfully struggling with the pressing issue of gender equality. A special resolution was before the rank ’n’ file to change the bar’s constitution so that the word “chairman” of VicBar becomes “president”.

The proposal to take this giant stride was passed at a special general meeting of the briefs’ club on Wednesday.

Members were circulated with a baffling tome setting out the “for” and “against” cases.

The case in favour of the change included the propositions that the word “president” is gender neutral; that “madam chairman” involves an obvious internal contradiction; and that “president” also permits different meanings, including “chief executive of a republic”.

But it was the “against” case that contained the really compelling arguments: “chairman” is also gender neutral; “madam chairman” does not involve an internal contradiction; and “the appropriateness of the description ‘president’ in the constitution of other bodies depends upon the precise terms of those constitutions. Even so, one must be aware of communis error.”

If only the “against” campaign had sprinkled Latin phrases more liberally they may well have won the day.

4 . Gay times ahead

George Pell must be turning in his satin bathrobe at the news that the former great Catholic law shop Freehills is sponsoring the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and, even more fetchingly, pumping clients’ money into the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Herbert Smith Freehills, to give the shop its full post-fusion name, is now ranked in the top 10 best global employers for LGBTI inclusion.

Riverview, St John’s College, Freehills was a well-trod pathway in Catholic life. Some are still a bit slow to catch on. You’ll remember that Riverview old boy, Johnsman and law graduate T. Abbott finds the whole gay thing “a bit threatening”, adding: “There is no doubt that [homosexuality] challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.”

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 21, 2015 as "Gadfly: Televising Murphy’s lore".

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

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