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

Campaigns and carnage

There was Gadfly in the gods at the City Recital Hall in Sydney’s Angel Place, swept away by the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Reflections on Gallipoli.

Below me in A Reserve were the dowager Mrs Packer and young Gretel, Mrs Holmes à Court, Jill Wran, scriveners and notaries galore, plus a gaggle of captains and cabin boys of industry, bankers, brokers, commission agents and the flowers and native grasses of Sydney society.

We’re pretty close to drowning in Gallipoli centenary celebrations, but here the ACO has given us something far beyond the flag waving and drum beating.

The program was drawn from Béla Bartók, Ed Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, along with Turkish composer Nevit Kodallı and Australians Frederick Kelly and Carl Vine.

Actors Nathaniel Dean and Yalin Ozucelik read entries from the diaries, letters and reports of Charles Bean, Albert Facey and soldiers on the front. Soprano Taryn Fiebig soared.

And the backdrop to all this was the grainy, grey footage and stills of the Turkish and Australian faces, the carnage and the landscape of Gallipoli, all from the War Memorial’s bulging archives.

It was a two-hour reminder of young lives lost to blundering political and military leadership. The cocktail of music, words and images was as dignified and potent an anti-war message as you’re likely to see and hear.

Only two days earlier, the Liberal Party crammed the same hall for the launch of its New South Wales election campaign. The gnarled rump of the warmongers party was there. If only someone had strapped them in their seats for two days so that they could experience the production that followed.

1 . Flushing out bombs

Not since Little Johnny Howard’s “Be Alert” fridge magnets has the nation felt so secure against any threat from the marauding IS death cult, as particularised by AlarmBells Abbott.

Take the State Library of Victoria, where lockers for large bags belonging to would-be book thieves have been ripped out. The same with rubbish bins on railway stations.

A visitor to Flinders Street Station asked one of the Besser Block-shaped creatures masquerading as a security guard about the bins, only to be told, “They’ve taken them so we don’t get bombs put in them.” Adding, “But there are two in the men’s toilet.”

The message is clear: if you’re feeling unsafe, hold your water.

2 . Fed up by freedom

There at Newcastle Airport last Sunday evening was the solitary figure of Freedom Boy Tim Wilson working his way through a packet of Burger Rings and a Diet Coke as he waited for a Jetstar flight. Freedom from all but calories.

Little wonder the poor lad has thickened up as he hurtles from one festival to another, preaching the power of freedom, with nothing but junk food at pit stops.

This occasion was the Newcastle Writers Festival, where he was slated to speak on the topic: War of Words – where, if at all, do we draw a line between free speech and hate speech?

Gadfly has had trouble discerning in Freedom Boy’s utterances just where he has drawn that line. Speech that offends, insults or humiliates racial or ethnic minorities is fine, but defamation and the protection of reputation, mysteriously, is a branch of “property law” and, according to Timbo Wilson and his bedfellows at the Institute for Paid Advocacy, property is what it’s all about.

Consequently, the Freedoms Commissar hasn’t been reported drawing the line against politicians suing media organisations in the struggle to protect their “property”.

3 . Protecting sources

In the NSW Supremes this week, Justice Lucy McCallum let The Age off the hook in long-running litigation over journalists’ sources, after putting them on the hook three years ago.

While Bookshelves Brandis and the adorable Malcolm Turnbull are now well on their way to trapping snouts who leak state secrets to reporters, Fairfax is spending up big in the courts to protect the identity of people who repose confidences in them.

Here a Chinese Australian businesswoman, Helen Liu, has been applying to uncover the sources for two articles published by The Age in 2010. The articles allege she had paid money to Labor’s former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon as part of “a campaign to cultivate him as an agent of political and business influence”.

Joel denies this and sued in the ACT Supreme Court, where his action has since been settled. This week, Justice McCallum agreed that The Age should be spared from orders to reveal the identity of its sources, if it drops one of its key defences in any subsequent defamation action brought by Liu. The case is all the more puzzling because the court has heard that Liu already knows the names of the sources.

The latest decision from the judge comes a year after she heard submissions for Fairfax’s stay application, three years after she ordered The Age to cough up the sources and five years after publication of the articles Liu complained of.

The price of protecting the sources is the abandonment of a substantive legal right. Can’t Freedom Boy tear himself away from the Burger Rings to do something about this?

4 . Raising the Bar

Happily, it’s not all hard slog for people plying the law trade. Planning for the Australian Bar Association’s annual jamboree in July is well advanced and it looks like a lot of tax-deductible fun.

This year it will be held in two cities – Washington, DC, and Boston. There’ll be a rooftop party in the US capital on Independence Day and briefs are “welcome to add some red, white and blue to their [smart casual] outfits”.

The overall theme for the Washington leg is “Trends in American Justice: Impacts for Australia”. Some people have already pointed out that we’re quick to pick up on American judicial trends: Manus and Nauru surely draw inspiration from the black hole law regime of Guantánamo Bay; data retention legislation here has been buoyed by the NSA’s flagrant snoop fest; and the Australian High Court caught on to the importance of money in election campaigns pretty smartly after the US Supreme Court in Citizens United.

In Boston, the conference changes themes to “Survival of the fittest”. There’ll be a reception at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and tours of the John Adams Courthouse, the John Joseph Maokley United States Courthouse and the four-kilometre Freedom Trail.

Indeed, only the fittest will survive.

The Freedom Trail seeks to preserve the story of the American Revolution and the ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and Freedom Fries.

5 . Hinch honoured as Quills get Chop

The Quill Awards have come and gone for another year. This is the event put on by the Melbourne Press Club to shower gongs on deserving reptiles of the meeja.

Comedian Ethel Chop was on hand to entertain, but the assembled hacks were in no mood for her frivolities and poor Ethel died on stage.

Some said she was worse than the starter, or the main, but my field agents were too busy cringing to take note of
the jokes.

At one point Chop was ridiculing Derryn Hinch’s latest partner, apparently for joining the ranks of the great broadcaster’s impressive spousal list. The Human Headline had just won the “lifetime achievement” award, which presumably celebrated something other than him having more conquests than everyone else in the room put together.

In his acceptance speech the Headline announced that social media, especially Twitter, was the biggest change to the media in his lifetime of achievements. “All you print people who haven’t embraced it, you’re fuckwits, you lost, you’re dead.”

Channel Nine news man Brett McLeod was the host for the evening and he introduced an “award for breast,
I mean best ...”

Laugh? People were weeping.  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 28, 2015 as "Gadfly: Campaigns and carnage".

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

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