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

Gadfly: Spilling ink on Malcolm

Is an author liberated or deprived if the subject of a biography refuses to co-operate? That is the pressing question for reporter Paddy Manning, son of old-time ABC warhorse Peter Manning.

Young Paddy, author of the Nathan Tinkler bio Boganaire, has set his heart on doing a tell-all about the gilded ornament to Liberalism, Malcolm Turnbull, and eager-beaver publisher Louise Adler has signed him up at MUP.

Malcolm HQ says: “At the moment we are not co-operating.”

Paddy has told one of the daily tissues: “I want to dig into how he made his money, how he got established, right back to his days as a journalist and working for Kerry Packer and defending him against the Goanna allegations in the Costigan royal commission.”

It might well be fascinating to know how Turnbull made his money and all about his life at Goldman Sachs which, according to Rolling Stone, is “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

As to the Costigan stuff, a good starting point is Justice David Hunt’s judgement in the NSW Supremes [1984] 3 NSWLR 486, where HH dismissed as an abuse of process a defamation action brought by Kerry Packer against Costigan counsel assisting Douglas Meagher QC. In the process the judge had some dark words to say about the conduct of Kerry’s general counsel, Young Mal, who he claimed had managed to “poison the fountain of justice”.

Ouch. Former chief justice Sir Anthony Mason once described the member for Wentworth as a “master of professional disguise” – not unlike a squid. If Paddy does get to interview the subject of his work, will he find Magnificent Malcolm or good old Menacing Malcolm?

1 . Emu Creek myths

News from Walcha reached me that Bob Gill had died in the local hospital. Walcha is on the south-eastern edge of New South Wales’s Northern Tablelands and is, or has been, wool country.

Bob was the fourth generation of Gills to raise top-of-the range merinos at Emu Creek, with the clip heading to Zegna and other chic Italian mills. If ever there was a Golden Fleece, you’d have found it at Emu Creek.

Bob’s was also one of the remaining grazing families that saw wool at £1 a pound in the 1950s, only to witness the bottom falling out of the market as synthetics took over.

Gadfly was among a privileged group at a “mutton and pavlova weekend” to eat one of the Gills’ remaining prized sheep as the family transitioned the property to cattle. A familiar story.

In its heyday, the industry was rolling in money. Bob’s son, Roly, tells the story of two cockies in Sydney at showtime, sauntering up William Street munching on hamburgers. They came to York Motors with the latest Bentley in the window.

Immediately impressed with the gleaming motor, one of them pulled out a chequebook and started filling in the price with all the noughts. His friend is reputed to have said: “Don’t be silly, Roy, the car’s on me. You got the hamburgers.”

Farewell to the sheep. Vale Bob.

2 . More C than J

Queensland Chief Justice Tim (Knockabout) Carmody has been in the headlines again.

Before Easter there was a frightful kerfuffle in the court as retiring justice Alan Wilson gave a valedictory address in which he said that Carmody’s appointment had been a failure: “Sadly the current experiment, involving a chief justice who frankly admits he lacks [legal] ability, and has signally failed to manifest those skills, is not working, and there is no reason to think that it ever will.”

The complaints concerned the chief justice’s very light judicial workload, i.e. the grinding task of actually hearing and deciding cases, as opposed to attending conferences, being acting governor, opening fetes and going to banquets.

A great piece of dirty judicial linen was being washed in public. Apart from the Queensland Police Union and his sponsors in the Newman government, Carmody’s other remaining friend was Lord Moloch’s local tissue, The Courier-Mail, aka The Bowen Hills Bugle.

The paper has been the chief justice’s personal PR machine, pumping out thundering editorials about what a splendid fellow he is. One of Gadfly’s Brisneyland field agents has been keeping an eye on readers’ comments posted on the Bugle’s website. Here are some of the eye-popping assertions from the banana bending cheer-squad:

• All judges went to private schools except for Carmody (this is actually untrue – Carmody went to a private school and at least 10 of the Queensland Supreme Court judges did not);

• All judges except for Carmody are fat cats sucking off the public purse while residing in an ivory tower with the other elites in their club;

• While sucking off the public purse, all judges except for Carmody (“mostly” Labor appointees) make decisions according to their socialist agenda and “refuse to enforce the law”;

• All judges except for Carmody should be sacked; and

• Why should Carmody hear cases when he knows the other bullies on the court will just overturn his decisions?

In summary, according to readers of The Bowen Hills Bugle, the only judge worth having on the court is the one who doesn’t do much judicial work.

You can’t get fairer than that.

3 . Careless whispers

I hope readers have been keeping an eye on the fabulous unfolding story of Robert Durst, the scion of a New York property family with a portfolio of 11 skyscrapers under its belt.

Robert’s path is littered with wives, friends and neighbours who have either vanished, been chopped into pieces, or otherwise killed. It’s not been all together unfortunate because he has created an enormous amount of work for lawyers, investigators, the police and filmmakers.

After police reopened the case of his disappeared wife, he moved to Texas, where he lived as a mute woman, and dismembered the man who lived across the hall. Miraculously, he persuaded a jury that the fellow had died accidentally.

In another puzzling development Robert shoplifted a sandwich from a Pennsylvania supermarket, even though he was well cashed-up.

He participated in an HBO documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, and this seemed to be his undoing. Near the end of the filming, Durst went to the bathroom but didn’t remove his wireless microphone, which picked up that he was whispering to himself: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

He has now been charged with the murder of a woman in Los Angeles called Susan Berman. In terms of microphone gaffes, this one is in a league of its own.

Durst’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, is reported to have said: “I think he was regretting it in that bathroom conversation.”

Other lawyers are not so sure that the mumbled recording is admissible in court. The argument is that because the confession was made in a bathroom there is an “expectation of privacy”.

4 . The baulking dead

News to hand: Bambi Gordon, PR and marketing muffin for Melbourne’s Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (representing 20 graveyards and memorial parks), has told us that The Great Cemetery Open Day planned for April 19 has been postponed to a date to be fixed, but probably to coincide with History Week.

Joe Hockey warned us that we’ll all live to 150, so a postponed open cemetery day is neither here nor there.

5 . Boys on the bench

How is the Simkin factor going? You’ll remember that ABC man in Canberra Mark Simkin was recruited by Team Abbott to sharpen up the PM’s performance and leadership skills.

Apart from the odd outburst about Goebbels and lifestyle choices by Indigenous Australians, and the munching of one or two raw onions, things have sailed along relatively smoothly under Simmo and his support staff of flag monitors.

Why a Walkley Award-winning ABC type would want to go work for a PM who is still hanging on by his fingernails is a mystery. The bonding connection may be the Jesuit hotbed St Aloysius’ College on Sydney’s lower north shore. Simkin, Abbott and Joe Hockey, along with carbon dioxide expert and financial system investigator David Murray, and the ABC’s conservative wingman Tom Switzer, all went to St Aloys.

What a team. Abbott was “finished” at St Ignatius.

Meanwhile, a petition is running among Sydney Boys High alumni, urging the Old Boys Union to rescind an invitation for former student Scott Morrison to address a function. The old boys “stand in outrage and disgust” and ask that Fluffy be sent packing “to spare the organisation, and the school itself, the embarrassment of being seen to celebrate the achievements of a man who has so flagrantly disregarded human rights”.

As ever, the safest old boys’ network is the one on the government frontbench. They know what achievement looks like.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 11, 2015 as "Gadfly: Spilling ink on Malcolm".

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