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

A case in point

Remember the almighty outcry about Gillian Triggs and the government trying to sideline the president of the Human Rights Commission with a less trouble-making new job? There was even talk of an “improper inducement”. 

The head of the attorney-general’s department, Christos Moraitis, said he made notes of his discussions about the alternative job with Bookshelves Brandis and Prof Triggs, but sadly his briefcase, with the all important aide-mémoires, has been lost “by mistake”.

Christos told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on February 24:

“I had taken some notes of my discussion with the attorney and also annotated those notes after my discussion with Professor Triggs. I had those notes for a while and unfortunately I have travelled to three countries in two weeks and I have lost those notes, losing my briefcase by mistake. I am sorry.”

He also said the notes could have been in folders and those too cannot be found. It was a setback for Sgt Plod of the AFP who was supposed to be investigating the inducement angle.

Queensland barrister Alex McKean made an FOI application to the AG’s department seeking documents created by Moraitis and Brandis relating to Triggs and/or the HRC inquiry into children in detention and any records from September 1, 2014, to February 29, 2015, that might relate to the loss of the briefcase, plus Moraitis’s diary and details of his travel. 

The helpful FOI person at the department said the search would involve too much work and divert the department’s scarce resources from useful things, presumably spying on the population. She refused the request on “practical” grounds and added: 

“To assist you to revise the scope of your request I can advise that the Secretary, Mr Moraitis, did not lose a briefcase during the period September 1, 2014, to February 28, 2015.”

Anyway, the department did provide some interesting details about the life of the department’s top public servant: 

“The Secretary works at least five days each week, though often more. On any given day, the Secretary has on average 32 meetings and other engagements a week. On that basis I estimate that a document containing the information about the Secretary’s engagements for the period would contain approximately 725 separate appointment entries [for the five months and one week he has been head of the department].”

A decision about disclosure would have to be made about each appointment entry. This would involve “extensive consultations with the Secretary’s executive adviser, and in many instances, the Secretary himself”.

She estimated that 190 individuals and representatives of government, community or commercial organisations referred to in the diary entries would have to be consulted. This would involve 400 hours’ work. 

McKean has applied again, asking for a narrower range of documents. But where is the now non-missing briefcase?

1 . High Court keeps it all in the family

It was so fitting that on Wednesday the attorney-general turned up at the Human Rights Commission in Sydney’s Pitt Street to launch the inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians. 

This, the day after he announced the replacement for a constitutionally senile High Court judge, even though Kenneth Hayne was showing troubling signs of alertness. 

Bookshelves Brandis confessed that he, personally, voted against the 1977 referendum on limiting federal judges to serve until 70 years of age.

He added that despite the need to keep oldies in the workforce he wasn’t going to reopen the constitutional issue to keep ageing judges in the saddle. 

In any event, the selection process went as smooth as silk with Mrs Hayne replacing Mr Hayne. This is a useful precedent, giving the government in Queensland the opportunity to give Mrs Robyn Carmody a turn at being chief justice. After all, she has served as a judicial registrar at the Magistrates’ Courts.

Any spawn from these judicial couplings would, of course, have first dibs at filling mummy or daddy’s vacancy on the bench. A hereditary judiciary is sensible, and keeps the politics out of selecting judges. 

2 . Glory in Stead

Quick literary quiz: name the chief difference between the Christina Stead Prize and the Christina Stead Award? Hands up those who said $39,500.

There was enormous excitement in the southern capital last week when the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Victoria, Inc announced its shortlist for the Christina Stead Award for the best novel.

Relatives and friends Googled quickly and saw buckets of money possibly flowing to a loved one. But no, for FAW, Vic, handed out just $500 to award-winner John Marsden for his South of Darkness

Not that Marsden is in need of a dollar, apparently. Recently he bought his second Macedon Ranges school, a former Christian college that went broke owing almost $2 million.

He will start an arts-focused secondary academy in the footsteps of his alternative primary, Candlebark School, set amid native forests, gurgling creeks and waterfalls, where students in log cabins “pursue knowledge and wisdom, food and each other, on bikes, scooters, skateboards, and even sometimes on their own feet”.

If Marsden has entered the New South Wales Premier’s literary cashfest, he will have to wait until next month to see if he scores $40,000 for the Stead Prize. 

Meanwhile, some satisfaction was accorded award-winning former soapie writer Judith Colquhoun for being highly commended in Melbourne for her novel Thicker Than Water, because it failed to rate a mention in the space-starved book pages of the daily blatts. 

3 . Causing a stink

Gadfly, always eager to sniff out a new trend, has uncovered the growing demand for perfume-free venues.

Smoke-free is old hat and alcohol-free is, regrettably, widening its domain. The new, new thing is perfume-free, which is going to pose difficulties for people drenched in Chanel or Old Spice.

A recent instance was the call by singer and ex-busker Anita McKone for a pong-free audience when she performed this week in Hepburn Springs. Apparently, the fumes affect her vocal cords. 

She may be on to something. Canadians have been advised to file a complaint with their local human rights commission if their smell sensitivity is offended, and an 84-year-old woman was tossed out of a council meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for daubing perfume behind her ears.

The anti-perfume campaign will not be without its difficulties because the original idea of applying pungent scents was to block out the appalling stench of body odours from the great unwashed. 

If the anti-perfume lobby heats up, their efforts will have to extend to banning BO, which could put a lot of taxi drivers out of work. 

McKone has had experience in the field of social activism having been jailed four times for her stance on non-violence, once fasting for weeks until given organically grown vegetarian food.

4 . ‘Little Mate’ riled

Gadfly hears that Random House, publisher of the wonderful He Who Must Be Obeid, has been on the receiving end of another legal complaint. 

This one from Lionel Murphy’s “Little Mate”, former Sydney solicitor and punter Morgan Ryan

In a preliminary round, Morgan’s lawyers came up with 16 defamatory imputations arising from the three pages of Kate McClymont and Linton Besser’s book dedicated to some of his activities and lifestyle. 

From Gadfly’s perspective, the two that had the most colour and movement were that the plaintiff “has a lot of fingers in very grubby pies” and that he has been “knowingly involved in a corrupt Sydney network of lawyers, politicians, crime figures, judges and racing identities in which, for a price, anything could be bought.”

Judge Judy Gibson let four of the imputations go to a jury, struck out two and ordered the others to be replaced.

Ryan, aged 95, asked for an expedited trial.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 18, 2015 as "Gadfly: A case in point".

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

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