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

Cabaret Voltaire

Already the Walkley Awards people are polishing special statuettes, in readiness to award the top journalistic prize for Most Intriguing Reports on Free Speech.

It’s a category that has languished but, thankfully, this week it has been enlivened by young Asian football expert Scotty McIntyre’s Anzac tweets about “the cultification of an imperialist invasion”.

This brought forth the sharp thinking we always enjoy from the ranks of Lord Moloch’s space-fillers and Freedom Boy himself.

I’d almost forgotten that these are the same people who want to see the end of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act because it impeded Andrew Bolt’s right to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people on the basis of their race, ethnicity or colour.

As Voltaire said: “The trouble with free speech is it’s worth what you pay for it.”

I’m sure he said that. Maybe it was someone at the Institute of Paid Advocacy. In fact, the IPA’s recently minted law graduate, Simon Breheny, declared that the whole McIntyre episode showed that SBS “should be privatised”.

It boils down to this: Anzacs, Anzac Day, diggers, wars, etc., are no-go free speech zones. Blacks, fair-skinned blacks, Mussies, Asians and wogs – go for it. Insult away.

I know the Media Alliance is preparing a special ornament for Timbo Wilson, our leading free speech authority. He has come up with the angle that McIntyre’s free speech has not been hampered. McIntyre is free to say these things – he has only to lose his job. Brilliant.

“Angry of Sydney”, aka Miranda Devine, is in the same sort of territory. McIntyre gave “succour to Islamists” and his views are “loathsome”, but the sack only makes him an “undeserving martyr for free speech”. Almost in the next head-spinning breath she asks: “Where are all these warriors for free speech when it’s difficult, when they have to defend views they don’t share?”

Give her a prize.

1 . Taking the Anzac biscuit

Dutch philosopher A. Bolt also turned in an award-winning performance, cheering Scotty’s sacking, with a headline saying that the young wretch “deserves no tears”. And this, just after the nation had finally dabbed its eyes dry over the frightful judicial drubbing the poor Melbourne scribbler received over his analysis of light-skinned Aboriginals.

Bolter likes calling for the sacking of people whose words offend him. Last year it was the then governor of Tasmania, “Hollywood” Pete Underwood, who gave an Anzac Day dawn service address in Hobart.

Hollywood had the gall to say that Australia needs to “drop the sentimental myths that Anzac Day has attracted”. He thought it would be a nice idea to honour those killed or wounded in wars, “by declaring this centennial year of the start of the war to end all wars the Year of Peace”.

“We should spend less time studying Simpson’s donkey and more time looking at why we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Very sensibly, Bolt said the governor was “arrogant and impertinent” and should “be quietly removed from his position”.

Chris Kenny, the secret love child of fluffy-haired funnyman Rowan Dean and the senate’s helmet-haired Michaelia Cash, had a lengthy analysis of the issue on Sky News. I fell asleep halfway through, but I’m sure Kenny said that taxpayers don’t want to part with cash for people to go and offend Anzacs.

All Gadfly can say is thank God we have thinkers of this calibre to guide us through difficult issues.

Maybe the whole thing could have been handled better if Tasmanian politician Michael Hodgman had been in charge. He was Malcolm Fraser’s minister for the Australian Capital Territory, a demanding job if ever there was one. He introduced an 18C-type ordinance especially for Anzac Day, making it an offence to engage in conduct “likely to give offence or cause insult” to people taking part in the parade.


The minister said he had intelligence that lesbians wanted to sabotage the Anzac ceremony.

2 . One prefect day

And what of the nation’s No. 1 teachers’ pet and dobber, Malcolm Turnbull? He saw it as his ministerial duty, as a member of a free speech government, to get in touch with the SBS management and alert it to Scott’s “despicable” tweets.

It was explained that only as a result of disobeying orders was the tweeter defenestrated.

This is Malcolm in senior prefect mode, and we had a wonderful glimpse of what that was like from fellow Sydney Grammar student and founding member of Midnight Oil Rob Hirst.

At Grammar, Turnbull confiscated Hirst’s spearmint Life Savers – possibly they were “despicable” sweets. He also confiscated Jolyon Burnett’s copy of Playboy. Jolyon went on to become CEO of Irrigation Australia and in that capacity met Turnbull when he was John Howard’s minister for watering.

He reminded Turnbull of the confiscation. “Turnbull looked blank. ‘Well... I hope you’re over it by now,’ he eventually replied.”

According to Hirst, the senior prefect was always wanting to follow up on boys who weren’t wearing their hats, who were carving desks with obscene graffiti, and who yelled “Sieg Heil” at the last assembly.

No wonder he sent McIntyre to the headmaster’s study for expulsion.

3 . Dutch uncle and aunt

Australians were tickled pink to see former Liberal senator Brett Mason land the plum job as Australian ambassador to the Netherlands. It also involves representation to various international legal bodies located in The Hague – the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

Mason, a former close friend of Bookshelves Brandis who wanted
to challenge the attorney-general for the top spot on the LNP Queensland senate ticket, was dumped in December from his job as parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister.

Gillian Triggs has not said anything about the job she was offered in the government’s attempt to neuter the Human Rights Commission’s work on children in immigration detention. However, speculation is rife that it was the Netherlands gig that has now been snaffled by Brett.

Confirmation of this can only be confirmed once the notes made by department secretary Christos Moraitis can be located from his now non-missing briefcase.

4 . Baird knuckles

Doesn’t New South Wales premier Mike Baird know who’s issuing instructions?

The Australian’s legal affairs scribbler, Chris Merritt, ordered Baird not to “buckle” to calls for the ICAC Act to be amended following the High Court’s redesign of the meaning of “corruption”.

“This affair is now a test of Baird’s mettle ... If Baird buckles, it will be clear that the real power in NSW lies with a rogue agency that can act with impunity.”

The IPA chimed in that the anti-corruption body should be abolished.

A few days later, Baird showed he wasn’t listening to these edicts. He buckled: “I can assure anyone who thinks they can get away with corrupt activity in this state that they are wrong. So we’re going to do everything we possibly can to have the strongest possible ICAC we can.”

The newspaper’s and IPA’s support for robber barons who might seek to plunder the state’s assets is understandable. But disobedience by politicians is another thing all together.

5 . Mood Corp

Don’t you love the way the tabloids sniff the wind and change course according to the direction of public sentiment?

News Corp stenographer Sharri Markson tweeted herograms about the early morning editions of The Bowen Hills Bugle, The Hun and The Smellograph with their coverage of the Indonesian executions.

Sharri said on Wednesday that the Herald Sun and The Tele “brought the tragic news to readers at 6 and 7am today” and The Bugle at 4am.

Tragic news? Online denizens such as @RugbyRiddler must have old copies of The Tele lining their budgie cages. He was among those who pulled out a guano-stained copy from February 2006 with pics of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in custody and a lip-smacking front-page screamer: “No Sympathy: their drug operation would have destroyed thousands of lives – now they’ll pay with theirs.”

The Riddler commented: “You disgust me with your faux, patronising concern.”

Sharri pointed out a guiding principle of journalism: “No faux concern @RugbyRiddler Public attitude has definitely changed.”

From “no sympathy” all the way to “tragic news”. Public sentiment changed. The journalism caught up. What could be more principled than that?

Thankfully it has nothing to do with newspaper sales.  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 2, 2015 as "Gadfly: Cabaret Voltaire".

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

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