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

Gadfly: Outback Camelots

Another great gabfest for Bookshelves Brandis and Timbo Wilson, this week in balmy Broome.

The Freedom Twins were in town to push their message, at an Indigenous leaders’ roundtable, of the great benefits that can be unleashed by property rights.

Property, according to Timbo, is “central to human rights” and one of the bedrocks of democracy. For those who don’t own real property, it’s tough luck on the human rights front.

Some of Wilson’s trademark vagueness suffuses the issue, but he’s struck a rich seam whereby he has combined property rights with the fight against the evils of red tape.

It’s bureaucracy that has held back harnessing native title land for economic development – private housing, raising capital, commercial schemes, turning a quid, and, as Bookshelves put it, the “right to transfer the property to others”.

Indigenous leaders have expressed general enthusiasm for the property rights agenda, but it’s not without risks.

If full-blooded commercial development, funded and secured on the land title, is allowed to rip, it is only a matter of time before the moneylenders (usually whities) will be in a strong position to take possession.

No doubt these downside risks were carefully outlined by Bookshelves at this Arthurian event.

1 . Phone in lost property

Taking up the property rights theme at the Institute of Paid Advocacy is young chip off the old block James Bolt, son of the famous Dutch thinker and essayist Andreas Bolt.

Writing in the institute’s online organ, FreedomWatch, James tells us that the new Mad Max flick, Fury Road, teaches us important things about property rights.

I can do no better than quote a slab of his thesis:

“What is it about our society that stops us living in a world on [sic] anarchy? Property rights ... For example, I have a phone. I can do anything I want with my phone as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s property. I can lend you my phone, but only I can decide to do that. You can’t take it. If you do, you will be punished by the state.

“If we lived in a society that did not recognise property rights, we would live in the society seen in Mad Max.”

I’m sure there must be property rights lessons to be drawn from other screen epics, such as The Sound of Music, La Grande Bouffe, Straw Dogs or even
The Pajama Game. Young James has opened up a new genre of film reviewing. Anthony Lane, eat your heart out.

Last time we reported on Bolt jnr we brought to our reader’s attention his thoughts about The Economics of Food, where he sunk the slipper into American economist Tyler Cowen, who wrote an article about “turning consumers into innovators”.

Tyler’s big mistake was to be concerned about how to tackle man-made global warming. “Most annoying of all,” young Bolter wrote, “he spends many pages of the book making the case for
a carbon tax.”

He was right to point out how annoying that is. It was only a matter of time before the institute moved him out of the bowels of the gloomy research department onto the glittering heights of “communications co-ordinator”.

2 . Bullish presenters

Meanwhile, father Andreas was dishing it out to the ABC’s female interviewers and presenters. Lateline’s Emma Alberici and 7.30’s Leigh Sales were biased because they didn’t fluff up the cushions and make barge-arsed contestants such as Hockey and Cormann entirely relaxed on their TV quiz shows.

Bolt snr, host of Channel 10’s version of The Price is Right, persuaded Malcolm Turnbull to say that these women should be “less aggressive”.

Slack-jawed viewers are still dosing themselves with restorative salts after hearing that. What’s happened to the good ol’ Malc we all knew and loved (sort of)? The one that dished out libel threats to journalists who sought to interview him, and who even offered, years ago, to take your Gadfly from his seat in a fashionable Sydney restaurant and punch his lights out on the footpath.

Even Kerry Packer was frightened of the fellow and at one point there was some banter between the two that they might kill each other. Others called him “chilling” while the late Diamond Jim McClelland said Turnbull “would devour anyone for breakfast”.

Yes, it’s definitely time for those TV hostesses to start taking some of Mal’s mellow pills.

3 . Retro bar

The NSW Bar Association is on the warpath against the government’s retrospective legislation to validate past corruption findings by ICAC, which were upset by the recent High Court decision in the Margaret Cunneen case.

The bar’n’grill president, Jane Needham, wants a meeting with Premier Mike Baird and Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton to press home the dreadfulness of retrospective legislation.

If undoing the amendments to the ICAC Act lets a whole lot of robber barons off the hook, never mind.

However, there is another way to look at this. The post-High Court amendments are only restoring corruption findings that had already been made by the anti-corruption commission. They are not creating new findings – it’s a legislative process of giving back what previously existed.

Maybe, on this issue, the barristers’ club is absorbing the vibe from senior vice-president Noel Hutley and junior vice Arthur Moses.

Noel is acting for a small tribe of attractive Sydney business identities who are appealing ICAC’s corruption findings in the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Arthur successfully acted for Margaret Cunneen in her case against ICAC.

4 . On-notice matters

The senate inquiry into abuse and neglect of asylum seekers held on Nauru is going swimmingly.

Giving answers to questions “on notice” was the main non-activity of Tuesday’s session, with senior brass from “service” providers Transfield and Wilson Security batting most of the pressing issues into the “on notice” basket.

In fact, the phrase “on notice” was used 144 times in the five hours the committee sat. Rapes, cigarettes for sex and squalor were the other features of the day.

There will now have to be a truckload of carefully crafted written responses to the score of questions that couldn’t be handled orally.

Transfield Services has a thing about its officials and staff talking too much. It goes to strenuous lengths to have case officers and other personnel sign “no talking” undertakings, so that what goes on in Australia’s name at the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres won’t get out. Out of sight, out of mind is the mission.

Wilson is the outfit that employed people who attended the Reclaim Australia rally and posted their anti-Islamic outbursts on social media. However, the contractors did say they documented all the serious incidents that were reported to them, and those documents were sent to the Immigration Department.

Which raises the questions, what did Mr Fluffy Morrison know and what did he fail to act upon?

Former Queensland copper and current immigration minister Peter Dutton says everything is under control and the senate inquiry is a “witch-hunt”.

5 . The Pell tolls

Which brings us to what Big George Pell knew about serial child sex offender, the former priest and now guest of her majesty Gerald Ridsdale.

The McClellan royal commission heard this week that not only was Pell part of the college of consultors that advised on the transfer of Ridsdale from Ballarat after his offending was well known, but that he offered a bribe to the family of one of the priest’s victims.

David Ridsdale, who is also a nephew of the offender, told the commission that Pell had said: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”

When the cardinal takes time off from counting the Vatican’s loot, he will explain in more detail that there’s been a dreadful misunderstanding, he didn’t have the conversation as alleged, and that he wasn’t responsible for anything.

Thank heavens he’s got Lord Moloch in his corner. When George was appointed to his job in the Rome counting house, the wizened mogul tweeted: “Pope Francis appoints brilliant Cardinal Pell from Sydney to be No. 3 power in Vatican. Australia will miss him but the world will benefit.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said this week that the Catholic Church has not abandoned using the Ellis defence as a means of avoiding payment of compensation to victims.

The defence is based on a 2007 case where the NSW Court of Appeal found that the Catholic Church cannot be sued for compensation because it does not exist as a legal entity.

Sometimes the exquisite finery of the law can take your breath away.

6 . Healing the ill

Already queues are forming on Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, in readiness for Gadfly’s appearance at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Sunday afternoon.

It’s the PEN Free Voices lecture and the topic is “Feeling the Chill”. It’s not to do with weather conditions, but I’m to talk about the impact of counterterrorism laws on writers, journalists and other freedom-loving people.

I hope I’ve got the topic right because it’s easy to mishear the instructions. There’s the famous story that Justice Michael Kirby was invited to a conference in Africa and he understood the subject to be “Press Freedom”.

He was only five minutes into his carefully prepared hour-and-a-half speech when an official tugged at his sleeve and whispered that the subject was actually “Breast Feeding”.

Appropriately, the PEN lecture will be held in Sydney Dance 1 theatre. Roll up. It’s free and worth every penny.  


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2015 as "Gadfly: Outback Camelots".

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