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

Overboard professor now AO-kay

Nice to see a well-overdue AO for adjunct professor Sarah Jane Halton “for distinguished service to public administration, particularly to the health and aged-care sectors…” etc, etc.

Lately the adjunct prof was Peta Credlin’s choice to head the Department of Finance.

The “professor” thing has caused
a bit of grief, because actually Jane is not a professor in the sense of being a real academic.

In fact, the universities of Canberra and Sydney politely requested that she scrub the use of “professor” from her official bios and online profiles.

This over-ornamentation has been put down to “error” or “deferential public servants”.

When it came to Monday’s birthday honours from Betty Battenberg the “adjunct” had been appropriately added to the “professor”.

In an earlier public service role, Halton served as the Howard-era head of the People Smuggling Taskforce. This gave rise to a lot of confusion as to who knew what when about the misinformation surrounding the “children overboard” affair.

Halton received a phone call during a taskforce meeting from a defence wallah concerning the children in the water. From there someone passed it onto then immigration minister Philip Ruddock, and before you could say “election”, reffos were chucking their kiddies into the sea.

There was a nasty clash at a senate inquiry when Halton’s evidence was contradicted by other officials who said there was nothing to back up claims the children had been deliberately put in harm’s way by asylum seekers.

Misinformation, disinformation… no matter. The whole charade was a winner for the Howard people who went on to increase their majority at the election the following month.

Fresh controversies have followed. Recently, Halton apologised for offering a confused case for hundreds of millions of dollars being splashed on a new Canberra office building and even more “confusion” that the finance people had failed to mention that the shuffle of departments between different buildings on one estimate would leave the Department of Environment paying $120 million a year in rent.

What a cunning way to bleed those bleeding hearts dry.

The adjunct prof also dismissed any thought of the cardigan-wearers in finance being exiled to a building in Siberia south of Canberra – even though the Commonwealth is paying for swaths of empty office space in Tuggeranong. “We have to also acknowledge that it is not an option for finance to be in Tuggeranong,” she told a public works committee earlier this year. “We were up here [Parliament House] four times yesterday, and it is in-out, in-out, in-out all the time.”

1 . A letter from Dad

I feel such a heel for having a go last week at Craig Thomson, who is carving out a new career as a bauxite salesman in China.

No sooner had the paper come off the presses than Gadfly was besieged with complaints by members of the Thomson fan club.

The same thing happened whenever a hack wrote anything about Schapelle Corby – immediately it set off convulsions by a chorus of nutters saying that the “mainstream meeja” was responsible for the lass’s incarceration.

One missive this week came from Jack Thomson, who claimed to be Craig’s father. It’s hard to know if this is an elaborate wheeze. Anyway, Jack is disappointed with Gadfly. The whole case against his son was a massive stitch-up and he’s written an account of “the criminalisation of Craig”. It has a catchy title: “The Criminal Prosecution of Craig Thomson – an Australian political conspiracy to rival the injustices imposed on Alfred Dreyfus from 1894 to 1906 in France; and on Lindy and Michael Chamberlain from 1980 to 2012 in Australia.”

Not only is Jack disappointed in Gadfly, but also in magistrate Charles Rozencwajg, who originally sentenced the former Labor MP to three months’ pokey for defrauding the Health Services Union of $24,000. The madge said Craig showed no remorse but, as Jack says, “how can a person show remorse for actions which he had not committed?”

The clear impression is that there has been a dreadful misunderstanding, and Craig is not the hooker-besotted scallywag you think he is.

As for civil proceedings brought by the Fair Work Commission to recover $243,000 from the bauxite salesman – best not to mention it.

On appeal from his criminal conviction his counsel, the wily Greg James, came up with the angle that when Thommo withdrew cash from his union credit card, the money was the property of the banks, not the HSU.

Consequently, 49 charges of misappropriating union funds were dismissed, but he went down on 13 theft charges. Victorian County Court judge Carolyn Douglas made comments that Jack and others would regard as unfair and gratuitous, including that the offender had “clearly deceived his employer”. The jail term was swapped for a $25,000 fine.

I hope Jack has emailed the judge to straighten out her thinking.

2 . No bubble trouble

It’s a relief to know the secretary of the treasury and the governor of the Reserve Bank don’t know what they’re talking about, because contrary to their Cassandra-like utterances, we’re not in
a housing price bubble.

Last weekend’s Catholic Boys Weekly, occasionally referred to as The Australian, gave it all a rosy gloss: “Safe as houses: retiring Boomers rekindle love affair with bricks and mortar.” Another authoritative article was headlined, “Don’t confuse price rise with bubble, say key property players.”

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

Grizzled economist Henry Ergas also chipped-in his two bob’s worth on the current price frenzy: “The risks are therefore more in the nature of possibilities than of immediate realities.”


This all links up nicely with the government’s property boosterism and Jolly Joe Hockey Sticks’ campaign for citizens to get jobs with fat pay cheques so they can keep borrowing.

As the treasurer put it with his trademark finesse, anyone who criticises the magnificence of the Australian economy is a “clown”.

3 . George’s rhymes have no reason

There was Bookshelves Brandis rather self-consciously reading a volume of Australian bush poems at a senate committee hearing. “I find it very easy to read and listen to senate estimates at the same time,” the AG announced as he mused his way with pursed lips through The Wild Colonial Boy.

It’s unlikely he borrowed the volume from the Australian Council library, because it has now been closed. The savings will help keep the show afloat now that the Yarts Minister has filched the council’s funding for Gilbert & Sullivan productions and André Rieu concerts in marginal Liberal seats.

4 . Freedom Boy’s bob each way

Were you confused by Freedom Boy’s oration to Sydney’s Henderson Institute on Tuesday night, Father Gerard presiding?

Appropriately, this essay in search of a meaning was published in The Daily Smellograph. A couple of contortions stood out.

Freedom Boy doesn’t want us to have the freedom of human rights legislation because then judges and courts would become “arbiters over public policy”. But he’s got a bob each way on the government’s citizen-stripping plans. He sympathises with the “overall objective”, but says it should be up to the courts to decide who to strip – that is, judges doing policy work.

Frankly, life would be a lot simpler if we did away with the courts and let proper elected people, such as the Institute of Paid Advocacy, decide public policy.

Another fascinating thought bubble from the Boy is the idea that government debt is contrary to the Magna Carta and that we’re somehow in breach of an 800-year-old “law”.

Intergenerational debt, without an intergenerational dividend, according to Timbo, amounts to a compulsory acquisition of “the private property and income of future generations without their consent”.

King John is still at it – he’s just turned into Tony Abbott. No wonder the barons are furious.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 13, 2015 as "Gadfly: Overboard professor now AO-kay".

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

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