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

Bishop and her pawns

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop is one of those unfortunate creatures who, when she smiles, appear even more frightening than in straight-faced mode.

There she was on Q&A looking like one of the Ugly Sisters to Gillian Triggs’ Cinderella, with millionaire newDemocracy founder Luca Belgiorno-Nettis at her side.

Bishop disagreed with every moderate and sensible view on the panel, in that menacing way the hard right of the Nasty Party has perfected.

After telling Triggs that she shouldn’t disagree with the government, there was a tiny cuddly moment when Ms Bishop let rip with her alligator grin, saying she’d known Belgiorno-Nettis for 40 or 50 years, “mainly through the arts where we agree on many things”.

Instantly, you knew there was trouble ahead. Luca was promptly told by Bishop not to interrupt, and that she didn’t want to be told by “a selected group” what to think.

She prefers the tyranny of the majority to Luca’s newDemocracy’s citizen juries.

The speaker did a splendid job protecting the dignity of the house by ramming down the throats of citizens the government’s stock standard line on refugees and keeping us safe from terror. It’s a miracle she didn’t apply the standing orders to have Bret Walker, Gillian Triggs and Belgiorno-Nettis all removed for talking.

1 . Team Hockey

Gadfly is trying to get a comment from Colin Hockey on the state of Sydney’s north shore real estate market.

Colin is the principal of Hockeys, the St Leonards-based estate agency with close biological links to the federal treasurer, Jolly Joe Hockey Sticks.

Colin says he “has an incredible passion for real estate”, so why isn’t he ringing back so he can confirm we’re not in a property bubble and all you need is a hugely well-paid job to get into the market?

Hockeys has a whole heap of other Hockeys working in the shop. There’s Michael Hockey, who looks very senior, the business development manager Karl Hockey, in regulation real estate pink shirt with white collar, and young marketing guru Mitch Hockey.

If I were Mitch, I wouldn’t go outside with that suspicious-looking beard. It’s enough to get his citizenship Duttoned. 

2 . For some, Singer’s views are off-key

The sainted Peter Singer has been in a bit of an ethical dust-up with John Gray, who has the enviable title of emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.

It began when, in The New York Review of Books, Gray analysed Singer’s latest work, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically.

The moral philosopher cites various examples of effective altruism, such as Aaron Moore, an Australian international aid worker and artist, who found that although he didn’t own a house or car, he was in the top 1 per cent of humans by income. He sold and gave away his possessions and was left just with the clothes he was wearing.

There was real estate multimillionaire Zell Kravinsky who gave almost his entire fortune to charity. Feeling he hadn’t done enough he threw in one of his kidneys.

There is also Julia Wise, who believes, “every dollar she spends is taken out of the hands of someone who needs it more than she does”. She also asks herself when shopping whether she needs ice-cream as much as a woman living in poverty.

Singer quotes an email from a student who had “bit the utilitarian bullet” and anonymously gave his right kidney to whoever could use it the most. He got the idea during an ethics class (but not one of Singer’s). 

Yet, there’s no applause from Gray, who wrote that while “It may be that some good can come from effective altruism … a life shaped by a thin, universal benevolence is an unattractive prospect.”

He concluded that Singer’s movement can be expected to pass into history as an example of the follies of philosophy.

Back came Singer, writing from both Melbourne and Princeton universities, to rebut Gray’s claims. Apparently the footnotes point to two fuller works, because The Most Good You Can Do is for the general reader.

Singer says that in spite of “Gray’s apparent familiarity with the book” he does not say that it addresses, at length, the very deficiency he finds, namely the rational foundation of utilitarianism.

As if Singer hasn’t got enough on his plate, disability activists are demanding his resignation from Princeton because of his support for euthanasia and infanticide of newborn babies with serious handicaps. As he says: “Killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.”

3 . Class acts

It’s been a frantic week for Gadfly, attending celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act and a day or so later being empanelled on a discussion about the future of ICAC.

Meat and potatoes all around.

The 40th birthday party for the RDA also doubled as the launch of Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane’s book I’m Not Racist But…It was fascinating, with politicians of all stripes herded into the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney’s Macquarie Street. Most intriguing was millionaire pub-owning Liberal MP Craig Laundy, the member for Reid, the second most ethnically diverse electorate in Australia.

Maybe Craig wants to keep his seat in parliament but, whatever the reason, he was a staunch opponent of crackpot schemes to either amend or abolish section 18C of the act. He told the gathering that his “door is always open to Gillian Triggs”.

This is definitely not Nasty Party policy and it is expected that soon Bronwyn Bishop will have to smile at him.

There was also a reminder that it was as a result of the High Court upholding the Racial Discrimination Act, with the support of the Fraser government, that constitutional breakthroughs were made with the Mabo and the Franklin Dam cases.

And in the middle of all this excitement was Freedom Boy Tim Wilson, who had made it his mission in life to defenestrate 18C. It was the first time I’ve seen the Boy in the flesh and until then I actually thought he was a virtual creation that could be projected onto TV screens for bursts of intense babble or whose computerised stream of consciousness was dropped onto newsprint.

But, no, he’s really real.

4 . In praise of ICAC

Kicking off the ICAC forum was an explanation of the nuts and bolts of the High Court’s thinking in ICAC v Cunneen by the remarkable young barrister Rebecca Gall, who did much of the heavy lifting for the respondent’s winning outcome.

Other panellists, including the former NSW DPP Nicholas Cowdery and president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks, thought ICAC was a jolly good thing and life wouldn’t be the same without it.

It was generally agreed that the campaign of denigration conducted against ICAC by Lord Moloch’s mouthpieces was ample reason, in itself, to believe the corruption fighter must be doing something right.

5 . The House of Murdoch

While on the subject of the Moloch empire, you may have noticed reshuffling in the senior ranks to accommodate the Murdoch sons as presumptive top dogs.

James Murdoch takes over from Pop as chief executive of 21st Century Fox, while Lachlan and Rupert share the jobs of executive chairmen of both News Corp and Fox.

You can never have enough Murdochs at the top. After the board approved the shuffle, old Lord Moloch put out an announcement saying, “Lachlan and James are each talented and accomplished executives…” blah, blah.

This left people scratching their heads wondering whether it was an “accomplishment” for James to take his eye off the ball and allow the hacking culture at News International in England to blow up the business.

In return Lachlan and James announced they were “both humbled by the opportunity to lead”. Presumably not as humble as Lord Moloch when he appeared before the Commons inquiry into his company’s criminal behaviour.

According to Murdoch’s biographer Michael Wolff, former chief operating officer of Fox News Peter Chernin referred to the two heirs as “the cretins”.  


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

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

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