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

Gina courts more drama

Hard on the heels of the Australian Story PR assault, details have emerged of Gina Rinehart’s latest courtroom foray. 

This time it’s an action against Channel Nine and Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder over the two-parter, House of Hancock

Gina dropped the defamation action and is concentrating on claims in injurious falsehood, misleading or deceptive conduct and privacy. 

Tom Blackburn, SC, has saddled up for Gina, while Matthew Richardson is holding Nine’s hand and Sandy Dawson CJZ’s. 

It’s good to know just where House of Hancock went wrong and Gina’s pleading shows us the way. Her statement of claim was accompanied by an affidavit sworn in Paris.

For episode one she cited the following “falsehoods”: that Hancock Prospecting controlled “more ore deposits than any other company, any other country in the world”; that Lang Hancock had a propensity to cheat at tennis; that Hope Hancock had blonde hair; that Frank Rinehart was the same age as Lang Hancock; that Lang used profanities (“I’ve had to climb up the bums of politicians” … “I won’t piss on him if he’s on fire” … “It’s none of your fucking business”) in front of his daughter and made defamatory comments about her husband Frank; that Gina was disloyal and inconsiderate of Lang’s needs; that she discussed her husband’s disbarment as a lawyer and tax problems with Lang; that Frank was a greedy and opportunistic person who married Gina for money and did not love her; that they had a “garish wedding”; that she chose to honeymoon overseas when her mother’s death was imminent; that she was involved with and supported Lang’s dealings with the Romanian government; that Rose Porteous regularly made and was required to deliver Gina’s dinner; that Lang called his daughter “a slothful, vindictive, devious, baby elephant”. 

There is another pile of complaints about episode two, including: Mrs Rinehart was never in a limousine with her “formally dressed” children who were drinking champagne and talking about their wealth. 

The quicker the Supreme Court of NSW brings these falsehoods to heel the happier we’ll all feel. 

1 . Call for lip service in lecher’s lecture

Here’s a quiz question for keen followers of legal and political affairs. Which visiting professor to one of the world’s great law schools recently said this to a young female student: “Why don’t you close your laptop and kiss me?” 

2 . All that glisters… 

In real estate news I see that Victorian Liberal Party wheeler-dealer Michael Kroger, celebrated squeeze to Dame Janet Albrechtsen, has his Prahran manor house on the market, seeking more than $3 million. 

It’s decked out exquisitely in classic Tory taste – lots of mirrors, gilding, chandeliers, a cream dining room and even a snap of the bedroom replete with plumped pillows, all looking anally neat. 

And this is after he flogged off his massive collection of Napoleonic knick-knacks: marble clocks, candelabra, imperial eagles, gilded mirrors by the truckload, and jewel-encrusted credenzas. 

I’d bet that Bronwyn “Kero” Bishop’s gaff would have much the same interior design touches. 

What is it about conservatives and love of frou-frou? Alan Jones’s pad in the Toaster has mirrors galore and his cushions are embroidered with lashings of gold trimmings. 

I suspect Godwin Grech – friend to Malcolm Turnbull and his former footman Chris Kenny – may have had a hand in the Gilded Tassel school of interior fusion, picking up the latest trends in Russian oligarch style. When Godwin put his Canberra house on the market a few years ago, prospective purchasers had to wear sunglasses as they inspected the property, such was the glare from the gold encrustations and various clocks.

3 . Joe out of pocket from costly action

Delving deeper into property news, I’m delighted to report that Hockeys Real Estate on Sydney’s north shore has heard Gadfly’s lament and got the testimonials page on its website up to speed.

“Pricing structure was transparent ... I could leave [to you] letting the cleaner in ... Fantastic service ... Look forward to doing business with you again.” 

If only the same could be said to kinfolk “Jolly” Joe Hockey Sticks, whose outcome in his “Treasurer for Sale” defamation case is looking like the cleaners have been let in. 

On Wednesday, the Federal Court ordered that Hockey pay 85 per cent of his own legal costs for the case, with Fairfax stumping up the balance. He was lucky not to be ordered to pay Fairfax’s costs for the 85 per cent of the case he lost. 

Unfortunately, here the “pricing structure” proved not to be terribly transparent for Joe, because now, conservatively, he’s deeply under water on the money, even after Fairfax pays him damages with interest. 

There are various estimates on this, of course, depending on the size of his lawyers’ bill. But authorities in the defamation litigation business estimate that he’s at least $300,000 worse off than he was before he started on this voyage of reputation restoration. From the date of the costs’ orders there is now a 21-day period in which an appeal can be lodged. 

Joe, clinging to the wreckage, gurgled, “I do not regret taking this action.” 

4 . Tete-a-tete for two Georges

What was Bookshelves Brandis doing in Rome, holed up in a chinwag with George Pell, the Ballarat boy made good, or not-so-good, depending on where you’re standing? 

There has been conjecture that Bookshelves was briefing the cardinal about what he might expect from his forthcoming turn at the royal commission into child sexual abuse. 

Bookshelves being one of those DLP-flavoured Catholics littering the frontbench, may have just wanted to soak up spiritual guidance from Pell, rather that giving solace to any of the church’s victims. 

The meeting was put together by John McCarthy, QC, our ambassador to the Holy See and a devoted Pellite.

A while back he arranged another memorable meeting – a special Rome mass for a batch of visiting Australian barristers, attending an important tax-deductible conference and learning experience. 

Ambassador McCarthy led the faithful briefs into a beautiful old Vatican church to be sermonised by an Irish-Texan named Cardinal Burke

It soon became apparent that Burkie was from the Old School, with a sermon about the evils of abortion, the beastly ways of homosexuals and the empowering force of marriage for life. 

This latter was a bit too much for some of the briefs who, over the years, had themselves strayed from the path set out in their wedding vows. 

They shuffled towards the door and out into the sunlight with Burke’s fire and brimstone trailing behind them.

5 . When Harris met Andy

6 .  

Any number of superannuated hacks are on stand-by to review ABC editorial standards. The latest recruit is former Melbourne newspaper man Steve Harris, who has been recruited by Aunty to examine its reporting of Poodles Pyne’s brilliant, flawed and failed “reform” of tertiary education funding. 

The national broadcaster didn’t announce this review and hasn’t yet released Harris’s findings. 

Also under way is the probe by TV celebrity Ray Martin into the internal workings of Q&A. However, Harris brings special gifts to the task, being the person significantly responsible for launching onto an unsuspecting public the punditry of Dutch philosopher Andreas Bolt

At the time, Stevie Wonder was editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times group. He said to Bolt that “there’s no shortage of people filling the left-hand side, but there’s a shortage of people of the Right”. 

The Dutchman replied, according to a report in The Monthly, “Yes, there is a shortage in that area, maybe I can help fill that space.” 

And filling space has been his mission ever since. 

Stevie went on to become executive director of the Centre for Leadership and Public Interest at Swinburne – which is devoted to “developing research, teaching and public engagement strategies to broaden and deepen conversations and knowledge about leadership and public interest matters”. 

As Cole Porter once said, “If a Harris pat means a Paris hat, hooray.”

7 . View of the summit

What do we make of the politician-free “national reform summit” being stitched together by The Australian Financial Review and The Catholic Boys Daily?

First of all, this attempt to save the nation’s economy won’t be any good unless Maurice Newman, one of the Daily’s essayists, is a keynote speaker. 

It’s a relief that at least Nick “Train Crash” Cater from the Liberal Party’s “think” tank is helping to co-ordinate the event. The mission is to fill the yarning gap left open by the Abbott government’s bumbling economic skills. It’s gratifying that a couple of hacks, both adherents to flat-earth economic nostrums and in charge of tissues with declining influence, are trying to grasp the initiative in taking the nation forward.

There was a spooky photograph last weekend of the two editors, Michael Stutchbury (AFR) and Chris Mitchell (Daily), weirdly clenching their fists and grinning maniacally. The media equivalent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. 

Mitchell, looking more and more like a burst kransky, said: “I don’t think there would be a cigarette paper of difference between Stutch and me when it comes to the economy.”  

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 25, 2015 as "Gadfly: Gina courts more drama".

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

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