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

A law student unto herself

Princess Bronwyn has done her level best to keep us spellbound with amusing antics and explanations about her travel arrangements. 

It seems secret discussions in Albury on work-life balance are about as plausible as the old kerosene enthusiast’s shifting explanations for her academic record. There’s a pattern here. Reaching for David Leser’s authoritative biography, Bronwyn Bishop: A Woman in Pursuit of Power, we find this:

“How was it that Bishop never graduated [in law] with the class of ’65? What kind of student was she? Her own explanation is that marriage intervened. ‘I actually didn’t take my degree because I got married instead,’ she told the Australian Magazine in March 1989. In 1993 she told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘I think I missed a few subjects. Lots of people did, you know.’

“Bishop failed a total of 11 subjects over six years. In her first year, in 1960, she failed all four subjects and was required to repeat the year. She then passed the next three years before stumbling once more in 1964 when she failed all four subjects again. In 1965 she repeated those same four subjects but ended up failing three of them. The university had a rule at the time that a student had to show cause why he or she should be allowed to repeat for a third time. Bronwyn Setright was deemed ineligible to continue.”

Leser added: “After leaving Sydney University, Bishop had used the 11 subjects she did pass as credits for the Solicitors’ Admission Board, completed her articles and was admitted to practice in 1967.”

One source reports that Old Kero inveigled herself onto the organising committee of the law school reunion dinners that are held every 10 years for those who graduated the year she should have, if she hadn’t got married, or missed a few subjects – or whatever.

1 . Tales from the crypt

Naturally, tall tales and true that have been bottled for years are now uncorked and pouring forth about the loveable Beehive.

I’m told by a well-placed political observer that there was a terrible tizz when Ms Bishop caught her heel in a kerbside drainage grille as she stepped from the Commonwealth limousine outside her Canberra digs.

Authorities soon saw to it that white painted lines appeared on the gutter outside her apartment so drivers could avoid another episode of “Heelgate”.

And Gadfly himself had a moving experience in the days when Bronwyn was making a name for herself as a senator. There was a private din-dins at which the princess and Michael Kirby were both present – food flowed, wine was quaffed, chat got animated and soon music came from the gramophone player, maybe it was Ray Conniff or “Moonglow” from the Norman Luboff Choir.

In any event, your Gadfly soon found himself swaying around the dance floor in a swoon with the alluring senator.

There were a few moments when our bodies pressed carelessly together in an intoxicating cloud of lavender parfum. Nonetheless, the scent could not erase the memory that it was like dancing with a pineapple on toothpicks.  

2 . Going overboard over sexism claims

All should be well with the Department of Finance investigation into Old Kero’s alleged travel rorts.

As Julian Burnside observed on Twitter: “Funny how an armed robber can’t avoid conviction just by handing back the money. But Bronny is special.”

The person ultimately responsible for the official inquiry is departmental secretary Jane (Children Overboard) Halton. She got a nice tickle-up last week in this paper where Chris Wallace reported Halton at a “Women in Focus” cocktail party in Canberra saying that Bronwyn’s “Choppergate” was an example of sexist double standards – if the speaker had been a man, it’s unlikely to have been a story. This was about 48 hours before Halton’s department was saddled with investigating the joy flight.

Halton also did the Howard era Liberals a big favour by keeping relevantly shtum about the children overboard affair.

It’s pleasing to note that Ms Halton is a member of the advisory board of the Canberra-based Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, sitting alongside Bali Nine dobber Mick Keelty.

3 . Following Phil

Clearly the father of the house should step up and take the mantle as speaker
of the house. Philip Ruddock is positioning himself for the task, having taken to Twitter in a marketing campaign without equal.

It was particularly fetching to see the old man had posted his most recent weekly Fitbit report: total steps 99,944, over a distance of 69.26 kilometres and 98 floors climbed. For the record, Phil burned a total of 17,875 calories in the week.

But, as he explained, he was having trouble with his work-life balance – “too many meetings and hours on a plane”.

The Unbraided Whip has really taken to social media. There are old pictures of him in a safari suit showing an inordinate amount of hairy cleavage, campaigning in Parramatta, playing snooker with Billy Sneddon, topless at a Young Libs Hawaiian night and more recently hanging out in Australia House with Lord Downer.

If anyone is looking for early 1970s Liberal Party photographic shockers, head to @philipruddockmp.

4 . Worker drones or spies in the sky?

Amazon, the massive online shopping mall, has come up with a plan for masses of sophisticated drones to fly robotically in a defined corridor 60 to 120 metres from the surface of the Earth.

In this way the company hopes to deliver its parcels within 30 minutes of an item being ordered by a customer. At the moment there are about 85,000 conventional air flights a day in the United States – commercial, cargo, military and general. Amazon thinks that within a decade there will be many more than that number in the form of unmanned drones zipping about at low levels, carrying everything from personal grooming kits to copies of Go Set a Watchman.

The other benefits that are pitched are less car pollution and traffic.

While the new tomorrow is being heralded by Amazon, in Melbourne worthies from Liberty Victoria are more concerned about the harmful impact of drones and their ability to snoop on people.

Why, only recently a semi-naked woman was snapped in her backyard by a drone, used by a Melbourne real estate agent, and inadvertently plastered on a billboard advertising the sale of the house next door.

The Yarraside Liberty organisation, which comprises many lawyers, naturally wants people to be able have remedies for “harmful surveillance” by drones. There was a panel discussion on this topic on Wednesday night hosted by Colin Biggers & Paisley, whose Sydney namesake used to be the Obeids’ favourite law shop.

Refreshments at the conclusion of Wednesday’s discussion were provided by Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering.

Liberty also sent its drones policy plan to Attorney-General George Brandis, but it appears to have slipped down the back of his mega bookshelf.

5 . Clasping his briefs

While we’re in Bookshelf territory, the better part of Tuesday in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was taken up with an application by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus seeking access to the AG department’s incoming ministerial brief for the new attorney, G. Brandis “QC”.

It had been the practice in Labor’s period to release what are known as incoming government briefs. These give a rundown of the issues facing the department and how the new minister’s election promises (if any) can be managed.

For some reason Bookshelves and the department have regarded his briefing as a massive state secret and refuse to release it. Dreyfus sought access under freedom of information, and the information commissioner said some of the information should be released, but now that decision is the subject of an appeal before Justice Annabelle Bennett.

Deputy secretary Tony Sheehan took the stand and was asked why the department’s attitude to disclosure changed after the 2013 election. The answer – there will be great harm if the document is released.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 1, 2015 as "Gadfly: A law student unto herself".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

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

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on September 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.