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

Santa’s little helpers

The great wide open ad-free spaces of The Catholic Boys Daily have been filled of late with barrel loads of ink from Grouper Greg and Grouper Gerard and their fascinating personal tales in the orbit of that strange little gnome B. A. Santamaria.

I dimly remember Santa on the black-and-white telly with his staccato delivery and his charts showing the downward gravitational thrust of communists into the convents of Australia, where surely they would carry off all the nuns. It was around the same time Graham Kennedy was saying “faaaark” on Channel Nine.

Grouper Gerard gives some moving personal insights. He had trouble on what to call his great charismatic inspiration. “I never felt I should address Santamaria as Bob. However, I also felt too acquainted to refer to him as Mr Santamaria. So I managed to avoid salutations when talking to him until 1975, after which we never spoke again.”

That’s one way to solve the salutation problem.

Then we turn over to the Review section of the paper, where a few more pages, undisturbed by advertising, are given over to Peter Craven’s critique of Grouper Greg’s tome, When We Were Young and Foolish.

It starts off like this: “What on earth can anyone say about Greg Sheridan? On a good day he is a staggering journalist, confounding everyone’s prejudices…”

It gets better: “He amazes left liberals when they see him on ABC’s Q&A talking the lingo of liberty like a champion.”

There’s more: “Sheridan is superb…”

I could read no more as there was an urgent call to visit the bathroom.

1 . Union movements

However, there was one extract from the book that caught a colleague’s eye and he passed it on to me for further consideration. His interest in the work must have been whetted by Ticky Fullerton’s incredibly forensic gross-examination of Grouper Greg on the ABC’s Lateline.

It’s the story of how corporate money was being pumped into union elections. Sheridan referred to Senator Jack Kane, a hoary old warrior of the Movement, who later ran something called Industrial Data – an insider newsletter spilling the beans on union politics.

Businesses paid handsomely for subscriptions and Industrial Data was basically a fundraiser for Santamaria’s campaigns for right-wing cronies to get control of unions. In other words it was
a slush fund.

Occasionally, Grouper Greg would write anonymously for the newsletter, and Grouper Abbott did as well.

So, here we have the PM, even in a tangential way, raising money from businesses to fund right-wingers in union elections. The aim was to deliver unions into the hands of business-friendly operatives, who could then act against the interests of the members they were supposed to represent.

Didn’t Bill Shorten get into strife for doing something along these lines?

2 . Oz clears its nostrums

Let this be the last mention of The Catholic Boys Daily, at least for this week. Tuesday’s paper brought us a front-page story about Australian-born telomere pioneer Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine.

Blackburn was on the stump in Australia explaining how healthy telomeres help ward off ageing and disease – subjects about which readers of the Daily would be vitally concerned.

All sorts of crackpot remedies have sprung up online, promising to slow the ageing process.

The paper quoted the prof as saying: “There’s no magic pill to push telomere maintenance, because the indications are that it will push you into disease, particularly cancer. There’s mushrooms [being advertised] online and I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.”

The next day one of the most wonderful corrections ever published appeared on page two: “A report in The Australian incorrectly quoted Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn referring to the use of ‘mushrooms’ to maintain DNA-protecting protein complexes. Professor Blackburn was in fact referring to ‘nostrums’, meaning dubious medicines prepared by unqualified people.”

3 . Hoisting their colours high

Friends returning from overseas are gasping in amazement at the new uniforms of the Australian Border Force, the organisation that was recently “God blessed” three times by the Bishop of Forestville, Father Abbott, as he sent them on their way to protect and defend our sovereignty.

Those black shirts and trousers, designed by Dirty Dutton, are a real fright. Maybe they are of the darkest, deepest blue – at least the nearest thing to black the former Queensland copper can get away with.

The best that can be said for them is that the shirts are not brown.

I notice that the head of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Mike Pezzullo is in step with the minister. He’s provided advice on dress requirements for his staff, ruling out “onesies, ugg boots, thongs, jeans torn and otherwise”.

4 . Debate lights up

Tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris is fighting hard to rake back money from the Australian government it claims it has lost due to plain packaging of its cancer sticks.

It has brought proceedings under an investor-state dispute settlement procedure, which is part of a treaty between Australia and Hong Kong, where the tobacco giant has based the headquarters for its Asian operations.

Case law, precedent and previous decisions of the High Court are out the window here. This is one of those corporate-driven mechanisms to overturn domestic law and sovereignty and which will also be part and parcel of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and various other trade agreements.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan has already given evidence to one of the closed-door arbitral sessions, conducted in Singapore.

One person in attendance, having been called as a Philip Morris witness, was the substantial figure of HH Ian (The Tub) Callinan, the Howard government’s “Capital C” conservative on the High Court. He was giving evidence to the arbitrators on “administrative law”.

5 . Strange bedfellows

The Danish consensus thinker and “sceptical environmentalist” Bjørn Lomborg is still on the hunt for an Australian partner.

He must still have the government’s $4 million jingling in his trousers, now that Flinders University knocked back the opportunity to host his “consensus centre”.

Through a freedom of information request by Guardian Australia it was discovered that the centre was required, under its now scrapped arrangement with the University of Western Australia, to spend up to $800,000 of its government funding on promotion and marketing and up to $2 million on “events”.

Anyway, the hunt for a home goes on. At one point, Bjørn even reached out to The Australia Institute, the progressive and delightfully green think tank based in Canberra.

He got in touch with the institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss wanting to discuss an alliance between the two outfits.

Where is Bjørn getting his grasp of Australian politics and who’s advising the poor fellow?

The idea that The Australia Institute and the “consensus centre” would become bedfellows was doomed even before the pillows were fluffed up.

6 . Closed encounters

A night out for Gadfly in the shimmering Emerald City. First to the Seymour Centre for a stage production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. And what a genuinely wonderful production it was from the Sport for Jove Theatre Company. Let’s hope Bookshelves dips into his culture slush fund and gives them a decent leg-up.

Then, what does the global city have to offer for a bite afterwards? The Argentinians at Porteño were open so in we popped in for a steak. Sorry, the kitchen closed at 10pm. You can have pudding, but all the mains are off.

Goodness me. In Buenos Aires they don’t start getting ready to go out for dinner until well after 10pm, so if word of this crept back to the mother country there’d be hell to pay.

What about The Norfolk hotel across the other side of Cleveland Street? It has “crabs … crabs … crabs” plastered all over the outside of the establishment – presumably referring to food.

“Sorry, luv, the kitchen closed at 10.” What about a hamburger at the bar with a beer? “No. Food’s finished for the night.” A pub that doesn’t flip a hamburger after 10pm – that’s sophistication for you.

The only place within cooee that looked as though some sort of morsels were available was Fatima’s, the old Lebanese place that’s been there for a hundred years. A decent falafel roll could be had standing at the counter, alongside a few ice addicts playing pocket billiards. One of them was wearing a sweatshirt that said “Security”.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 8, 2015 as "Gadfly: Santa’s little helpers".

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

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