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

Tweet that dare not speak its name

There’s been dismay at Q&A’s mindless and distracting stream of twittering.

One tweet in particular on Monday stood out from the torrent, with the Twitter handle: @AbbottLovesAnal.

Shock filled the air. Soon after, the Member for Goldman Sachs was visibly distressed, the PM declared the program was “out of control”, and the public broadcaster issued the traditional grovels.

It didn’t take much to call to mind Tony Windsor, because he was also on the panel. Windsor distinctly remembers a conversation he had with a desperate Tony Abbott, in the negotiations to see whether Abbott or Gillard would become PM after the resultless election of 2010.

The independent MP recalls the then leader of the opposition positively begging and saying he would do anything to get the crown:

“The only thing I wouldn’t do is sell my arse,” he told Windsor. “But I’d have to give serious thought to it.”

1 . Quiet achiever

While in the general province of dead-in-the-water politicians, I note with sadness Monday’s state funeral, in Melbourne’s newly chic Thornbury, for Frank “Fubb” Wilkes.

Frank was a figure in the Victorian Labor Party and at one stage leader of the state opposition. His achievements are not cemented in too many minds and indeed some may have got the impression that he was an undistinguished time-server, unable to provide much of a challenge to the Liberal’s smooth operator Dick Hamer.

Why the nickname “Fubb”?, Gadfly inquired of Yarraside political experts. At the risk of sounding like a session with Mark Latham at a literary festival, Fubb is short for “Fucked-Up Beyond Belief”.

Fubb beat John Cain jnr for the plum seat of Northcote but, as with the Mafia, junior Cain waited 14 years until he prised the leadership out of Fubb’s grip to go on to become premier.

Wilkes also spent 24 years dominating affairs at the Northcote council, but was too busy in Spring Street to grab the mayoral chain. In keeping with tradition, Fubb’s daughter, Helen, did a barely noticed four years in the upper house.

2 . Bracket creeps

There’s been an outburst of national confidence following Jolly Joe Hockey Sticks’ remarks to a bunch of accountants that the rich pay too much tax and that something should be done about “bracket creep”.

GST “reform”, i.e. increase, is still on the table as a way of helping people with their income tax, and the government wants a “mature” debate about the whole thing.

Enter Maurice Newman, the PM’s business adviser who, in a jaw-dropping contribution to The Catholic Boys Daily this week, said that the proposed 50 per cent increase in the GST had not been accompanied by any thinking about the consequences. For instance, Maurice warned, the Japanese increased sales tax by 60 per cent, which resulted in a national recession. It’s hard to know whether global cooling also had a role to play.

Actually, the real thrust of Newman’s article was that crazy lefty journalists think that Abbott’s appeal is limited to “a dwindling base of heartless, greedy, right-wing, racist, misogynistic, homophobic reactionaries”.

The courtier with the brilliantined comb-over says we should guard against too much compassion and fairness, because that equates with “state-sponsored confiscation of other people’s money”.

You can’t get a much more mature contribution than that.

3 . Lych King

Meanwhile, over in Hockey Sticks’ territory of Hunters Hill there is no sign of bracket creep wiping out anyone.

Jolly Joe himself has just installed an impressive new gateway to his residential property, which rejoices in the name Te Roma. It is a lychgate, one of those affairs with a pitched roof over the entrance in the wall.

Intriguingly, the word lych evolved from the Saxon word for corpse. One historical source says that the corpse and pallbearers would shelter under the lychgate’s pitched roof while waiting for the priest who would then mumble prayers and incantations.

I hope none of this has unhappy omens for Jolly Joe.

About a kilometre away from Joe’s gaff in Woolwich Road lies Stanley Street, where we find Lyndcote, the spacious residence of David Murray, former CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, carbon enthusiast and fundraiser for Jolly Joe.

Coming in the wake of street closures in Auburn for the big brassy wedding of deputy mayor Salim Mehajer, we find the partial closure of Stanley Street while Murray fixes his 70-metre long stone wall.

Half the street has turned into a worksite with building materials and Portaloo facilities for teams of masons and craftsmen.

Mercifully, this arrangement saves disturbance to Dave’s front lawn.

Not to be overlooked in the neighbourhood redevelopment stakes is Sam Guo’s Hunter’s Hill estate, Windermere, for which preliminary plans have been submitted to the council.

Sam wants improvements to his heritage-listed spread, including a few more columns and arches, restored pavilions and the like. Not everyone is happy, least of all Sam, whom Hockey recently dobbed in for alleged breach of foreign investment rules.

The final bit of news from the borough is that there’s been a fair amount of tree lopping and removal under a state government approved land-clearing code. Again, not everyone is happy, but as Harry Triguboff so graphically reminded us: “If you want trees, go to Katoomba.”

4 . Mandatory retention

With investors ditching their shares in offshore detention centre operator Transfield Services, it is heartening to see company chairwoman Diane Smith-Gander doing her level best to come up with a blistering response: “Transfield stands by its standards of governance.” 

Industry super funds HESTA and UniSuper have now been joined by the money managers for private school teachers, all of which have dumped their shares in Transfield Services on “moral grounds”.

Reports in the financial press also indicate that funds manager Allan Gray is reviewing its investment in the company in light of apparent sexual and human rights abuses.

Transfield Services operates the mandatory detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru. The contract period is coming to an end but already the company is sufficiently confident of a renewed period of management that it has sent an “optimisation group” to the Manus Regional Processing Centre looking for cost savings that can be made under the new contract.

Actually, the PR effort of the company is woeful. In Gadfly’s experience questions rarely get an adequate response from the flack merchants, or any response at all.

Maybe executives are confined by the same media policy workers at the detention centres are required to sign, preventing them from showing sympathy or support for causes opposed to offshore processing. This has been taken to extending to staff members “liking” a refugee or asylum seeker on Facebook.

When Transfield Services was asked about this, Gadfly got a “No comment”.

5 . The Fundcracker

The ABC has given a lukewarm response to the Tony Jones-backed idea of a mini-series about the adventures of former Labor attorney-general and High Court judge Lionel Murphy.

This is a great shame and is attributed to managements’ political skittishness and desire not to do anything that attracts the wrath of the Abbott government and its claqueurs in the media.

If the producers of this fascinating project instead switched their minds to an opera or ballet simply called Brandis, I’m sure Aunty would be all over it with lashings of cash.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 29, 2015 as "Gadfly: Tweet that dare not speak its name".

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

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