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

Brough justice

Our hearts go out to Mal Brough, who has had a rough week. It was bad enough his memory failed him about answers he gave last year to 60 Minutes, where he was pressed on whether he’d got his hands on Slippery Peter Slipper’s diary, purloined courtesy of James Ashby

The sequence of Mal’s responses went something like this: “Yes, I did.” “No, I didn’t.” “Yes, I did.” “No, I didn’t.” “Apologies for the confusion.” 

There’s another weirdo thing the Special Minister of State has said – that he’s been cleared by the Federal Court, “which dealt with all the evidence put before it and found entirely that I acted appropriately”. 

What Federal Court did he have in mind? Not one in this country, surely. Again, there’s a muddle. 

The Ashby v Slipper sexual harassment case went to the Federal Court and in December 2012 was struck out as an abuse of process by Justice Steven Rares. The judge said the real purpose of the litigation was to bring down the speaker and damage the minority government. It should never have been brought in the court. 

On appeal, by majority, the Full Feds undid the abuse-of-process finding and ordered that the case go to trial. 

Two judges, in effect, were saying this was more about politics than the law, while two said there was enough law in it to go to trial. 

But it never did go to trial. Ashby pulled out, leaving his lawyers well drained. 

So, what’s Mal on about? It’s hard to understand how the Federal Court considered all the evidence and cleared him when it never made any findings of fact about the case. 

But, as the man himself put it: “Integrity is uppermost in everything that I have ever done and that I will always continue to do.”

1 . Tweets taken down in a blaze of Cory

And what of the well-regarded bestiality and halal expert Cory Bernardi, another Coalition adornment? 

Strange to report, Cory has deleted all his tweets after getting a bit of stick for getting Voltaire mixed up with US Holocaust denier Kevin Strom

To widespread dismay Cory had tweeted: “ ‘To know who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.’ Voltaire. The answer is pretty obvious isn’t it?” 

It’s easy enough to confuse the wisdom of a neo-Nazi with that of Voltaire, but Cory’s taken the online criticism to heart and deleted his entire library of tweets. 

On December 1, he did post one, solitary tweet: “Here’s a tweet just to make sure you can’t say I deleted them all.” 

Oddly, he retains 15,300 Twitter followers. The man’s a mensch. As Voltaire once said to his butler: “I don’t care what you say, as long as I don’t hear it.”

2 . ’70s Flint wasn’t backing the GG

As the celebratory mourning of the remembrance of the sacking of the Whitlam government recedes for another year, we are intrigued by the role played by chief of the local monarchists Professor David Flint

In 1976 a group of eminent lawyer ratbags staged a protest against Sir John Kerr, by walking out of a lunchtime address he gave at the University of Sydney Law Graduates Association. 

As soon as the governor-general staggered to his feet to talk at the Wentworth Hotel, about 30 of the lawyers turned on their heels and walked out. 

One of the organisers has kindly retrieved a telltale photo of this event. In the far left corner is the distinctive and suave figure of David Flint, in the very act of protesting. 

On page three of The Sydney Morning Herald on August 5, 1976, appeared this report: “Mr David Flint, one of the participants said, ‘We are demonstrating about the actions of the governor-general on 11 November last year. We see his actions in sacking Mr Whitlam’s government as a gross misuse of powers.’ ” 

How grievously I have misunderstood Flinty. I thought his subsequent teachings were all in favour of the viceroy’s reserve powers while deploring Whitlam’s “determination to rule unconstitutionally”. 

The protest was condemned in a thundering SMH editorial: “The campaign [against the governor-general] is a sinister one, mounted, co-ordinated and paid for by sinister people for sinister reasons.” 

Among the sinister people who snubbed the adorable GG were Tom Kelly, who went on to become the NSW public solicitor and a member of numerous statutory tribunals; Michael Sexton, now the solicitor-general for NSW; Robert Tickner, former minister for Aboriginal affairs and head of the Australian Red Cross; Susan Armstrong, assistant ombudsman; Professor Julian Disney, occupant of various chairs at various universities and later chairman of the Australian Press Council; and David Flint, who became leader of the Queen’s cheer squad Down Under. 

The report of the protest in The Daily Mirror had the nostalgic byline “Colin Allan”. Yes, there was Col Pot on the beat, before he embarked on his career editing newspapers and hosing out sinks. 

3 . Reshuffle mode

At least we know that Colly Wobbles will not be returning from his post in New York to run The Australian. As News Corp tissues caught up with the story that had been published elsewhere over a week before, the “Burst Kransky”, Chris Mitchell, is stepping down as the top editor and philosopher-in-chief at The Catholic Boys Daily

He’ll be replaced by Paul Whittaker, the editor of the flagship comic strip, The Daily Smellograph.

So that ends speculations as to who would run the Oz, which ranged from Greg “Grouper” Sheridan to Michael Stutchbury from The Australian Financial Review to Chloe Deng Murdoch to Tony Abbott MP. 

The official announcements put out by joint Moloch satraps Michael Miller and Peter Tonagh, made no mention of the idea, previously floated by Kransky, that he would retain a kinda spiritual oversight of the paper. 

Instead, he has been relegated to the back of the book to bring his trademark lightness and whimsy to a weekly media column. Writing for the section will make a nice change from dictating it.

All this means we’re now able to get back to the serious task of tipping the next managing director and editor-in-chief of the ABC. 

Again the rumour mill is wild with suggestions: Kimbo Williams, Michael Ebeid, of SBS, and Sky News’s Angelos Frangopoulos

However, the sensible money is on Deanne Weir, deputy chairwoman of Screen Australia and on the boards of the Sydney Film Festival, Playwriting Australia, the Australian Women Donors Network, etc. 

She made a squillion after her 0.58 per cent share in Austar was converted to $11 million in cash when the regional pay-TV company was swallowed by Foxtel. 

This has enabled her to do some excellent philanthropic deeds – $500,000 to the Sydney Women’s Fund and another $500,000 to the International Women’s Development Agency. 

Deanne was reported this week lunching in Sydney with Packerites John Alexander and Ben Tilley, half-brother to ICAC crash victim Sophia Tilley, plus Bernardos indefatigable Gabrielle Trainor

Something’s up. 

4 . Fearless figures of free speech

I don’t know how many old-growth trees have been sacrificed in the struggle to deliver outraged sermons on free speech from Father Paul Kelly, Planet Janet, Freedom Boy and others writing in The Catholic Boys Daily.

They are decidedly upset by Martine Delaney, a Greens transgender candidate in Tasmania, who complained to the anti-discrimination people about a Catholic Church booklet pointing out the dreadfulness of marriage equality.

The document is called “Don’t Mess with Marriage”, and is basically a treatise against the human rights of those who are not swept away by the beauty of Roman Catholic teachings.

The anti-discrimination commission is to try to conciliate between Delaney and the church.

Planet said the whole thing is “strangling free speech”. 

Father Kelly went on and on about it, declaring that “aggressive secularism” is seeking to “transform our values and, ultimately, drive religion into the shadows”. 

Freedom Boy said the Tasmanian law is unique because there are no exemptions for expressions made reasonably and in good faith.

It makes you wonder whether Freedom Boy has actually looked at the Tasmanian act, which specifically allows discrimination on the basis of gender, “if it is required by the doctrines of the religion of the institution”.

Never mind. Here is a huge debate about something about which debate is apparently stifled.

Meanwhile, the real threat to free speech was very much to the fore on Tuesday night when Associate Professor David Rolph’s new book on the law of defamation was unveiled.

Everyone was in agreement that Australia was a legal backwater when it came to accommodating information technology and providing workable defences for a “free press”.

In attendance were Michael Kirby, fresh back from relaxing Bangladesh and now appointed by Ban Ki-moon to take up a spot on a United Nations panel on health technology; the aforementioned Justice Steven Rares; Judge Judith Gibson, in charge of the NSW District Court’s defamation list; and Evan Hughes, the art history scholar and gallery owner who tells me he has been preselected as the Labor candidate to take on Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth.

Just to make a point about the intersection of law, publishing and social media, Judge Gibson tweeted the event, with live pictures. 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 5, 2015 as "Gadfly: Brough justice".

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

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