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

Search on for new victims

Here we are with the last Gadfly of the year. While Martin McKenzie-Murray elsewhere in the paper is reviewing the year gone, we’re supposed to be looking ahead, or at least sideways, at unfolding possibilities. However, to understand what lies in front, we must also look back. 

For instance, we remember the year’s extraordinary attacks on Gillian Triggs, president of the Human Rights Commission. 

Not only was the Abbott hit squad out in force because she had the temerity to investigate the plight of children held in immigration detention, but The Catholic Boys Daily conducted a campaign against her for recommending compensation to detainees banged up in immigration detention for disproportionate periods of time – seven years in the case of West Papuan activist John Basikbasik, who was held indefinitely after serving a sentence for killing his pregnant partner.

The hacks must have got tired of repeating the same errors without context, so new victims had to be found for slaughtering on the altar. The latest is Megan Latham, the former Supreme Court judge who heads the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. 

She can barely sneeze without a torrent of criticism raining down on her. She joins a distinguished gallery of citizens in the besmirchment stakes – Manning Clark, Julia Gillard, Simon Overland and Christine Milne, to name a few. 

What does the future hold? Who’s next? Surely, some saintly person who’s doing a good job must be in for it – preferably a woman. Forward your suggestions for 2016 Victim of the Year to Boris Whittaker, the new editor of the paper otherwise known as The Australian.

1 . Returning the gift

How far back should we go before we look ahead? This is former British prime minister Stanley Baldwin in 1936: 

“One of these days I’ll make a few casual remarks about Winston. Not a speech – no oratory – just a few words in passing. I’ve got it all ready. I am going to say that when Winston was born lots of fairies swooped down on his cradle with gifts – imagination, eloquence, industry, ability, and then came a fairy who said: ‘No one person has the right to so many gifts’, picked him up and gave him such a shake and twist that with all these gifts he was denied judgement and wisdom.” 

Even though that was said in the context of Britain’s pre-war appeasement crisis, Stanley’s words are eerily apt for our very own fairy-blessed PM. 

2 . Kim too grim

Many will be disappointed that former Murdoch man Kimbo Williams has missed out on the top job at the ABC. According to the pundits, next year will see Singapore-based Google executive Michelle Guthrie running Aunty. 

Newspaper reports say Williams was dismissed from contention because he “was viewed by several directors as too polarising a figure to lead the organisation”. This is amazing, because normal corporate selection policy is to find the most divisive bastard possible and appoint him CEO. 

Which is the way most enterprises are run, so why should Aunty be so special? Time for ABC litigant and seer Chris Kenny to sacrifice another small forest to analyse this dangerous development. 

3 . Marching orders

Other limbs of the media are also in for a hard time as daily newspapers shed more bodies in the year ahead. 

One by one people join the unwanted, sometimes to be replaced by a 14-year-old poppet who is cheaper and has the advantage of not knowing anything. 

A recent case study of a sacking at The Catholic Boys Daily has come our way. This is how it works: 

A serf is busy at the screen when approached by a management toad and tapped from behind on the shoulder. “Come with me,” he commands. 

Questions are met with silence as the victim is led away from the editorial floor to a door behind which sits an executive mandarin. 

You may leave immediately or in a fortnight. The choice is all yours, the mandarin explains. A small window of time is given so the victim can adjust to these new circumstances. 

Then there’s a long trudge back to the desk, through the ranks of hacks with their noses to the grindstone and whose turn will come in due course. 

A kindly face peeks up for a second and whispers, “Go home to your kids.” The leper replies, “But this is all I’ve got.” 

4 . Building up a posh Cross

Enough of the misery. Gadfly lands an invitation to a dazzling new cocktail bar in the increasingly gentrified Kings Cross–Potts Point area, where the future is becoming frighteningly clear. 

Jangling Jack’s in Victoria Street is groove central, right next to the Soho Hotel, which like everything else in the ’hood is to be turned into apartments. 

The Bourbon is scheduled for apartmentisation, while half of Darlinghurst Road is up for a DA. Once home to 30 sex trade establishments, that number along the strip has slipped to a sad half-dozen or so. 

JJ’s proprietors are Orlan Erin Raleigh and Jon Ruttan and Erin tells me the bar has everything a human being could want between the hours of 6pm and 1am and, she adds, “it’s only an eight-minute stroll from St Mary’s Cathedral”. 

In fact, Gadfly earlier this year moved his headquarters to the Cross, a minute-and-a-half’s stroll from the medically supervised injecting centre. 

Reporting to work one morning at our HQ a Gadfly staffer reported a man on the doorstep “without any trousers”. 

Welcome to the new gentrification. 

5 . Into Burrows

I’ve become a devout student of the writings of global investment banker Mark Burrows, who this month has had a couple of Postcards from Paris published in The Australian Financial Review

He’s billed as a special adviser to the United Nations energy program and he’s particularly fired-up about the role of fire. 

In a blaze of modesty he began: “By some crazy twist of fate, I’ve found myself in the midst of the most defining decision of our time: do we save the planet, or do we revel in the sauna of our collective technological success and watch it melt and burn? I seem to be making a habit of this. Just a few weeks ago, I was at UN Climate Week in New York and found myself quoted alongside the Pope on the front page.” 

Then he was on his way to an Indigenous fire management industry roundtable, convened by the Minister for Pollution Greg Hunt and the Kimberley Land Council.

The idea is that lighting fires in the outback is a way of reducing emissions. It wasn’t explained how that happened, but in instalment two Mark talked about the ecological and environmental damage caused by Indonesian peat fires. 

He added that, alongside Ban Ki-moon and John Kerry, he was at a business roundtable in Paris where a BP bigwig spoke about “the oil industry’s engagement with the environment”. 

Of course, don’t mention the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the $US20.8 billion settlement with American authorities. 

It would be a highlight of 2016 if we could see more of Mark’s work. 

6 . Kirby on the road

Michael Kirby’s current out-of-office email reply deserves some sort of award. No skimpy message that the former High Court justice is not in; instead emailers get a decent bunch of details about what he’s up to: 

“The Hon. Michael Kirby is out of his office. Between 7-13 December 2015 he will be in New York for the inaugural meeting of the UN High Level Panel on Health Technology Innovation and Access, to which he has been appointed by the Secretary-General. He will also be chairing the Expert Advisory Group of the Panel. Between 15-22 December 2015 he will be in New Delhi, India. During this time he will address the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and Public Interest (16 December); launch a book on Indian law and Australia (16 December); address the Habitat India Centre on LGBT Law Reform (18 December); deliver a keynote address to the University of Chicago Conference on Tuberculosis and Human Rights (18-20 December); and preside in an international commercial arbitration (21 December). He will return to chambers in Sydney on 23 December 2015. Emails will be monitored; but replies will be delayed.” 

7 . Happy holidays, dear readers…

The giant Santa Claus nailed to a cross in a Tokyo department store brought the true spirit of Christmas to shoppers. 

Keeping on message and looking ahead, Gadfly wishes each of his readers a happy and safe holiday and the hope that we’ll all be here when the ceremonies recommence in 2016.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 19, 2015 as "Gadfly: Search on for new victims".

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

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