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

Media gathers at Jurassic waterhole

Mourners gathered at the Woollahra Hotel to remember the life and times of Brian Johns, the dearly departed former journalist, book publisher, head of the ABC and SBS, and former trainee priest. 

Johns, a significant bon vivant, frequently enjoyed a beverage at the Woollahra, otherwise known to locals as Jurassic Park. 

Among those who came to remember were David Malouf and Tom Keneally, clutches from the world of public broadcasting, and people from the Gough Whitlam-era, including John Menadue, Eric Walsh, Peter Barron and Jim Spigelman

Johns had a remarkable career and in the mid-1970s he was recruited to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from his job as chief political correspondent of The Sydney Morning Herald. Spigelman by then had become head of the department of the media. 

The current chairman of the ABC recalled that Johns had the brilliant idea that the national broadcaster should have a newspaper arm and Spigs himself was deputised to approach Moloch’s people to see if The Australian might be for sale. 

Sadly, it was not and – as the tired cliché would have it – the rest is history, with The Australian ultimately transmogrifying into The Catholic Boys Daily and an anti-ABC battering ram. 

1 . Saluting the gag Pole

Towards the end of last year Young Otto Abetz was on his high horse at senate estimates, trying to give Mark Scott, the outgoing ABC managing director, a torrid time. It was all water off a duck’s back to Scott, but Otto seemed incensed that Aunty hadn’t given sufficient coverage to the Polish election results. He asked Scott to investigate how much news time was devoted to Polish electoral affairs.

In October the Poles went to the polls and returned the Law and Justice party to form a far-right government – just up Otto’s creek.

This month the new government of Beata Szydło, picking up a few tips from the time Adolf & Co were in charge of the place in the 1930s and ’40s, legislated to stack the highest court with sympathetic judges and limit the judicial power to tamper with government legislation. It has also cleaned out the top managers of the state media and replaced them with obedient hacks.

To top off the nationalist agenda, the European flag has been banished from government press conferences.

The EU thinks this fresh interpretation of law and justice is anti-democratic and is wondering what it can do, but at least we can see the sort of regime change that appeals to Otto. The ABC better get with the strength and start broadcasting glowing reports from its Warsaw bureau.

2 . Otto accords

From his bunker buried deep in the Tasmanian forests, Young Otto’s faithful old hand-cranked Gestetner machine continues to pump out ukases from his government-in-exile.

He’s warned the NSW Liberal Party to banish the moderates who are taking on some of the crusty old guard in party preselections. Senator Otto describes these disruptive elements as “backroom schemers, professional political hacks and lobbyists”. How on earth would he recognise such types?

He also issued a statement, declaring that he would be “very concerned” if the Labor Party were given access to the secret bits of Dyson Heydon’s trade union royal commission.

When it comes to legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the proposed access by crossbenchers to Dysie’s confidential volume six, Otto reverted to his trademark blitzkrieg language: 

“This is the last feather with which some of the crossbench are seeking to fly to vote against the ABCC legislation, and my view was that last feather should be plucked out, then they would have no feathers to fly with at all and they would be duty-bound to support the ABCC legislation.”

3 . Old guard on guard

When time stood still in January, Gadfly spent some delightful lazy, hazy days on Sydney’s peninsula, otherwise know as the electorate of Mackellar, named after Dorothea of the same name and her social-reforming medico father Sir Charles.

Of course, the electorate has to be visited in a battle tank such is the menace of Daesh behind each Palm Beach shrub. Fortunately, Bronwyn Bishop, 103, is digging in, saying she needs to stay on in the seat to continue her fight against the “threat of terrorism”. 

This has brought forth other declarations of self-sacrifice from ancient MPs hogging safe seats. Philip Ruddock said he is “still of the view that I will continue in public life if I can make a difference”. 

Kevin Andrews also stole a moment away from the Grecian 2000 to criticise the Turnbull government for not sending more Australian soldiers into the killing fields of Iraq. He said he was saying this as a “humble backbench MP” for the benefit of his constituents. 

And Tony Abbott is contemplating staying on in Warringah, in the hope that he can do a Menzies. He told the party’s Forestville branch that he wanted “to continue to make a contribution to Australia” from the comfort of a seat in the house of representatives. 

What is striking about these contenders, and their commitment to public service, is the bleakness of their post-parliamentary employment prospects. 

4 . Silent running

None of these shenanigans have stopped young James Paterson throwing this pork-pie hat in the ring for Michael Ronaldson’s Victorian senate spot.

Paterson was the director of development and communications for the Institute of Paid Advocacy in Melbourne and has now been promoted to deputy executive director. Last time we had dealings with James he was having trouble with his ability to communicate over our direct question about James Bolt, who is now the institute’s communications co-ordinator.

“Is James Bolt the son of Andrew Bolt?” we inquired. This was well before Bolt snr parted company with his eponymous Channel 10 “interview” show.

“No comment,” replied Paterson. Actually, we were not looking for a comment, just “yes or no”.

To stop this line of inquiry getting out of hand, Patso said that his “no comment” was “off the record”.

Let’s hope he lands on the red leather of the senate. With that sort of aplomb the lad is bound to “make a difference”.

5 . Offshore mogul

Transfield Services, operator of the Nauru and Manus Island prison camps for boat arrivals, has switched its name to Broadspectrum, but that hasn’t prevented the Spanish Ferrovial Group making a bid to buy it. 

Broadspectrum (which rather gives the impression this is a company without a focus) is on the front line of the abuse, harassment, rapes, self-harm and mental breakdown of the people in its care – a key corporate player in the implementation of this most wretched of government policies.

At the moment, The Financial Review is desperately flogging tickets to its “business summit” starring, along with other bizoids, Diane Smith-Gander, a Perth business person and “chairman” of Broadspectrum, along with a whole heap of reptiles from the Fin Review sweatshop.

Smith-Gander is among the “world’s most influential opinion formers” and will contribute to the summit discussion on disruption, leadership and new opportunities.

Her bio adds that she’s a “keen downhill skier”.

6 . Disco inferno

Lord Moloch is busily tweeting about the terrific debating performances of GOP presidential candidates, adding that Trump is inevitable and will unite the Republicans in their “horror of Hillary”.

Meanwhile, the Brits are preparing for the arrival on their tellies this month of a new satirical show, called Red Top. It stars Maxine Peake of Silk fame as Rebekah Brooks, roller-skating through The Sun’s newsroom and its terrified hacks.

There’s Rupert in a wheelchair locked in a room by Wendi Deng while she gets some quality time with Tony Blair.

Guardian media writer Roy Greenslade describes the production as a “glorious, irreverent post-hacking lampoon, a fantasy set in the 1970s with flares, moustaches and disco music”.

It’s conceived by Peter Richardson who first brought his Comic Strip troupe to television in 1982 with a satire of Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five”, called Five Go Mad in Dorset.

In a Boogie Nights-style, Red Top tells the story of an innocent lass from the north of England who accidentally becomes chief executive of News International and is caught, mistakenly of course, in a dreadful scandal.

Reports from those who have seen the preview say that people were rolling on the floor, crying like drains.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 23, 2016 as "Gadfly: Media gathers at Jurassic waterhole".

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 July 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.