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

Victims of Sharri law

Ace reporter Sharri Markson, the Lois Lane of The Australian, has flown to the rescue of various poor sods who have been caught in ICAC’s investigatory machinery. 

She’s been working feverishly in a one-woman campaign to correct the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s “mistakes”. 

Within the past week or so we’ve read Lois’s news that cabinet secretary Arfur (Daley) Sinodinos is to be cleared of corruption claims and that various bits of exculpatory evidence that would have assisted the senator and state Liberal and former police minister Michael Gallacher have been “kept secret” by the anti-corruption body. 

Until this story broke no one was aware that Arfur had been accused of being corrupt. In fact, in December 2014 The Australian apologised to Arf for saying ICAC was due to release a report on corruption allegations against him.

“In fact, no allegations of corruption have been made against Senator Sinodinos. The Australian regrets the error and apologises to Senator Sinodinos.” 

No matter, Lois has dug up evidence that would have exculpated Arfur and Gallacher of things no one has found against them. 

It was put to witnesses in the public hearings that property developers, who are banned from donating to political parties in New South Wales, were washing money through a Liberal Party laundrette, the Free Enterprise Foundation (FEF). 

Arfur, who had been state treasurer of the Liberal Party, didn’t know much about that, but anyway, according to the intrepid reporter, “Senator Sinodinos, his legal team, by chance, discovered advice from the Crown Solicitor” that said the washing machine operations of the FEF were lawful. 

What a discovery. According to our information, this secret, suppressed, exculpatory “evidence” was made available to all the parties before the inquiry started. Strictly speaking, it was not evidence at all, but a legal opinion based on incomplete facts and if other opinions from the Crown solicitor are anything to go on, completely wrong. In addition, it was tendered in relation to recommendations on corruption prevention. 

Further, there was Lois’s claim that ICAC had dropped John Hart from the witness list dealing with Gallacher’s alleged rinsing and tumble drying of election funds. 

Hart is an old Liberal smoothie, chairman of the North Sydney Forum (remember that one?) and chief log-roller for the restaurant and catering brigade. 

He was a potential witness for Gallacher to say that Mike was as pure as any driven politician in NSW. 

Our recollection is that statements by Hart were tendered at ICAC, but he wasn’t required for cross-examination. 

Let’s hope Lois’s investigations uncover more “suppressed evidence” that will get victims off the hook they are not on. 

1 . Lots of Downer

Adelaide burghers will descend on the Soldiers Memorial Hall in the Barossa Valley’s Williamstown for the February 7 auction of trinkets and bits of tat from the estate of Lord Downer’s late father and mother, Sir Alick and Lady Mary Downer

The old residence, Martinsell, was sold last November for about $2 million; now it’s the turn of the contents to go under the hammer. 

My personal favourite is a pair of Ludwigsburg mantle figurines in the form of a couple of cherubic children – a plump cheeked young boy and a chubby little girl that bear striking resemblances to baby Downers. 

Which one is the young Alexander is difficult to decide, but it doesn’t really matter because the estimated price for the pair is a snip at $200-$300.

If you miss out on those, not to worry: there is a collection of dead butterflies for between $100 and $200; some hairbrushes and a nailbrush for $10-$50 (imagine you could scrub your nails with the same implement used by the high commissioner to the Court of St James’s); a single bed with the initial “M” on the bedhead; an umbrella stand with umbrellas and a swagger stick; plus a hundred and one other treasures from the 18th and 19th centuries.  

Martinsell is the property the old Downers moved to after then premier Sir Tom Playford in a friendly gesture put a highway through the front lawn of the family’s original sprawling estate.

2 . The Crosby show

Meanwhile, in Australia House, London, his Lordship has just placed a garland on the head of Sir Lynton Crosby and named him Australian of the Year in the UK.

In Downer’s peculiar childlike form of expression, where he is captivated by the brilliance of his own logic, he proclaimed that Sir Lynton is “the man who crafted a campaign that has led to the existence of the present government in the UK and in that sense he’s a very important person”.  

Few others would be more deserving of this high honour than a tobacco industry lobbyist whose political campaigning techniques include wedging, dog whistling and, as Boris Johnson once put it, “throwing a dead cat on the table” – all designed to confound and scatter the enemy. 

The lad from Kadina, South Australia, has had many political triumphs throughout the old Empire, although the 2005 British election campaign and Stephen Harper’s defeat in Canada were not his proudest moments. 

Not only did he receive £2.4 million for crafting Dave Cameron’s election spin, but the Tories tossed in a knighthood as well. The party is now wanting him to dig Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for mayor of London out of trouble. 

3 . Call for a contest

Geoff Hodgkinson, Palm Beach resident, former assistant governor of the Reserve Bank and ex-chief of staff to treasurer John Howard, with banking stints at Rothschild and Macquarie, has been trying to inject a bit of competition into the Liberal Party preselection process in the electorate of Mackellar, the personal fiefdom of Princess Bronnie

He discovered it was very difficult to get in touch with a branch president in the electorate. He could leave his phone number at party HQ in Sydney and if someone felt like it they might ring back with details of the next branch meeting. 

There was no information about branches on the party website and it was difficult to find out which ones were active and the state of the membership numbers. 

The experience gave Geoff the impression that the Liberal Party was asleep on the peninsula, discouraged new members, and existed purely as a cheer squad for Bronwyn MP. 

Another acquaintance when asked how he could join a local branch was told that the next meeting was to be in Newport, and because it’s Bronnie’s birthday there would be a string quartet and a cake and the MP would “probably want to sing”.

In a 2014 report to the state branch of the party John Howard came up with the radical idea that candidates should be chosen by a plebiscite of members in the electorate, a process that would bring NSW into line with other states.

Far from there being any democratic process the whole operation is still in the hands of party hacks and head office drones, hence little to no competition in Mackellar, Warringah (Tony Abbott), Berowra (Philip Ruddock) and North Sydney (Trent Zimmerman). 

In a letter to The Australian Financial Review the other day, Hodgkinson said that if there wasn’t a closed shop in those seats, local rank’n’file members may have a very different view whether the sitting MP was a “proven performer”. 

As it is, if Bronwyn retains preselection there’s a good prospect that a strong independent, assisted by local hero Bob Ellis, could do the Liberals major damage, campaigning on the toxic effects of hairspray on the northern beaches. 

4 . Holding patterns

Look, clearly the nation is not ready for a lot of “side issues” to move centre stage. 

The republic should wait for an appropriate moment some time after Betty Battenberg pops off. Even Monsignor Kelly at The Catholic Boys Daily has pronounced that the republic is “tokenism”. 

Gay marriage is up in the air and anyway Young Otto Abetz is likely to squib on the outcome of the national plebiscite because the question might be “stacked”. 

The New Zealanders have not inspired us to consider a new national flag, so that issue is not on the horizon, while the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians looks decidedly shaky. The timing is not right, we are told – and if you look at the people telling us, it probably never will be. 

Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, and her partner Virginia Edwards are trying their best to get things back on track. They have been photographed in bed together, Christine in a leopard-print dressing-gown and Virginia in a robe sporting a collection of stray cats. 

Seeing his sister in such a state was too much for Tone. He fled to the United States to warn a bunch of evangelical Christians about the slippery slope of gay marriage – as if they needed warning.  

The photographs of Christine and Virginia and other couples in their bedrooms are on display at Melbourne’s Incinerator Gallery. Burn, baby, burn.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 30, 2016 as "Gadfly: Victims of Sharri law ".

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

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