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

Puzzle resolution

Our report last week on the Pezz Dispenser’s own brand of pamphleteering and figmentation brought forth a flurry of happy memories about the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Mike Pezzullo has been a career public servant since getting his BA at the University of Sydney. He’s variously worked in Defence and PM&C, was on the staff of Gareth-Gareth Evans when foreign minister, deputy chief of staff to opposition leader Bomber Beazley, back to Defence as a deputy secretary in charge of strategy, and then to customs and border protection. From there he was appointed by the Abbott government as the chief jailer of Nauru, Manus Island and elsewhere.

We’ve just had a new Defence white paper, with visions of more super toys, more brass bands and people in uniforms, and more expenditure. In 2008-09, the Dispenser led the then Defence white paper team.

While crafting the mighty document, the autocorrect on the department’s infuriating word-processing software kept turning “Pezzullo” into “Puzzle”.

It became such a ubiquitous problem that staff eventually gave up changing the “correction” and just left the text as “Mr Puzzle”.

Sometimes those autocorrections are quite close to the mark.

1 . Shelving reform

In December the Australian Law Reform Commission delivered to Bookshelves Brandis its final report on the great “freedoms inquiry”.

This was a reference the attorney-general gave the commission in May 2014. An issues paper, an interim report and now a final report have been produced – trawling through the entire body of Commonwealth legislation looking for laws and regulations that “unreasonably encroach upon traditional rights, freedoms and privileges”. It’s a topic about which Bookshelves is passionate, even if confused.

It’s the A-G’s habit to table these reports at the very last minute, which under the rules gives him 14 sitting days after receipt of the work, taking us to March 3 at the outside.

Until this week, Bookshelves has not given the ALRC a new reference to work on since May 2014. Apart from wrapping-up the freedoms investigation, the commissioner and staff have had little to do either because the A-G doesn’t want to give them any work or he couldn’t think of a worthwhile project to be investigated by this top-drawer law reform body.

At last he’s scrabbled around and found a new task – how to safeguard and protect old people from misuse or abuse by “formal and informal” carers, supporters and others.

This seems to be doubling up with various other inquiries and reports that touch on the same topic, including: a 2014 ALRC report on equality, capacity and disability in Commonwealth laws; a senate committee document on abuse and neglect against the disabled; and a house of reps study on old people and the law.

No matter, at least the commission has its first new job in nearly two years.

Thanks, Bookshelves.

2 . A gentleman’s daughter and a scholar

Georgina Downer’s tilt at Andrew Robb’s old seat of Goldstein rekindles memories of the 2005 Chevening affair.

While Fishnets Downer was foreign minister, young Georgina was awarded a Chevening, which is a British government scholarship to study at a British university, worth about $50,000. The selectors usually look for smart things with first- or very good second-class honours degrees and with leadership potential.

Fortunately, Georgina’s third-class degree from Melbourne University did her no harm and she sailed through the hoops, completely at arm’s-length from any involvement from Fishnets, just as he had no connection with her selection as a DFAT graduate trainee while he was coincidentally minister.

We know Fishy played no part in Georgina’s career advancing developments because we were assured of this by his valet, bag carrier and general factotum, and now one of the nation’s leading opinion formers and thinkers, Chris Kenny of The Catholic Boys Daily.

At the time he said the minister, “resents the suggestion that his daughter may not have won the scholarship had she not been the daughter of the foreign minister ... It’s reprehensible.”

That clears that up.

Another coincidence was that Tigris, BHP’s joint venture company in Iraq, investigated by Commissioner Terence Cole in the oil-for-food inquiry, had funded Chevening scholarships for seven Iraqi students with “oil backgrounds”.

Goldstein, here we come.

3 . Toil wells

Fortunately for all of us, by promoting Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells as the new Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Malcolm Turnbull has saved her political career. We’ll see more of Connie rather than less.

How she’ll go on the international development round remains to be seen, but we might draw from the past for some pointers. Decades ago, as a Liberal Party staffer, she was on a political exchange program to Vietnam, where she expressed her disappointment to local officials about their Communist leanings.

One of the Vietnamese government people, who had been talking to the delegates in English, switched to Vietnamese after Connie asked him some provocative questions. This rather slowed down the dialogue.

Nor was Connie a great fan of some of the Vietnamese food on offer and others on the exchange program report that at breakfast she stayed in her room content with a supply of Weet-Bix she had brought along for just such emergencies.

4 . Khan Do Turnbull

Fierravanti-Wells is not the only member of the Genghis Khan faction of the Liberals who is doing well.

Andrew Nikolic, one of Otto Abetz’s stalwarts from Tasmania, is the new chairman of the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security.

Nikko is a former military man, directing the Defence Department’s PR for our triumphs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s suggested that his appointment as the chief parliamentary security wallah is yet another olive branch extended by the PM to the Khanites.

In the same vein, $15.4 million over four years has been approved by the government for a new Oil, Gas, and Energy Resources Growth Centre – a fossil fuels promotional outfit.

The innovations from the Tony Turnbull government just keep on coming.

5 . No comment

With any luck, an innovation introduced by The Telegraph in Britain will catch on everywhere. The Torygraph is abolishing its readers’ comments function for online articles. This applies to the newly designed travel, TV, lifestyle and technology sections.

It’s expected that once news, business, money, sport and opinion have also been redesigned, readers’ comment will also be “suspended”.

The idea is that if Colonel Hyphen-Hyphen from Kent wants to comment on the importance of fox hunting for the British way of life, he’ll have to do it via Facebook or Twitter.

Bloomberg also took away readers’ comments when it relaunched its main website.

The Telegraph regularly publishes a book of readers’ letters that don’t make it into the paper.

From a recent edition we get an idea of the sort of problems with which the editors have to deal. Here’s one from Lt-Col A. St John-Grahame (retd), Whitstable, Devon:

“When I married 48 years ago, my bride and I, as naturists, were clothed as were Adam and Eve. The priest, a fellow naturist, was similarly naked. Give or take the odd wrinkle, our wedding attire has been in daily use as foundation garments, topped invariably, in my case, by a regimental tie.”

6 . Lockout lawyers

Informal polling on the question of night-time drinking in Kings Cross and elsewhere tells us that people under 35 hate the lockouts and people over 60 love them.

Maybe it’s no accident that 78-year-old former capital-C Conservative High Court judge Ian Callinan has been appointed by the Baird government in New South Wales to patrol all the gin joints and beer halls and come up with a “review” of what’s taking the fun out of Sydney.

He’ll be assisted by former pink batts royal commission counsel Jonathan Horton, from the Queensland bar and grill.

Deputy Premier Troy Grant assured everyone that this inquiry “does not have a foregone conclusion” – news that must have come as a setback to the former judge.  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2016 as "Gadfly: Puzzle resolution".

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

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