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

Let’s stick together

Conservatives, Tories, right-wingers and allied cave-dwellers have been kicking up their heels and having far too good a time of late.

There was the ancient lizard Lord Moloch tying the knot with his blushing 59-year-old consort, Ms Jerry Hall, and having the union blessed at the aptly named St Bride’s in Fleet Street.

An assortment of rum types turned up for the show, including Rebekah Brooks and her porn-loving husband Charlie, Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre and our own Barry Humphries, fresh from pocketing some of Rupert’s cash for a campaign to market the digital editions of the triumphs that are The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier-Mail and Advertiser.

Only days earlier, on this side of the globe, there had been one of the greatest orgies of back-slapping and pocket moistening at Parliament House, Canberra, where the remnants of the John Howard era and their corporate backers assembled for a massive feast to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the election of that regime.

Why anyone would want to celebrate a government that made Australia smaller, meaner, more selfish and more unequal is a puzzle to Gadfly.

Howard, looking like a spooky koala now that he has been rebadged as an elder statesman, mingled with and gladhanded people we’ve been trying to wring from our memory: Richard Alston, Peter Costello, Tony Abbott and the usual clutch of bankers and cabin boys of industry.

The creaky knees-up was sponsored by the vitamin supplement people Blackmores. Now knowing where some of its corporate revenue ends up, it’s the last time I swallow one of their fish oil pills.

1 . Robbing Peta, paying Paul 

All of this pales into insignificance compared with the celebrations that have greeted Niki Savva’s book about the Abbott–Credlin duumvirate.

One important revelation confirms that Abbott enjoys a good pat on a woman’s bottom – in conformity with traditional male-female roles.

 Peta Credlin came out swinging, saying she was “dismayed that my own side is heading down the same path” of Rudd–Gillard-type turmoil. She’d better have a word to Tone about this, who insists, despite evidence to the contrary, that he would like the Turnbull government to get re-elected.

Louise Adler from Melbourne University Press, which didn’t publish The Road to Ruin but did publish Tone’s opposition doodlings, asked whether Savva’s book was “one more dispiriting and self-serving revenge tale rather than the independent and forthright analysis readers deserve?”

Her idea of forthright analysis are the books she sells, such as great, gristly tomes by Monseigneur Paul Kelly. She gushed: “Those commentators we publish, like the eminence grise Paul Kelly, bring the highest standards of journalism to their craft.” 

Nothing self-serving there.

Contrary to Savva’s version that Credlin is a volatile control freak, Louise thinks she’s a marvellous stick.

One criticism has been that after numerous on-the-record quotes from former members of the Abbott–Credlin staff and politicians, Savva didn’t ask the two stars of her book for their comments.

It always seems an unenlightening requirement when everyone knows what their response will be, even before the questions are put. Of course, they deny everything, it’s all a tissue of lies, etc.

Even after the book came onto the market, both Abbott and Credlin had trouble mustering informative comments about specifics. Abbott: “Look, I’m not going to rake over old coals.” Credlin: “I always thought a dignified silence was the best way to deal with Niki Savva’s attacks.”

We only have to thumb back through recent history to see Credlin’s form as a university student at Melbourne University’s Catholic dormitory, Newman College.

We’ve mentioned previously journalist Brigid Delaney’s experience at the college, when she was a fresher and Credlin a senior student:

“We all lined up in a quadrangle and these limousines pulled up and people got out dressed in academic gowns and sunglasses who were extremely threatening, screaming at us. One of them was Peta Credlin. I have never been able to watch her on TV since without shivering.”

2 . Long distance, relationship

One intriguing recent revelation is that Abbott lobbied PM Malcolm Turnbull (unsuccessfully) to appoint Ms Credlin as sex discrimination commissioner at the Human Rights Commission and her husband as Australian ambassador to the Holy See.

The HRC is based in Sydney and the Holy See is in Rome, a distance apart of 16,340 kilometres as the crow flies. What could Tone have been thinking?

3 . Fun and James

On Sunday night Liberals in Victoria were over the moon, having preselected 28-year-old James Paterson for the top spot on their senate ticket.

What a treat. James is from the Flat Earth Society, otherwise known as the Rinehart–Murdoch–Tobacco bankrolled Institute of Paid Advocacy. He’s a great believer in free speech, except when he’s talking to Gadfly. He forbids reporting of priceless responses such as his unique double whammy, “My ‘no comment’ is off the record.”

One good thing is that his departure from the IPA may mean another move up the greasy pole for young James Bolt, who went from phone answerer, to researcher, to communications co-ordinator. Tomorrow, the world.

4 . Polished Mr Sheehan

So to Paul Sheehan. Like a naughty schoolboy who was caught smoking behind the bicycle shed, he has been “suspended” by Granny Herald.

What does that mean? After loitering outside the school gates for a couple of weeks, will he be allowed back in? Will his soiled form of essay writing be restored to a place in the “independent, quality” press?

The Monthly and Guardian Australia have co-published a piece by Richard Cooke, known to you as this paper’s sports editor, containing information about Sheehan’s writing career that is even more eye-boggling than we could have imagined. A strange amalgamation of spinning for corporate favourites, falsities, fudges, barrow pushing, log rolling and intimidation.

“Suspension” means you’re not sacked. It suggests that after a pause of some time, Sheehan will emerge fully reformed and restored to his king-of-the clicks, headline position.

5 . Dispensing wisdom

Staff at the Department of Immigration and its military wing, the Border Force, were tickled pink to get a message on Tuesday from the boss, Mike (The Puzzle) Pezzullo.

The Pezz Dispenser dismissed distortions from media commentators that he and his staff were running “gulags” or that the detention centres were places of “torture”.

This is “highly offensive, unwarranted and plainly wrong”.

To ram home the point in the strongest possible terms, he dismissed the idea that detention involves a numbing of public awareness and indifference, “similar to that allegedly experienced in Nazi Germany”.

Allegedly? Is the Pezz uncertain that the Holocaust happened? He must have had a good think about that because he added a little asterisk and then a postscript: “To allege the Nazi regime promoted indifference towards its abuses is bad history. It is also an outrageous slur by association when such behaviour is compared to immigration detention.”

According to the Dispenser, the Nazis were not into numbing an indifferent public. They were into full-on vilification and persecution. Just to be sure, Pezz adds the genocide of Jews was “evil”. What a mensch.

6 . Slum dusty

Gadfly is a bit distressed he missed Thursday night’s talk at the RMIT uni by Hannah Bertram.

Hannah is an established visual artist and was talking as part of the “writing and concepts” series. She works in the mediums of dust and ash, which have been described as “ephemeral installations”.

Hannah prefers to say she is investigating “the ambiguity of value, the transformation of worthless materials and the passing of time”.

If you spoke to Quentin Crisp, the author of The Naked Civil Servant, you’d have discovered that dust is far from ephemeral. Quentin, aka Denis Pratt, lived in a one-room apartment in New York, which he never cleaned.

He said that “after four years, you don’t notice the dust” – it becomes ingrained and permanent.

Permanent dust – Hannah, you have been warned.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 12, 2016 as "Gadfly: Let’s stick together".

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

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