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

Bolt upright

Where to start in a week presenting more than the usual challenges? What about the fight in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh using freedom of information to try to get his hands on some juicy federal police documents about a long-forgotten investigation into the leaking of sensitive national security information?

Let our minds wander back to June 2003 and attacks by Dutch philosopher Andreas Bolt on Andrew Wilkie.

Wilkie, now an MP, had resigned from the Office of National Assessments and criticised the Howard government’s decision to sign up to the “Coalition of the Willing” dupes in a harebrained scheme to invade Iraq. In particular, he said the government was lying about the intelligence on Iraq.

Revenge was the order of the day, and Wilkie was subject to a torrent of Coalition smears. Howard’s office leaked a story that Wilkie was “unstable”.

Senator David “Canoe” Johnston (Lib, WA) added that he was “very unstable ... flaky and irrational”.

The ever-reliable Senator Sandy Macdonald (Nat, NSW) was on his hind legs claiming that Wilkie had contradicted himself because a report he wrote for the ONA suggested he had confirmed Iraq’s WMD capability. The document also, apparently, discussed the humanitarian dislocation that would follow the war.

That report was a highly classified document and, according to the Crimes Act, it was not meant to be disclosed to an unauthorised person.

Much as it may distress his readers, Bolt (BA, incomplete), is not an “authorised person”. But that did not stop him putting his jackboot into Wilkie.

He quoted from Wilkie’s ONA document and claimed to have seen it. John Howard denied leaking it. Foreign minister Fishnets Downer didn’t directly answer the question. All he said was his office would “co-operate with the police”.

Mentioned in dispatches was the current minister for resources and energy, Josh Frydenberg, who in those days was one of Fishnets’ staffers.

Amazingly, Constable Plod could not find any fingerprints. Now Andrew Leigh is on the case and is heading to the AAT to try to prise open the police file on this sorry affair. The baffling defence so far is that it would be a breach of parliamentary privilege to cough up the details.

1 . Churly Sheehan

Staying in Leakville for a moment longer, it’s worth mentioning that Richard Cooke did a sterling job in The Monthly and Guardian Australia “unpacking” the story of Paul Sheehan’s career.

Given the enormous size of the task, it’s entirely forgivable that he could not detail all the great journalist’s triumphs.

One that sticks in Gadfly’s mind was Sheehan’s attack on a 2001 Four Corners program that detailed the suffering of a six-year-old Iranian boy, Shayan Badraie, held for more than a year at Woomera and Villawood.

The story was partly based on footage from a camera smuggled into Villawood by refugee advocate Jacquie Everitt. Shayan was so traumatised by his experience in immigration detention that he didn’t eat, drink or speak and was hospitalised on at least seven occasions.

This is the youngster who was called “it” four times by the great humanitarian and Amnesty member Philip Ruddock.

In his book The Electronic Whorehouse, Sheehan was concerned for Ruddock’s feelings and suggested that Four Corners should have considered the terrible dilemma the minister faced as he struggled concurrently with compassion and the “rule of law”.

Indeed, Ruddock’s people seemed to feed compliant right-wing media warriors with information seeking to bolster the government’s case against the vulnerable Badraie family.

Robert Manne had the job of tearing apart The Electronic Whorehouse in an article for the Fairfax media, describing it as a “book of exhausting polemical excitement without a central theme”.

He added that Sheehan’s discussion of the Badraie case was “hopelessly crude”, thinking, as it somehow did, that it was quite alright for a six-year-old child to be destroyed because his parents’ refugee claim had been temporarily denied.

2 . Body of work

What a pleasant treat to escape to ABC2 on Tuesday night where Dick Pratt’s former squeeze, Madison Ashton, was discussing body obsession on Hack Live.

Maddie said that she had undergone hundreds of non-invasive procedures and been under the knife a dozen or so times. There have been face and neck lifts, full-body liposuction, four breast augmentations, a couple of nose jobs and, the most painful of all, a “designer vagina” vaginoplasty.

She explained to awestruck viewers that she was on a “journey to transcend my situation”.

Because the “whole monogamy thing” was not working for her, she wanted to take her sex work to “another level”. This involved “reining in” her appearance.

An expert medico butted in to say that there is such a thing as body dysmorphic disorder, where no matter the number of beauty procedures the patient still feels unattractive. Madison remained blankfaced on this matter. 

3 . Hoot spa

Gadfly’s field agent in the Victorian resort of Daylesford reports that last weekend’s ChillOut Festival went off brilliantly.

It’s billed as regional Australia’s “biggest and longest-running country queer pride event”.

David Sedaris wrote of Daylesford in The New Yorker: “If Dodge City had been founded and maintained by homosexuals, this is what it might have looked like.”

The mighty pink dollar has certainly taken a grip in the spa town. Dodge City-style cowboys were there, along with drag queens of every shape and size, and leather chaps with other leather enthusiasts on metal leashes. Even the local Bulldogs football club was part of the parade.

Of course, politicians were touting their wares. Meredith Doig, senate candidate for the Sex Party, who doubles as chief of the Rationalist Society of Australia, eagerly buttonholed passers-by.

Gay public servants, string pluckers called The Ukeladies, bootscooters, rockers and dogs were also out in force.

In the nearby commuter town of Ballan, Australia’s first LGBTI old people’s home is to be built. George Christensen, Cory Bernardi and Otto Abetz must be oblivious to this development.

4 . Abbott and Bishop ex-communicated

Traditionally Lord Moloch’s outpost on the northern beaches, The Manly Daily, has been the voice of The Liberal Party.

Local members T. Abbott and B. Bishop were usually covered in thick layers of editorial admiration. But the tide appears to be turning. 

Last Saturday the paper’s editor, Nick Calacouras, asked whether it was fair on voters that the former PM and the former speaker recontest their seats.

“I’m sure,” he wrote, “we’ll see them handing out balloons at the Brookie Show and talking to the parents at school fetes”. But Nick thinks they are only hanging in there for “stubbornness, petty grievances and an opportunity to be thrust into the limelight”.

 While Nick was picking up the vibe from the younger Libs in both electorates, it was clear by the next day that some of the more senior electors were still stuck in their ways. They turned up at the Balgowlah RSL, actually in the battler territory of Seaforth, to cheer Abbott and his long-suffering wife, Margaret.

The former PM vainly sought to urge the crowd to support Malcolm Turnbull: “Each and every one of us in this room is to do everything we can to elect the Turnbull government.”

He grinned sheepishly when the faithful burst into a chorus of boos.

5 . Shelves for the bench

For the record, Bookshelves Brandis has not ruled out the possibility of selecting himself for a federal judicial appointment.

On the notice paper he was asked by Senator Joe Ludwig (ALP, Qld) whether he would ever “seek or accept a position on the bench yourself”.

He answered, “I have no present intention of retiring from the parliament”, i.e., nothing ruled out or in.

The word in government legal circles during Abbott’s time was that Gorgeous George might well be sent upstairs to the bench.

That expectation was put on hold following Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 19, 2016 as "Gadfly: Bolt upright".

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

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