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

Mamil pollies back in saddle

The annual boyo bicycle fest known as Pollie Pedal gets rolling on Sunday. This year the gang ride out of Canberra and “into communities” such as Yass, Cootamundra, Forbes, Orange, Taralga and Goulburn raising money for Carers Australia. Of course, there are women cyclists in it as well, but basically it’s blokes, who seem to have sushi rolls stuffed down the front of their Lycra shorts, in case of hunger during the long rides.

There is also a Rapid Relief Team, run by the Plymouth Brethren, who are providing the breakfasts and many of the lunches for the riders.

Tony Abbott, assistant cities minister Angus Taylor, and Nick (Train Crash) Cater are among the fundraising stars of the 2016 Pollie Pedal.

And the money is pouring in. Tone has a goal of raising $5000, and already nearly $4000 has been given by various worthies, some of whom leave encouraging little notes on the “everyday hero” website. For example, Ess Grubb, who gave $21 said, “You are in our prayers Tony … we mis [sic] our PM”.

Field Marshal Andrew Nikolic MP and his missus stumped up $52.50 for the former PM’s efforts, the same amount as Philippe Xavier Hairdressers.

Another everyday hero, Angus Taylor MP, aims to raise $1000 and already $1210 has been given by three donors, including $1000 from someone named Charlie Taylor. Not a red cent from the miserable Free Enterprise Foundation.

But old Train Crash Cater is in trouble. He set himself the goal of raising $20,000 and only $1050 has been given from one donor named “Anonymous”.

Funnily, we can’t find any reference in the local Goulburn paper, the Post, in the heart of Angus’s seat of Hume, to news about the local hero’s Liberal Party fundraising negotiations and any role that the Libs’ backdoor laundromat, the FEF, might have played.

1 . Sweet deal for egoist Otto

Last year’s Pollie Pedal took place in Tasmania where the local party hero, Otto Abetz, reigns supreme – not that Otto did any peddling.

The talk of the Apple Isle this week was Jane Cadzow’s profile in Good Weekend of the gimlet-eyed Reichsmarschall. What shone through was Otto’s massive ego: “There are senate colleagues who still call me ‘leader’ in the corridors … Malcolm was full of praise for my capacities and abilities … It would be immensely healing for the party [if Turnbull put me back on the frontbench]”.

Abetz is also an active member of the gay-hating Christian Reformed Church, which thinks everything in the Bible is true. These fundamental beliefs fit nicely with the story Cadzow recounted about Otto’s Hobart land deals, which turned the battler into a millionaire.

The story had been around Tassie for a while, but it is nice that others can now share it. In 2000 Abetz paid $100,000 for almost four hectares of government land adjacent to his weatherboard house in the Hobart suburb of Kingston. Five years later the land was rezoned from residential to business and civic. Four months after that, Otto sold both his house block and the rezoned land to a property developer named Rockefeller for nearly $2 million.

Rockefeller paid $400,000 for the large block of vacant land and for the Abetz house and land of about half a hectare, $1.5 million – more than five times the government valuation.

In other words, Otto avoided a lot of capital gains tax which would have been payable on the unoccupied land, but was exempt on the family home. Otto insists that his old house, which has been demolished, had more road frontage, so the deal was entirely kosher.

Tasmanian Times columnist John Hawkins, who has studied the transaction in searing detail, was onto him: “Erich’s throwaway line on road frontage as being the key to the increase in value of the house block and the decrease in value of the internal block is complete and absolute rubbish. The adjoining block – also with a house and with virtually the same street frontage to the Channel Highway – sold for a million dollars less than that owned by Uncle Erich, to the same purchaser at the same time. Erich, it was a way to transfer the profit on the ten acres to your home in order to avoid payment of capital gains tax. You know it, I know it, in fact we all know it. The question now is, has the tax man laid off collecting the tax as a result of your former exalted position?

“If I am wrong sue me and we can investigate the matter in more detail.”

What did the Bible have to say about this sort of thing: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed…” (Romans 13.7).

2 . Barnaby’s handball

When Gadfly colleague Mike Seccombe recently dug around exploring whether the economic case stood up for the Shenhua Watermark mine slap-bang in the Liverpool Plains he rang the office of agriculture minister and local New England MP Barnaby Joyce.

Had Barnaby’s people heard that Shenhua is looking for a way out of this coalmining development, he inquired?

The minister’s media muffin replied that they didn’t know too much about that, but why not try Tony Windsor, because he’s right across this issue.

It seemed an odd thing to advise in the circumstances, what with Windsor running against Joyce in the forthcoming election, and running hard against the mine’s approval by the minister for pollution, Greg Hunt.

Yet, odd things and Barnaby Joyce are not strangers.

China Shenhua’s annual report, just to hand, indicates the company now thinks there’s not the brightest future in fossil fuels. Maybe that has something to do with the fact they’ve redone their sums and found, at the current coal price, the project is not commercially viable.

How to back out of a mine after spending $700 million on licences, approvals and acquiring land is the next trick – just don’t ask the deputy PM about it.

3 . Tim all aTwitter

Fast as greased lightening after the preselection of Freedom Boy as the Nasty Party’s candidate for Goldstein there appeared a new Twitter account, @TimWilsonMP.

It was as though the actual election were a mere formality and a foregone conclusion, which may well be the case, but some nitpicker replied, “Have you already been elected?”

Smartly the account came offline and we’re left with Freedom Boy’s usual tweets @timwilsoncomau and his new campaign account @Tim4Goldstein, where we found a solitary missive and 55 followers.

The previous time we looked at his usual Twitter work he had posted a lovely snap of himself with Senator James Paterson (aged 14-and-a-half) at an Institute of Public Affairs fogeys’ function, grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats.

I notice that Jimbo had recently tweeted a line that suggests he has been missing some of his reading and writing classes at school: “Very kind words from @jkalbrechtsen for @timwilsoncomau & I in The @australian today.”

4 . Arfur after pardon

What on earth happened to Arfur (Daley) Sinodinos’s “exculpatory evidence”? This was the “evidence” News Corp hacks were insisting should have had Arfur smelling like roses after he got a bit of a workout at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The senator and cabinet secretary is upset that the NSW Electoral Commission suggests he knew or supported the use of the Free Enterprise Foundation’s laundry facilities to wash illegal donations back into the coffers of the state party machine.

At the time Arfur was the party’s honorary treasurer and finance committee chairman, so it stands to reason he would have absolutely no idea about money coming from the FEF, the biggest donor to the NSW branch of the party.

News Corp reporter Sharri Markson, whose work on this matter has been described by no less an authority than Miranda Devine as “forensic”, said ICAC deliberately hid evidence that might have supported Sinodinos’s position that everything was kosher.

This “evidence” was an opinion from the crown solicitor that the FEF had discretionary power over the handling of donations, so it’s washing operations back to the state party were “lawful”.

Now the electoral commission, chaired by former president of the NSW court of appeal Keith Mason, finds that the FEF was simply an “agent” of the donors and clearly run as a political operation used to disguise the source of the money. The commission will not pay the party election funding of $4.4 million until the issue is straightened out and proper disclosures are made.

Arfur wants the commission to remove his name from any suggestion that he knew what was going on.

Once again the “exculpatory evidence” has not saved him – it seems to have turned to dust; in fact, it was always dust. From dust to dust.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 2, 2016 as "Gadfly: Mamil pollies back in saddle".

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

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