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

Maiden voyage in the dock

Canberra press gallery types are anxiously awaiting May 18, the day News Corp political hack Samantha Maiden, 43, is to have a sentencing hearing at the Goulburn courthouse. 

She has pleaded guilty to drink-driving and failing to obey the directions of the coppers. This occurred after having a smashing time at Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor’s birthday bash at his Goulburn spread in late March.

The police say they saw a Hyundai Sante Fe travelling towards Crookwell on the right-hand side of the road, over double lines, with its blinker on and a shickered Sambo at the wheel. It sounds similar to her style of political analysis.

In earlier court proceedings Magistrate Darryl Pearce was told Maiden had completed a “know the risk” drug and alcohol awareness program. Sam was fully across the dangers posed by alcohol when she had a whack in her weekly column about MP Jamie Briggs having one or 15 refreshments too many in Honkers. 

The magistrate told the hapless hack that it was an “appalling piece of driving ... you are facing a jail sentence”. Friends have clubbed together to bake splendid cakes embedded with files to assist her early escape. Foes are not so kind, and have come up with a new word, Maidenfreude – pleasure at Samantha Maiden’s misfortune. 

Who can blame the wretched lass for wanting to get stuck into Textor’s tinctures? After all, she had Chris Kenny in the car all the way to the shindig. 

1 . Up periscope

The sound of popping Veuve Clicquot echoed across the great land masses of South Australia and La Belle France with the news that Australian taxpayers are to stump up $50 billion for 12 submarines.  

DCNS, the boatbuilder, is 64 per cent owned by the republic of France and can trace its heritage to Cardinal de Richelieu’s naval expansion program. 

The Frogs are not just good at hundreds of varieties of cheese but have a fine history making and selling submarines. Twenty years ago saw the sale of Agosta-class subs to the Pakistan navy for a miserable €840 million, during the time when Nicolas Sarkozy was budget minister in the Balladur government. 

The deal was plagued with intrigue and allegations of kickbacks, with some of the money paid for the subs supposed to come back to Balladur to finance his unsuccessful tilt against Jacques Chirac for the presidency. 

When Chirac got to the Élysée he refused to pay the sweeteners to the Pakistanis. In May 2002, 11 French engineers, who were to help assemble the subs, were killed in an explosion near the Sheraton hotel in Karachi. The New Zealand cricket team was lodging opposite at the Pearl Continental.

The authorities assured everyone this was the evil work of al-Qaeda, although the other line of argument was that it was actually a reprisal against the French for not coming good with the payoffs for their Pakistani customers. 

The DCNS Scorpène subs sold to Malaysia at the time the shady Najib Razak was defence minister have also been of interest to French prosecutors, who have been on the trail of bribes, murder and “misuse of corporate assets” by DCN, the corporate predecessor to DCNS. 

On one occasion, when reporters pressed Sarkozy about L’affaire Karachi, he told them they were paedophiles. “Amis paedophiles, à demain.” 

2 . Unsettled by science

It’s heartening to know that two of the Turnbull government’s adornments, senators Bookshelves Brandis and Fiona Nash, feel that climate science is not “settled”, despite Paris COP21, reef bleaching and more statistics about the hottest months in history. 

Both have bravely gone out on limbs with other sensible ideas, such as it being okay to be a bigot, snooping on citizens’ phone calls, and in Fiona’s case, having her staff block a website that was to provide health star ratings on processed foods. 

It raises the question, what has Bookshelves got on his bookshelves? The attorney-general put the problem with his trademark clarity: “I’m aware that there are a number of views about the two questions of the nature and the causes of climate change. It doesn’t seem to me that the science is settled at all. But I’m not a scientist. I’m agnostic, really, on that question.” 

Actually, it doesn’t have to be “settled”, there only has to be a consensus that there is a problem. The bull-in-a-china-shop boss of the CSIRO, Larry Marshall, at the time of announcing mass sackings of climate scientists, said that it had been settled and it was time to move on to other things, such as solutions. 

Nash seemed to be having a bob each way – it’s not settled but “what I’m really focused on, again as a farmer, is that climate is changing and that we have to be able to adapt”. 

There are historic parallels to this. A. C. Grayling, in his book The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind, points to the great difficulty the Catholic Church had with the Copernican model of the universe. Eventually consensus came about when various strands and bits of evidence about the solar system confirmed the validity of the “modern” science. 

The church didn’t get around to pardoning Galileo for propounding the Copernican model until 1992, and even then said the inquisitors had acted in good faith. 

3 . Dead ringers

It is good to know that there is strength in the idea that there can be life after death.

I see that Dame Leonie Kramer, who pegged out last week, is still listed as providing editorial advice to Online Opinion, the daily work of the right-of-centre Australian Institute for Progress. 

Likewise, artist Brett Whiteley had shaken off his torpor to advise that dole recipients should be drug tested. “Long-term dole recipients off their heads on drugs instead of looking for work,” he said, “should have their payments suspended.” 

He wants this discussed at his latest round of “Community Cuppas”. But hold on – I’m about to think this is divine inspiration at its highest when I see the fine print confirming that this advice is from Brett Whiteley, the Liberal member for Braddon in Tassie.

The Tasmanian Brett, who looks as though Dick Adams and George Christensen have shown him all the best pie shops in Canberra, is part of the Otto Abetz and Field Marshall Andrew Nikolic lunar, god-fearing Van Diemen’s Land faction of the party. 

He’s doing well, having recently been appointed a government whip, and on Wednesday he had the honour of opening a new pickled onion processing facility in Ulverstone, for which the government provided $500,000 in plant and equipment. The MP described it as an investment in the future. 

4 . Bringing down the house

While the Australian Institute for Progress sails under the radar most of the time, the Grattan Institute doesn’t. 

It’s gone negative about the government’s negative gearing policy for Point Piper real-estate investors. 

This brought Melbourne sage Michael Kroger out of his ormolu-encrusted den to declare that the Grattan Institute is a leftie front, which is probably right given that Lucy Turnbull and that dangerous bolshie David Kemp are on its governing board. 

This is shaping up to be a bitter and complicated policy battle between the Coalition and Labor. It was all so simple in Bob Menzies’ day. When he was speaking at an election rally in 1961 there was an interjection from a rude cloth-cap in the crowd: “What are you gonna do about ’ousing?” 

“Pig Iron” shot back with a brilliant policy initiative: “Put an ‘h’ in front of it.”


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 30, 2016 as "Gadfly: Maiden voyage in the dock".

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

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