Bench press

Here we are full swing into an election campaign, full of watermelons and babies. 

Liberal senator and Attorney-General George “Bookshelves” Brandis is working like a Trojan to get the Coalition back on the Treasury benches. He has his sights set far beyond the next parliament, but future plans depend on a Turnbull government being safely in place.

Close associates of the bigotry advocate assure me that his ambition is the High Court, and he wouldn’t be the first attorney-general who sat beside the lake – there was the tax avoiders’ friend Garfield Barwick and then Lionel Murphy

There are a number of possibilities. Chief Justice Robert French retires in March. In fact, he will stop judging at the end of this year so that the next court year in 2017 can proceed without him. And there is another High Court judge who would like to bale out early. 

So, if Bookshelves can persuade Malcolm Turnbull, he can either go in March or hang about ’til the next puisne vacancy. 

In answers to questions on the notice paper in November 2013, Bookshelves left wide open the possibilities for his glittering future: 

Q: Will you ever seek or accept a position on the bench yourself?  

A: I have no present intention of retiring from parliament. 

Turnbull is on the horns of a dilemma and has to weigh the benefits of being without Bookshelves on the frontbench against the angst for the court caused by his transfer to the judicial arm of government. 

You have been warned.

Font of wisdom

It was great to see fledgling senator Jimbo “Diddums” Paterson (Lib, Vic) sink his baby gums into the ABC’s new CEO Michelle Guthrie at senate estimates last week. 

First up, Diddums wanted to know why the national broadcaster had commissioned a new font to be used for its online typography and how much it cost. There can be few more troubling issues, particularly as Peter Lofgren from the design team described the typeface in language that would inflame a former functionary of the Institute for Paid Advocacy. 

“A sense of contrast that is simultaneously austere and rich. A true sense of inclusiveness that celebrates diversity and multiculturalism. And finally that special larrikin mentality that does not take itself too seriously ...” 

Inclusiveness, diversity, multiculturalism – yuk. Guthrie tried to explain that Aunty didn’t buy an off-the-rack font because it’s important to have its own consistent proprietary branding across all platforms. By now the baby senator was spitting out his dummy and complaining that this was nothing more than a lavish taxpayer-funded marketing font. 

To everyone’s relief, he moved on to his next favourite topic – did Ms Guthrie “deny that the ABC’s capital city radio presenters come across as leaning a bit to the left?” 

Goodness gracious, she did deny that, so where can Jimbo go next with his searing cross-examination? Of course, the Middle East and reporter Sophie McNeill.

Picking up one of Otto Abetz’s old batons, he asked, “Do you think it is appropriate to have someone who is a political activist reporting on news and current affairs?”

It turns out that Ms McNeill is a political activist because no less an authority than George Negus said so. It doesn’t get much more insane than this, except we must remember that Diddums’ contribution to Middle East peace is to move the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and his solution to the problem of fonts, bias and Sophie McNeill is to break up the national broadcaster and sell it off to friends and supporters of the IPA. 

Offshore sedition

Gadfly hightailed it down to Sydney’s Walsh Bay for a glittering book launch about a grim subject. Madeline Gleeson, lawyer and researcher at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, has written Offshore, a look at the horrors of life behind the wire on Manus and Nauru. 

On hand to do the launch was refugee advocate Julian Burnside, who was in blazing form. Among other things, he described Madeline’s book as the first exhibit in the “indictment of Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton for crimes against humanity”. 

He struck a long-lasting chord with his crystallisation of the Commonwealth law that makes it an offence punishable by jail for staff or contractors on Manus or Nauru to report what they see happening there, even if criminal offences are occurring. 

“If it’s a criminal offence to report a crime,” Burnside said, “then you know the place is being run by criminals.” 

Needless to say, Labor supported the Coalition in the passage of that amendment to the Migration Act. 

The launch crowd included the transplanted vowel Geoffrey Robertson, Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, father of the author, who has the job of arguing migration cases for the Commonwealth in the High Court, and former chief justice Gerard Brennan, the author’s grandfather. 

Kay for Kero

Why did Bookshelves Brandis waste a perfectly good opportunity to assist Bronwyn “Kero Bath” Bishop in her desire to continue to “serve” the people of Australia? 

Instead he made former Liberal senator Kay Patterson the incoming age discrimination commissioner, when it was a readymade gig for Bronwyn. She could have so easily transitioned from helicopters to wheelchairs as she battered down discriminatory doors in the interests of ancient citizens. 

Patterson was a health minister when Brandis’s friend the “lying rodent” was prime minister. 

I notice that Diddums Paterson’s old shop, the IPA, didn’t have anything to say about Kay Patterson being dragged out of mothballs for the job at the Human Rights Commission, but it did have a lot of miserable things to unload about the replacement for Freedom Boy, Ed Santow, the former CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. 

It claims that Santow has been on the “wrong side of debates on freedoms” – including a failure to support the “bigots” amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, coming out in favour of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, opposing blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for churches and religious outfits and, even more appalling, acting for a blind client who sued Coles because its shopping website was unsuitable for the sight-impaired. 

Santow clearly won’t measure up in comparison to his predecessor, who supported the bigots’ amendment and the right of religious organisations to discriminate, and who used his $320,000-a-year job (taxpayer-funded, Diddums) as human rights commissioner to scratch his fleas off in public and thereby lift his profile so he could land Liberal side-up on a safe piece of parliamentary leather.  

Bank rupture

“We Can,” says the Commonwealth Bank, and it certainly can can. 

More than one Fairfax insider says the Commonwealth Bank has pulled back its advertising from the company’s metropolitan mastheads. 

It probably has absolutely nothing to do with Adele Ferguson’s exposés of the bank’s rogue financial planners who chewed up retirees’ savings, or its insurance arm confiscating people’s payouts. Bank CEO Ian Narev has assured all of us that the bank is committed to cultural change and acting “with compassion”. 

Ferguson has carried off every journalism prize imaginable – a Gold Walkley, Graham Perkin Journalist of the Year and a Kennedy Award for outstanding finance reporting. 

You would have thought, what with all these plaudits, the bank would have responded by increasing its advertising in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review

But, no, despite its commitment to compassion, it has cut its spending. 

A spokesmodel for the bank told Gadfly it doesn’t provide comment on its advertising priorities. 

Cheesed Kransky

We’re now out of our misery. Chris “Kransky” Mitchell’s long anticipated media column in The Catholic Boys Daily has finally arrived. 

It was well worth the wait because he did an incredibly unusual thing – he got stuck into some ABC types for not seeing the wonders of trickle-down economics, and buttered up some old pals on the Daily, including Monsignor Kelly, for pointing out the heavy lifting done by rich people and the wonderful opportunities for small businesses now they have to pay less tax. 

Kransky bemoaned the failure of Turnbull and Co to properly advocate their policies, adding, “advocacy works best when it starts with thought leaders in the media”. 

Thank heavens we’ve got this wunderkind back in print as a “thought leader”. I’ll be looking to him much more closely to lead some of my thoughts. 

The highlight of the inaugural column is that he has kept up his simmering campaign against Andrew Bolt, referring to him as “Blot” (© Mike Carlton) and mocking his “small audience”.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 14, 2016 as "Gadfly: Bench press". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.