Diary

Gadfly
Bjørn sloppy

The slamming of university doors in Bjørn Lomborg’s face amid the spurning of the Abbott government’s cash sponsorship doesn’t seem to have put the guru from the Copenhagen Consensus Centre off his stride.  

A couple of his most recent contributions have piqued the interests of actual, real climate scientists.  

Take a piece he wrote earlier this month in the London Telegraph, headlined, “No one ever says it, but in many ways global warming will be a good thing.” His thesis is that global warming brings as many benefits as it does damage.  

One of the great things Bjørn is keen about is that fewer people will die from the cold because everything will be getting hotter.  

Another study he cited said that as CO2 has increased the Earth is now much greener, because carbon dioxide acts as a fertiliser. “This ought to be a cause for great joy,” said Bjørn.  

A group of 14 climate scientists from around the world posted their responses with a network called Climate Feedback, which fact checks reporting on climate. They gave the article a scientific credibility rating of –1.5, which is somewhere between low and very low.  

Apparently the problem was that Bjørn is in “blatant disagreement with available scientific evidence ... he misrepresents the studies he cites ... [and there are] significant inaccuracies and cherrypicking”.  

A month earlier Lomborg had a piece in The Wall Street Journal called “An Overheated Climate Alarm”, where he went deeper into the good news about fewer cold-related deaths. The world already experiences fewer deaths from cold conditions than hot conditions, so global warming should nicely even things up. The underlying proposition is that it would be preferable to die from heat stroke than chilblains.  

I hope Maurice Newman is taking notes, regardless of the 10 scientific fact checkers at Climate Feedback who gave this one a score of –1.3, slightly better than The Telegraph effort. Again cherrypicking from a small subset of evidence was one of the problems, as well as “flawed reasoning”.  

No wonder he found an admirer and $4 million benefactor in Tone and his minister for education, Poodles Pyne.  

Judgement call

At last, the former PM’s phrase “captain’s call” has received some long overdue judicial consideration.  

NSW Supreme Court defamation list judge Lucy McCallum gave it shape and form when considering meanings in a defamation action brought by the mayor of Narrabri Shire Council in relation to some Facebook posts that upset him.  

According to her honour’s judgement, the Facebook page, called “Narri-Leaks”, suggested that the appointment of a new shire general manager might boil down to a “captain’s call” by the mayor.  

The defendants objected to the term “captain’s call” adopted by the mayor in his imputations, saying it is imprecise and worse, meaningless.  

The objection was later withdrawn, but that did not stop the judge considering it: “In my view, it may be accepted that the public discourse surrounding the former prime minister’s use of the term ‘captain’s call’ to defend his decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip without consulting any of his cabinet colleagues has lent the phrase a clear meaning (now recognised in the Macquarie Dictionary), being a decision made by a political leader without consultation with colleagues.”  

The phrase “Fine Cotton ring-in” in the mayor’s pleadings, regrettably, met with a less fortunate fate. In this instance, HH found that it was “imprecise” and struck it out. “I do not think the term ‘Fine Cotton ring-in’ can be said to be one that would necessarily be understood by the ordinary reasonable reader.”  

The plaintiff’s lawyers tried to replace it with the words, “criminal enterprise”, but that, too, was knocked out.  

Thank heavens these phrases have been clarified judicially, unlike with the NSW District Court judge Len Levy, who was asked whether he was aware of Facebook. “No ... I know what a face is, I know what a book is, but I haven’t had any experience of it being one word.”

Paperless profits

Ace Fairfax business reporter Michael West says he was told by management that his “skill set [is] not aligned with Fairfax strategy going forward”, and was made redundant this week, which makes you wonder what sort of skill set the executive geniuses have in mind for the future of the company.   

West thinks there’s a bright side to his sacking – it will bring great joy to multinationals, coal companies, banks, peak bodies, regulators and “big everything”, whose affairs he has prodded, poked, raked and uncovered.  

Anne Davies, another SMH investigative top-notch, is also leaving, along with a raft of people from The Australian Financial Review.  

Greg Plywood’s race-to-the-bottom strategy is for the Monday-Friday SMH and Age to go entirely online with print editions confined to the weekend. The Fin Review will probably keep printing during the week but not on Saturday.  

Most of the daily news stuff can be produced by wire services or robots, with a few reptiles confined to investigations and features.  

The Institute for Paid Advocacy, along with nanny-state watchdog and vet David Leyonhjelm, can fill up all the space for columns and commentary free.  

Meanwhile, the IPA has launched a shouty membership drive, where the promotions muffin promises to give you an extra six months’ membership, also free. 

Wait, there’s more. A free copy of the Berg–Roskam book Magna Carta: The Tax Revolt that Gave Us Liberty (if only). They also throw in discounted tickets to IPA events with some of your favourite awful people; an IPA pen and key ring; a weekly email called Hey ... What Did I Miss?; and a membership card.  

There must be a set of steak knives in there somewhere.  

Welcome to the world of free speech, where the institute’s preferred freedom-loving response is to offer off-the-record no comments to pesky questions (hello, Diddums).  

Court short

My friend, Attorney-General Bookshelves Brandis, “QC”, pulled a swifty with the appointment of a new Federal Circuit Court judge to sit in Launceston, in the seat of Bass, held slenderly by Field Marshal Andrew Nikolic.  

The timing is decidedly queer. On May 11, shadow A-G Mark Dreyfus pointed out that, despite promises, no judge for northern Tasmania had been named to replace judge Stuart Roberts, who is retiring on June 19.  

It is doubly odd, because Brandis announced a bunch of federal court appointments days before the caretaker period kicked in, including two for the circuit court, yet at that point there was no one for north Van Diemen’s Land. 

On May 15, well after the government went into caretaker mode, Brandis put out a statement saying Terence McGuire will be Tasmania’s new FCC judge, based permanently in Launceston. 

He said that this appointment was “made by the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, Judge John Pascoe, on my recommendation, following strong representations by the Tasmanian Liberal team”. Translation: the Field Marshal was kicking up a terrible stink that electors’ divorces would be delayed unless Bookshelves got cracking.  

To get around the caretaker problem, where the government is not supposed to make appointments unless in rare cases with the agreement of the opposition, Brandis gets the chief judge to fill the upcoming vacancy.  

Judge McGuire has been sitting in Melbourne, so his transfer to Launceston leaves the Yarraside court one judge down. But don’t worry, this judge shuffle is vital to bolster the Field Marshal’s forces.  

Otto Abetz has also told Tasmanians not to “spray votes around”, rather keep them directed to the fanatics and God-botherers who hold the Liberal flag in the Apple Isle.  

Cat flap 

Cats are making a welcome appearance in select parts of the federal election campaign. Obliquely, Peter Dutton’s sensitive contribution about the literacy and employment prospects of refugees was cited as an example of the Crosby Textor technique of putting a “dead cat on the table”.  

According to outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson, a client of the Sir Lynton Crosby machine, this is a tactic whereby people will say, “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table” and talk about the dead cat rather than an issue that is causing grief.  

Even more remarkable, people have been sighted in the prime minister’s electorate of Wentworth wearing lapel buttons featuring the image of a weeping cat.  

As Pauline might say: “Please explain?”

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2016 as "Gadfly: Bjørn sloppy". Subscribe here.

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