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

Jogging our cemeteries

The election campaign rolls on – holding the nation in its fearsome grip.

Billion Dollar Bill’s jogging routine is one of the spellbinding attractions. Wearing layers of shorts, the opposition leader flaps his arms in a doggy-paddle display of athleticism, which is matched only by the magnetism of his bosoms. 

“Jogging” or flapping through Waverley Cemetery in Sydney was a masterstroke. Whichever adviser decided that Bill should get fit, while everyone watches, deserves a promotion. 

1 . Evan only knows

The Labor candidate for Turnbull, otherwise known as Wentworth, is young Evan Hughes, a former art gallery director. As can be expected, he is running an eccentric campaign with the catchline, “I Miss Malcolm” – i.e. the real Malcolm who loves gay marriage, a carbon price and a republic.

He wants old Malcolm back, while at the same time trying to take his seat from him. An interesting strategy. 

To this end, Evan has sprinkled corflutes throughout the electorate with a beaming picture of himself, with the ALP branding so tiny a magnifying glass is needed to discover it. 

Who can blame him?  

2 . Votes in the can

Meanwhile, there is concern for the voting rights of those doing porridge. 

Indefatigable prison reform campaigner Brett Collins tells me that while most people in prisons and locked up in hospitals are eligible to vote they have not been getting enrolment information from the authorities. 

Little Winston Howard tried to knock off prisoners’ right to vote and the High Court didn’t wear it. The present position in federal elections is that those with full-time sentences of three years or longer cannot vote while in the slammer. 

That means that about 50 per cent of the prison population should be eligible to vote, including remand prisoners. According to Brett, the head screw at Australia’s largest prison, the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater, said only two of his customers voted in the 2013 election. 

Since most eligible convicts would be voting for the Sex Party or Family First, their enrolment would make a real difference come July 2. 

3 . Setting the Tone

A cosy night at Sailors Thai in The Rocks as MUP’s Louise Adler hosted Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin and a bunch of media reptiles at a Sydney Writers’ Fest banquet. 

Tone was enjoying the libations and gave the impression to some of the hacks that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Liberal leadership might again come up for grabs, sometime in the foreseeable future. Black Hole Morrison and Death Stare Bishop would have to be favourites to seize the orb of leadership, he thought, with he, himself, Tone, not too far away from the prize. 

Maybe everyone was a bit tired and emotional, but that’s what at least one savvy reptile had scribbled on a paper napkin as a record of the conversation. 

Abbott left about 11.30, with Credo, the Sky News and Smello correspondent, seconds behind. 

Where was “self-serving revenge” artiste Niki Savva when you need her? 

4 . Defence of Dutton

I turn to Chris (Burst Kransky) Mitchell’s thought leadership in The Catholic Boys Daily and his sparkling putdown of nincompoops who have been critical of Peter (“Outstanding”) Dutton’s remarks about illiterate, job-stealing and dole-bludging refugees. 

Dutton wasn’t dog whistling so much as making a massive foghorn racist blast on a scale not seen or heard since Arthur Calwell may have said, “Two Wongs Don’t Make A White”. 

The Kransky said the minister’s remarks were “obvious” and you can’t put people like Frank Lowy, Dick Pratt and Victor Chang in the same boat, because “they were migrants rather than refugees”. 

As if that didn’t clinch the argument, there was follow-up from the faithful pooch Chris Kenny, bringing to heel media “elites” who ignore the facts, whatever they are. 

Fortunately, there was heavyweight support for Mr Outstanding from  Planet Janet, who thought we should be thanking the minister for his “straight-talking”. Jennifer Oriel, who says she is “acclaimed as one of the top nine ‘brightest people in higher education’ ”, also thought Dutton was on the right track. So, too, the insightful Amanda Vanstone

The oft-repeated furphy from thought leaders is that Australia is already generous enough when it comes to refugees because we rank on a per capita basis No. 3 in the world. 

But that is only if you count people settled through the United Nations offshore program. If we examine our onshore intake – that is, people who have been found to be refugees after arriving by boat or plane – our per capita ranking drops from third to about 70th. We sink below Sudan, Afghanistan, Chad and, of course, Burundi. 

In the meantime, I have hired eugenics experts to examine Peter Dutton’s facial features. They report traces of central Asian ancestry, maybe Mongolian. Who let him in? 

5 . Baird sold on privatisation

The Pepsodent Kid, New South Wales premier Mike Baird, knows no limit to what amount of the state’s silverware can be hawked and privatised. 

The latest to be flogged off to the private sector is the land titles registry. Citizens are gobsmacked that this secure state-run resource is to be handed over to an outside operator. The word is the Macquarie Bank people have been interested in getting their paws on the proposed 35-year concession. 

A major property owner operating the land titles system sounds like a lousy idea. Land and Property Information,
as it is called, is part of the Finance, Services and Innovation departmental “cluster”, and currently returns about $60 million a year to the state treasury. 

In America, where the privatisation binge is even more berserk, people have to insure their titles because of a lack of faith in the security of privately managed registries. 

What won’t the money-obsessed God-botherers who run the state sell from underneath us? 

6 . Hitting the Matt

Has the campaign by The Catholic Boys Daily against media academic Matthew Ricketson come to a shuddering halt? 

Surely they should be rummaging through his garbage bin – known in the trade as binology – or hacking his phone, as pioneered by their colleagues in the Old Dart. 

Professor Ricketson was nominated by the journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, to be its representative on the Australian Press Council, the industry-funded outfit that keeps an eye on press standards and journalists’ ethics. But, because he was a member of the 2011 Finkelstein review into the accountability of Australian news media, the Daily has branded him as some sort of Stalinist opposed to the very soul of press freedom.

Finkelstein recommended an independent News Media Council, funded by parliament – akin to the broadcasting regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority. 

The hacks went bananas and demanded that the union withdraw Ricketson’s appointment to the APC. This week, the media section of the union met to consider the prof’s position. Celebrity reporter at the Daily, Darren Davidson, gave the impression the meeting was riddled with “dissenting voices opposed to his position on the press council”. 

Never let the facts get in the way. Ricketson was supported 18 votes to one, with one abstention. 

In the old days journalists were “regulated” by their union’s ethics committee. As one old hand assured me: “Don’t worry, I’ve got the numbers on the ethics committee”.

7 . Song-sheet Sean

Which gets us to quote of the week from Sean Aylmer, Fairfax’s head of metropolitan newspapers: “I think Greg Hywood [the company boss] has done a great job in getting us to where we are.” 

Never have the mass redundancies, sackings, junk online stories and massive dissatisfaction by readers and staff been better explained. 

Sean, who most agree is a pretty adorable fellow, told a Mumbrella reporter that Fairfax is looking for a “different mix of people and in our case fewer people”. 

Even though staff passed a vote of no confidence in senior executives, Sean believes that “no one in the newsroom” disagrees that change is necessary. 

Everyone is being so unfair to Plywood and his offsider Allen Williams. “What they have done in the past three years has basically saved us,” insisted Sean – and needless to say, saved themselves and their handsome paypackets.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 28, 2016 as "Gadfly: Jogging our cemeteries".

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

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