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

Gadfly: Could we be any border?

Misty-eyed viewers could be forgiven for thinking that Sunday night’s Turnbull v Shorten TV bout was a dud affair.

Round after round, without anyone getting knocked out, not even a black eye – which is inexcusable.

When it came to the “security of our borders” it was a particularly miserable experience, with the usual bloviated cacophony about the business model of people smugglers or, in Billion Dollar Bill’s case, “criminal syndicates”.

It was unclear what the contenders are proposing to do with the nearly 1500 people imprisoned onshore and nearly the same number in offshore camps, or, as former Victorian Supreme Court judge Stephen Charles called them, “concentration camps”.

Implicitly, the policy of the Coalition is to merrily continue the regime of suicides, self-harm, assaults, rapes, immolations and mental destruction, under the supervisory care of the odious Mr (Outstanding) Dutton, until such time as the prisoners give up and agree to return to their home countries, where more persecution awaits.

It’s no more than a scheme of self-induced refoulement, which, whatever way you look at it, defies human decency.

Perhaps inspired by the success of the Australia to Cambodia refugee export scheme, Shorten’s solution is to send his immigration minister to see the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and work out a regional resettlement program. It’s a brilliant idea, were it not for the fact that the region is already bursting with its own refugee problems: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, in fact everywhere you look in the neighbourhood.

As one of the fearsome interlocutors noted on Sunday night, even Little Winston Howard allowed boat people to come back into Australia after processing.

1 . All white: Arfur’s theme confirmed

Helen Pringle from the University of New South Wales put to rest Gadfly’s uncertainty about whether Arfur Calwell, Ben Chifley’s immigration minister from 1945 to 1949, actually said “two Wongs don’t make a white”.

He did, and Hansard from December 2, 1947, shows the minister setting the tone for much of our current policy: “The government has decided that all persons who came to Australia as evacuees or refugees during the war and who are not eligible to become permanent residents of this country must leave. We have been very tolerant of these people ... In all, 15,000 evacuees of all nationalities came to Australia during the war. Of that number, 4400 were Asiatics. Most of the evacuees, including the Asiatics, have gone.”

Calwell added that there had been protests about the repatriation of Malays, “from a number of very reputable people, particularly in Sydney, on emotional and sentimental grounds”.

Yes, there were misty-eyed inner-city types, even in those times.

Arfur also referred to “a Chinese” who had been here 20 years, so therefore could not have been a wartime refugee, so his certificate might be “extended from time to time”.

“The gentleman’s name is Wong. There are many Wongs in the Chinese community, but I have to say – and I am sure that the honourable member for Balaclava [Thomas White] will not mind me doing so – that, ‘two Wongs do not make a White’.”


2 . Smiles from nowhere

By now the prime ministerial cheeks must be aching with pain. The man whose party leads him has been told to throw the switch to sunshine and to “keep smiling” regardless of the dizzying number of meet and greets with orbiting factory workers or potato farmers. 

Journalist Andrew Clark in The Australian Financial Review reports that the pro-smiling advice came from Liberal insider and pal of the PM Michael Yabsley, who recently hosted Turnbull at the “Wombat Hollow” event where Tories in checked shirts and blazers turned out to see the PM perform his “exciting era” routine. Yabbers says Turnbull can be, “totally remote and very rude … He’s got a short fuse. Many people have experienced that. When he decided to go into politics he knew they were personality traits he had to get rid of … Malcolm’s answer was just to be emotionally passive in whatever circumstances. I have said to him to ‘keep smiling’.”  

It must be excruciating for someone who just wants to chuck tantrums.  

3 . Beware the Brainy debate

The IPA brotherhood continues to churn out free copy to fill up the yawning spaces in the Fin Review, created by the mass retrenchments of people who actually had some idea what they were talking about.

Wednesday’s opinion piece from IPA dreamweaver Simon Breheny was a masterpiece of contortion. His thinking ran along these lines:

Companies have the power to hire and fire “whomever they like”. This is good. But Bell Potter firing Angus Aitken raises concerns about “the future of robust debate in Australia”. This could be bad because debate is good, although debate by corporates on social issues with which Brainy disagrees is bad. For example, what’s Telstra doing supporting marriage equality and what about Qantas’s support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders? Corporate advocacy of “social engineering” is definitely bad.

So robust debate, which is selectively good, should not get in the way of “maximising profit” or of the right to sack people, which is always good.  

I find that a sensible way through life is to try to locate whatever the IPA is attempting to say and then come to precisely the opposite point of view.  

4 . Fluffing the lines

There’s one person definitely in need of a pay rise from the Fin Review, and that’s the hilarious Rowan Dean, a fluffy-haired former director of TV commercials who scribbles a column for the paper.

Last week’s contribution illustrates that the one-time advertising auteur is an absolute hoot. He handed out his 2016 “Poor Me” awards, compiled “exclusively from among the wealthiest or most celebrated individuals in Australia who, despite their great fortune and good luck, still bleat on about how hard done by they are”.

There were seven finalists, including “Sheik Waleed Logy, Adam Baddes, Stan ‘Don’t-take-me-for’ Granted, and Nova Peris-Backbone” – all citizens of colour and all receiving a good old whack from Mr Fluffy because of problems associated with not being more white.

Three other contestants were white, but they too were whingers: “Brigadier-General David Morriscorn, Jane Carob and Julia ‘La’ Grillard”.

Rheumy, retired stockbrokers on Sydney’s north shore and in Melbourne’s Malvern were wheezing with delight at Fluffs’ merciless skewering.

The fact that it was tasteless, creepy, cringeworthy and bigoted is completely beside the point.

5 . Bookshelves gets in on the circuit act

Bookshelves Brandis has been eerily quiet during the election campaign and there has been much speculation that he’d been hidden under a stormwater grate, as was the case during one particular episode at university. However, my field agent in northern Tasmania spotted him this week at the farewell ceremony for retiring Federal Circuit Court judge Stuart Roberts, who has hung up his wig after 16 years.

Bookshelves arranged for Roberts’ replacement during the election campaign by getting the chief judge of the court, John Pascoe, to pull Judge Terence McGuire out of Melbourne and send him to Launceston.

As we have noted before, this was mightily pleasing to the Liberal member for Bass, Field Marshal Andrew Nikolic, who was worried that his constituents would experience delays in purchasing their divorces.

Blow me down if Bookshelves didn’t turn up for Judge Roberts’ farewell ceremony and make what attendees thought were inappropriate political remarks in the court, particularly by lavishing praise on the Field Marshal for his brilliant lobbying to get the judicial vacancy filled at this vital time.

To the inward groans of the assembled big-wigs the attorney mentioned two or three times that Judge McGuire was only appointed because of Nikolic’s brilliance as a local member.

Knowing that Roberts was retiring, it’s a mystery that Brandis didn’t appoint a new judge to the Launceston post prior to the caretaker period. Anyway, the A-G told the court that Judge McGuire was “born and bred” in Launceston and that this makes the appointment all the more wonderful and auspicious, blah, blah, blah.

Minor problem – Judge Terry McGuire was born and bred in Devonport. No matter – close enough is good enough for old Shelves.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 4, 2016 as "Gadfly: Could we be any border?".

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