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

Going hell for leather

Off to the booths we go. There are so many things to consider. Is it six below the line and 12 above or both or what? Will we be better off with senators Hinch and Hanson? Will Malcolm ever shut up if he wins more seats? Is a joint sitting to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill a dead duck?

Let’s hope Bookshelves Brandis and the IPA’s Senator “Sprog” Paterson get re-elected. Life would be miserable without them. And Freedom Boy; at last his posterior will be on the green leather. What could be more peachy? And someone better die pretty smartly and make way for the new/old generation of Downers. How long do we have to wait for this brilliant line to be returned to parliament? 

The election is to be followed in short order by the homophobes’ picnic, aka the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Some of the more vehement opponents of this small step in the direction of human rights are working themselves into a lather. Former PM Tony Abbott for one is upset that national security hasn’t played a major role in the campaign, allowing “less substantial stuff” to distract us – such as equality.

1 . Navvy beans

The evisceration of Fairfax newspapers continues apace. The bean counters have been running the slide rule over the print products and deciding how many pages are needed to maximise the bottom line. 

Never mind the readers; clinging on to the last dollar per page is the thing that counts. Pagination is the name of the game, where the volume of ads determines how much room there is for journalism.

The Sun-Herald has been depriving readers of regular features because the ads are running thin. Partly this is seasonal because advertising spending drops towards the end of each financial year. 

The Good Food section of The Age and SMH lost pages and feature articles for the same reason and now the word on the street is that The Weekend Financial Review will henceforth lose 16 pages and go from the current 56 to 40 pages. 

Editors are working around the clock deciding what sections should be sliced and diced. People on the lower deck urge the top editorial brass to stand up more determinedly to the rum lot of executives who make these decisions. The navvies have the feeling that daily print is all but finished and no one upstairs cares a hill of beans. 

2 . 99 not out

The other morning Gadfly was quietly reading Quadrant and enjoying a pre-prandial cherry brandy in the Union Club in Bent Street, Sydney, about as far away from unions as you could wish, when in walked Sir Lenox Hewitt

The famed former Canberra mandarin at 99 looks surprisingly sprightly. On occasion, unwary hacks have rashly assumed that Sir Len had departed from the mortal coil and published beastly remarks about the great man, only to have him pop into court and clean up very nicely.

3 . Savage wits

Still in clubland and a field agent brings news of a pre-election lunch at the Melbourne Savage Club. Before the feasting started, a rheumatic old-timer gave our man a tour of the club and its artworks, dispensing with the burden of political correctness: “You can see the native holding the shield in this picture. I don’t know where it’s from – Borneo or something, I think.” 

A member of the Liberal Democrats was seated nearby and offered illuminating opinions about Bookshelves Brandis, also a Savage member. “He’s a very smart man, but a really bad salesman. I mean, you’re selling free speech. How hard is that?” 

Gadfly’s agent snuck a look at his phone, which is completely against club rules, but all was forgiven when he reported that the Brexiters had won the vote in the Old Dart. A great cheer and pumping of fists met the news. 

Lunch was preceded by two rounds of cocktails before everyone ploughed into plates of pork, lukewarm vegetables and recently defrosted peas, accompanied by bottomless glasses of club red.

By 6pm members were still solidly at it. Who said things weren’t marvellous in Yarraside? 

4 . Nut and Bolt

I see Gadfly’s old friend Chris Kenny, who scratches opinions for The Catholic Boys Daily, is lamenting further threats to free speech. “The intrusions and lecturing over what views are considered appropriate are stultifying. Soon, it seems, public figures will need to subedit every joke, workshop every criticism and run a focus group to test every piece of analysis.” 

Yes, we’ve come to a pretty pass when jokes have to be culled, particularly ones about people having sex with labradoodles. 

Meantime, another News Corp opinion scribbler, Dr Andreas Bolt, BA (withdrawn) South Aust, has his new book of verse out on the shelves. It’s everything you’d expect, but the endorsements on the front and back cover lift the work into the stratosphere. 

“Our finest public intellectual,” gushes Tony Abbott. “One bloke who sticks his head up is Andrew Bolt ... writing with clarity and conviction,” says Alan Jones. “Whenever I want to know what’s really going on I read Andrew Bolt,” adds former adman cum editor Rowan Dean, in the process explaining Spectator Australia’s understanding of what’s really going on. 

5 . Bio chemistry 

If someone from the Taliban had planted an improvised roadside device in Sydney’s Phillip Street on Wednesday night, it would have blown up half the city’s barristers and a handful of its best judges. 

Not that I’m suggesting that is a good idea, it’s just that there was an enormous gathering of big wigs in the bar ’n’ grill’s common room for the launch of historian Ian Hancock’s biography of former politician, barristerial legend, pastoralist and father-in-law to the prime minister Tom Hughes

The room already has a portrait of Hughes hanging from the wall, so what’s one more crowning achievement? 

Former High Court chief justice Murray “Smiler” Gleeson did the launch of the book about the life and times of “Frosty” Tom. Between Smiler and Frosty and the cold air blowing up and down the street, it might have been a chilly affair, had it not been for some sparkling speeches.

Gleeson said he had visited Hughes on his spread outside Goulburn and as they walked around one of the paddocks they came across a sheep suffering an ailment. Hughes tended to the animal for an hour with the chief justice hovering nearby. As lawyers are wont to do, Gleeson was totting up what the equivalent of that hour would be in barristers’ fees if, say, Hughes had spent the same time on a brief for the old Packer newspaper business Consolidated Press. Just to put the issue in perspective, Hughes told him the sheep was worth about $8.50. 

With sheep, of course, there are humanitarian considerations, which isn’t necessarily the case when working for the Packers.

6 . Baird idea

The tally of state-owned and -run agencies that Pepsodent Kid Mike Baird has on the block grows more alarming each day. 

We’ve mentioned previously the insane decision to send the state land titles registry into private hands. Now we read that childcare centres at Liverpool and Bankstown-Lidcombe hospitals are to be privatised, while a car park is to be built over the childcare centre at Royal Prince Alfred. 

There’s news that the state land on which the historic former Darlinghurst Gaol stands has been transferred to the government’s property arm, prior to plumping the site for sale. This follows the sale of the grand sandstone buildings in Bridge Street – the old education and lands departments. 

The upshot of the Darlinghurst sale is that the National Art School is likely to be without a home and is having merger talks with the University of New South Wales, which is in the process of merging its arts school with that of the University of Sydney.

As if that is not wicked enough for diversity of arts education, the government called in its favourite privateer experts at KPMG to work out how to get the prison education system off the books as well. 

There are about 153 people employed in the jails as prison teachers. Apparently, that is not a good thing – after all, they are only prisoners. The aim is to get the prison classrooms and art studios closed down and replaced by Correctional Services Industries, a business that makes numberplates and bags up headphones for Qantas which, strictly speaking, is not in the slightest bit educational.

Next up is the sale of Long Bay Correctional Complex after all the inmates are shifted to a new private jail at Wollondilly. 

There’s no shortage of Thatcherite ideas from Baird & Co.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 2, 2016 as "Gadfly: Going hell for leather".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

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

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on June 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.