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

The princeless diaries

It has now been more than two years since shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus made his original freedom of information request for parts of Senator Bookshelves Brandis’s diary. 

Dreyfus is seeking a list of Bookshelves’ appointments in a relevant time frame to test the attorney-general’s assertion that he had met with and consulted community legal services before slashing their funding. 

Bookshelves refused the request, which made us wonder whether his claims of consultation prior to slashing are kosher. Dreyfus’s application went to a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which found entirely baseless the excuse that to provide the information in the diary was too big an administrative burden and would interfere with Brandis’s workload. 

Gorgeous George has appealed, again, all the way up to a full court of the Federal Court of Australia, engaging a real QC to do his work, a junior barrister and a team from the Australian Government Solicitor’s office.

Dreyfus tells Gadfly that the whole thing is “beyond ridiculous”. He has calculated that the latest round will cost taxpayers about $30,000 in fees. It seems like an expensive exercise in hiding information, and this from the man in charge of our freedoms. 

1 . Past its Shelf life

It reminds me that Bookshelves is well outside the FOI Act’s time frame for dealing with Gadfly’s separate request for copies of documents. 

Brandis’s office replied more than a fortnight after the statutory period to acknowledge receipt of the request and he’s now nearly another fortnight overdue on notifying a decision about the request. 

I’ll keep you posted on further exciting developments in this “freedom from information” saga. 

2 . PJ’s for a good sleep

Reports are filtering through from last weekend’s cultural jamboree at the Byron Writers Fest.

P. J. O’Rourke turned out to be an old bore banging on about gun “rights” and Hillary, so much so that people walked out of his conversation with Kerry O’Brien. The session was sponsored by the Centre for “Independent” Studies.

Also at the festival, Charles Waterstreet conversed with The Saturday Paper’s editor Erik Jensen – the celebrity barrister speaking for an hour on the subject of adolescent masturbation, a topic entirely appropriate for a wanker. 

3 . Wink tanks

The New York Times has done a rather lovely investigation into the murky world of “think tanks”, making the shocking discovery that these outfits push the agendas of donors and thereby amplify corporate influence with politicians. 

It shone a light on a cosy arrangement whereby a listed property developer, Lennar Corporation, involved in a $US8 billion redevelopment scheme in San Francisco, tipped in a lazy $US400,000 to the Brookings Institution, which promised to “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach”.  

In turn, Kofi Bonner, the Lennar executive in charge of the San Francisco project, was appointed a “senior fellow” at Brookings. 

It was comforting to see that having been sprung with this “appearance of a conflict of interest”, Brookings’ executive vice-president, Martin Indyk, who grew up in Sydney, said that from now on, in the interests of transparency, it would not accept anonymous donations from corporations or corporate-backed foundations. 

It would be amazing if conflicts of this sort arose at the Institute for Paid Advocacy, the Centre for Independent Studies or the Henderson Institute, so it surprises that they haven’t taken a leaf out of Brookings’ book and laid open for public inspection their sources of corporate funding. 

4 . Sharia wary

I’m struck by the similarities between Sharia law and the policies of One Nation – weird given that Pauline Hanson is opposed to Islam and halal food. 

One Nationites want to defeminise family law, return it to the control of angry white males, and replace the family courts with tribunals drawn from “mainstream Australia”. 

This is very much in line with Sharia councils, where a woman’s word is only worth a fraction of that of a man’s. A Dutch academic, Machteld Zee, did an undercover investigation of Sharia courts, which she found “always favour the man”.

“The Deliverance end of the hill tribes”, as the late Mick Young referred to the Country Party, has also been flirting with Pauline’s Sharia policy in an attempt to “even up” the evidentiary practices of the Family Court. 

5 . Global warping

We can only be thankful that Queensland climate expert Malcolm Roberts is in the senate peddling his interesting ideas. Of course, Malcolm is a free speech man and supports repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, so that we can all have an “honest” discussion about tax, banking and climate. 

Presumably this is to get around the problem that Jews, through their international banking connections, have a secret agenda of global control through environmentalism. I wonder where Maurice Newman stands, or sits, on that? 

The one positive thing about Malcolm Roberts is that, all on his own, he makes those who have been warning us about global warming look saner than ever. 

6 . Mine eyes best see

The Bylong Valley of New South Wales, made famous by the Obeids and their land sitting on top of juicy coal tenements, is back in the spotlight. 

In March this year the NSW government’s resources and energy officials began a prosecution against South Korean state-owned mining company KEPCO, and its contractor WorleyParsons. It was alleged they used fake photos as part of a submission for permission to explore for coal in the valley. 

The department claimed that in order to advance the case for drilling, the photos were not of the relevant property and showed an environment completely unlike the one where they wanted to explore. 

In the “Drowning Centre” Local Court this week, the government dropped the charges after both companies lodged “enforceable undertakings” promising, Scouts’ honour, not to do it again, paying legal costs and making no admissions of guilt. 

Fines of up to $110,000 and criminal records magically disappeared, leaving local residents who came out to protest a bit miffed when they are arrested, charged and prosecuted. 

Why haven’t housebreakers, car thieves, drug dealers and other marauders got access to these “enforceable undertakings”? It would simplify the justice system no end if the criminally accused could simply promise not to do it again.  

7 . Hywood to hell

Fairfax Media says it will stop publishing audited figures for digital subscribers, a response to slowing digital subscriptions for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Instead, an aggregate number will be released to anxious shareholders. The company says the audited figure is not something that advertisers want, which comes as a surprise to some. The latest number is 209,000 paid digital subscribers together for the SMH, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, accounting for revenue of $38 million.

Meanwhile, it became clear that both Fairfax and Moloch are making the bulk of their publishing profits from real estate ads rather than news. This has prompted Fairfax CEO Greg “Maserati” Hywood to once again flag an end to daily newspapers: “For our Australian Metro Media titles The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age it should surprise no one, and certainly not us, that the seven-day-a-week model will eventually give way to weekend only, or more targeted printing in the case of The Australian Financial Review. This trend is already occurring globally.”

Moneybag investors are also breathing down Maserati’s neck to hurry the closure of print. Many would have seen US TV host John Oliver’s depressing examination of the future of journalism, with nuts-and-bolts reporting of bedrock issues now almost non-existent. So much so that David Simon, a former newspaper reporter in Baltimore and creator of the hit TV series The Wire, said the next 10 to 15 years will be a “great time to be a corrupt politician”.

The digital arm of newspapers only functions strongly alongside print iterations. Standalone news websites tend to turn into clickbait junk and are lost in the maelstrom.

So here we have a situation where the Fairfax mastheads are to move entirely online Monday to Friday in an environment where paid digital is slowing and no one has yet worked out how to stop Facebook and Google filching great slabs of online ad revenue.

It’s the business model you have when you don’t have a business model.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 13, 2016 as "Gadfly: The princeless diaries".

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

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