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

No counting for young men

How are the numbers stacking up for the anti-18C brigade? The IPA’s senator, Sprog Paterson, says things are looking good for repeal of the wretched section of the Racial Discrimination Act that has caused the buttoning of so many desirable lips.

This week he told a handful of Sky News viewers: “My assessment is we are only one or two votes away from where we need to be in the senate, and the right bill, well-crafted, with the right approach, has a very good prospect of passing.”

Is Sprog having a lend of us? Maybe he assumes the house of review is entirely dominated by knuckle-draggers or possibly he ran out of fingers in a fervid effort to count.

There are 76 senators, and among those in favour of retaining the legislation are 35 for Labor and the Greens together, Xenophon has three, and Jacqui Lambie one. That’s 39 out of 76, which is what they call a majority, and that is not including the majority of Liberal senators who will toe the (new) party line and oppose the amendment. Certainly every senator in the ministry would be expected to support the government, otherwise they will be sitting up the back with Sprog.

Then there’s a thing called the house of representatives, where there is a clear majority to keep the law as it is.

Keep counting, Sproggy.

1 . Eric sees red

Otto Abetz is on Senator Paterson’s ticket when it comes to 18C. Otto also rushed around to the Sky News studio to announce that it is “passing strange” that the Human Rights Commission isn’t upset by “racist terminology” such as “angry white man” and only gets concerned when other colours are mentioned.

Readers of Tasmania’s Mercury last Saturday would have woken to a great wodge of newsprint devoted to an interview with Otto, who can’t stop talking about how the Nasty Party bigwigs didn’t listen to his terrific advice about how to not lose the election.

Very odd, since Abetz exercises a vice-like control of the Tasmanian Nasties.

The article went on and on to such an extent that readers very soon crawled back to bed suffering exhaustion.

As we know, a third of voters who went all the way below the line with the Tasmanian senate voting paper put Otto last. In fact, he came top of those who were last. Yet strangely, this troubling aspect of Otto’s desirability was not agitated or even ventilated by The Mercury.

The Apple Isle’s strongman made it clear that when it comes to the marriage equality plebiscite he’s in favour of fairness.

For every article in the media championing the “Yes” vote, he expects to see a right of reply for the “No” case. How’s that for a free press?

2 . Has USyd painted itself into corner?

The imbroglio surrounding the University of Sydney’s plans to close its Sydney College of the Arts campus at Rozelle’s magnificent Callan Park is now in the grip of lawyers at 10 paces.

At least 130 students, and possibly up to 650, are examining the option of claims under the Australian Consumer Law, on the basis that the university allegedly breached undertakings given at the time of their enrolment.

This involves moving part of the college back to the main campus at Camperdown and closing various streams: goodbye ceramic kilns and the etching press along with the Bachelor of Visual Arts course.

This is accompanied by what is believed to be rubbery figures about the cost of maintaining Rozelle, including $30 million for fire regulation upgrade.

At the end of last year the university’s blurb to enrolling students, claimed: “extensive studio facilities, workshops and digital laboratories support learning across all discipline areas”.

Students say that the provost and deputy vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Garton assured them as recently as March that Sydney College of the Arts students could carry on “business as usual”.

Student newspaper Honi Soit quotes the solicitor for the Students’ Representative Council, Thomas McLoughlin: “If this matter goes to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal then there are procedures to legally require production of documents and to personally subpoena witnesses for cross-examination … I think it would be a marketing and public relations disaster for the university to go into litigation.”

Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has hired Sue Cato, former spin doctor for Tasmanian tree lopper Gunns, to assist with his strategy.

Maybe now we can see why the hierarchy was so keen to push through the scheme to shrink alumni and student representation on the university senate and expand big business involvement.

Poor old USyd has not escaped the upward-thrusting pistons of the corporate state.

3 . Justice crews

While the crusty attendees of the Sambo Griffith Society were jawboning last weekend at Adelaide’s Stamford Plaza there was an altogether different conference under way at the same hotel, at the same time.

While the very conservative Griffith people were working up a head of steam about free speech, the evils of ICAC, why Bills of Rights are a shocking idea and what a jolly good job Sir John Kerr did, the Australian Association of Magistrates was talking next door about young offenders, family violence and claims by refugees for breach of duty of care.

One of the speakers at the magistrates’ corroboree was Julian Burnside, who talked about “language, law and living well”.

Someone from the Griffith conference said they’d seen Burnside, QC, in the lift and assumed he would not be attending their meeting.

Ho, ho. There was much guffawing among the flush-faced protectors of our constitution.

4 . Denial a hot subject

One of Gadfly’s field agents with an interest in climate science has enrolled in an online course at the University of Queensland called Denial 101.

The course is trying to understand what makes climate denialists tick and why anyone takes notice of them. It goes inside their heads, looks at the “sticky myths” and how to counter misinformation with information.

The course is run by John Cook, the climate communication fellow for the Global Change Institute at UQ. He also runs the website Skeptical Science – with a “k” for the Americans – where there is a handy guide about what science says in response to all the loopy contentions of the denialists, for example: climate has changed before; it’s the sun; it’s not bad; there is no consensus; the world is cooling; models are unreliable; animals and plants can adapt; it hasn’t warmed since 1998; Antarctica is gaining ice, etc.

Next time Maurice Newman or the new quack on the block, Malcolm Roberts, says something puzzling, look it up on Skeptical Science.

In the meantime, the university’s certificates in Denialism are in hot demand.

5 . Snail’s place in law

The NSW bar and grill has invited judges, barristers and clerks to “common law drinks” on September 2 at the Club Bar of Hotel CBD in Sydney’s King Street.

It’s to celebrate the “88th anniversary of the momentous event in common law” where Mrs Mary May Donoghue, a pauper, had an “ice-cream float” with ginger beer at the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley, Scotland, from a bottle which, it was claimed, contained the remains of a decomposed snail. She suffered shock and severe gastroenteritis.

From this event arose the modern law of negligence, with the test of reasonable foreseeability. Guest speaker at the anniversary celebrations is Margaret Beazley, the president of the Court of Appeal. It’s $85 for judges and barristers over five years’ standing and $65 for clerks and barristers “under five years”.

There’s much to discuss. Did the bottle belong to Mr Stevenson, the supplier of ginger beer? Was there, in fact, a snail in the bottle? Questions that have invited conjecture to this day.

The majority opinion in the House of Lords was led by Lord Atkin, who was born in Brisbane. Of course, conservative commentators these days would be saying that the House of Lords in Donoghue v Stevenson was engaging in “judicial activism” and that it was entirely wrong to be mean to manufacturers and make them liable for foreseeable injuries to consumers. At the very least, let’s hope there are no gastropods in barristers’ drinkies at the Club Bar.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 20, 2016 as "Gadfly: No counting for young men".

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

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