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

Gadfly: Race to the bottoms

The pants-down show at the car race in Kuala Lumpur was a real treat and a moment of great pride for Australians. Oi, oi, oi.

Jack Walker, one of the private school, daks-off chaps, works for Poodles Pyne, which seems about right.

They all had that same vacant, block-headed look that you get with Young Liberals. A professor of international law from ANU was called up to pronounce upon the legal ramifications of the arrest, the nation’s treasurer said the galoots were on Malaysian “ground” so they’ve got to “comply”, and Bill Shorten announced it was “incredibly serious”, but he didn’t want to say anything to “inflame debate”.

Should the “Budgie Nine” have received six of the best with the rattan in compliance with sharia law? Should our high commissioner have been withdrawn? Regardless, the “boys” were freed after issuing a small grovel.

We pray that young Jack, a Cranbrook old boy no less, survives the ordeal, gets his pants back on, and returns to continue advising Poodle. He’s indispensable to our defence industry policy.

1 . Not lobbying, persuading

Gadfly had to pause and take three deep breaths after reading that, as the new chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, Ian Macfarlane insists he is not a lobbyist. 

Previously holding portfolios in industry, “science” and resources, Old Gravel Guts said: “I am not a lobbyist. I know what a lobbyist is, I have met more lobbyists than I’ve had hot dinners. I am a CEO of a state representative organisation.”

So everything is above board and not in breach of former PM T. Abbott’s code of standards, which says, “Ministers are required to undertake that, for an 18-month period after ceasing to be a minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as minister in their last 18 months in office”. 

We turn to the QRC website to find that the coal-loving outfit aims to be “influential with governments” with a role of “promoting the industry”. 

It gets more puzzling when you recall that, at Gravel’s retirement, Abbott told parliament that because the minister was responsible for scrapping the mining tax, the sector should “acknowledge and demonstrate their gratitude to him in his years of retirement from this place”. 

That was a message to the miners that Gravel was available for hire, which turned out to be so, with a salary of about 500,000 smackers a year. 

Macfarlane says he cleared his new job with the PM’s office and they must have been satisfied there is a difference between being the chief executive of an organisation that seeks to be “influential with government” and being a lobbyist. 

Gravel was also the minister under whom the pin was pulled on the Australian car industry – the single biggest setback to Australian secondary industry ever. Not bad for a bushwhacker from Kingaroy. 

The resources council must be paying for his brains and skills as a strategist. After all, he was the bright spark who, after being dropped from the frontbench, quit the Libs for the Nats, hoping to force Turnbull to add him to the ministry as a representative of the hayseeds, only to have the scheme blow up in his face and presage his retirement.

2 . Girth by sea

Gadfly took off to the NSW Central Coast over the Labour Day weekend for a gentle reprieve at a beachside resort. 

The buffet meals proved a great hit and you could easily get trampled to death in the stampede of oldies for the Thai chicken curry or the creamed scallops with pasta. 

What is even more troubling is the size of the average Australian. Gadfly would fearlessly estimate that 90 per cent of the holidaymakers on the Central Coast are obese or morbidly obese. Some are so big they were unable to get close enough to the dessert trolley. 

Gadfly’s figures are higher than those from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which has 63 per cent of Australians overweight or obese. 

But there’s more coming. About one in five kiddies between five and 14 years old are fat, and 7 per cent are obese. 

Roll on, ’Straya.

3 . Poetic justice

Now that the Kiwi peso is almost at parity with its Oz counterpart, the $1.3 million in defamation damages ordered across the dutch to Cory Bernardi’s political soul mate Colin Craig must be quite painful.

As if that were not punishment enough, Colin was then hit for another $130,000 for breaching a deal with his former press secretary.

The lip-smacking High Court defamation case – complete with details of poems and messages sent by Craig to his PR assistant Rachel MacGregor – was mentioned by Gadfly a few weeks back. A quick refresher from one of the poems, by the Auden of Auckland:

Beautiful (Please skip this section if inappropriate)

Your eyes are lovely

You look unbelievable in your new dress

Your lips are so amazing to kiss

Your skin is so soft

You have the most perfect ...

(LOL ... ok I deleted a couple of lines and stopped this section).

In the meantime, MacGregor complained to the NZ Human Rights Commission about Craig’s long-running career as a sexual harasser. They reached a confidential agreement, but the former leader of the Conservative Party broke it by blabbing about some of the details. Just for extras he said their relationship was “mutual”, that each had behaved inappropriately and he compassionately forgave her a $20,000 loan. He had earlier said he considered MacGregor “like a sister to me”.

This week a tribunal slapped him down for “deliberate, systematic, egregious and repeated” breaches of confidentiality in the most public and damaging of circumstances. MacGregor’s brief later said, “You can’t put a dollar amount on the stress and the anxiety and the reality of watching your life being played out in a very public way”. 

Craig was sued by fellow conservative Jordan Williams, chief of the Taxpayers’ Union, over a smearing leaflet in a case that took an 11-person jury 10 hours over two days to decide, after a three-week trial. 

Craig then delivered a paean of praise for his “amazing” wife Helen, who stood by her man while keeping shtum. Craig acknowledged he would have to “deal with things at a personal level”, before continuing the fight to uphold “family values”.

4 . Faction pact

History expert Don Watson has written a piece for The Monthly called “The mystery of Malcolm Turnbull”.

I don’t agree with all of Dr Watson’s assessment of Turnbull’s character: “astute ... smart ... likeable ... charm”. However, “not compelling… lacks potency and force” are spot on.

Your columnist thinks the more accurate analogy is with that of Dr Faustus. The doctor knew the limits of every subject including logic, divinity and the law. With Mephistopheles as a messenger (played by Barnaby Joyce) Faustus struck a deal with the devil. In exchange for magic and power he would give his soul over to Lucifer (Otto Abetz, Cory the Tory, Christensen, etc).

He is battered by good and evil angels, but ultimately he realises he has wasted his life, he has betrayed his beliefs, he is a hypocrite. He thought the pact with the devil would allow him to do everything; in fact, he achieved nothing.

The story ends in tragedy, as Faustus is carried off to hell, or Point Piper.

5 . Rake arena

Let’s hope the Melbourne Cricket Ground doesn’t disappear into a massive sinkhole on October 27-28. If it did, the entire judiciary and much of the nation’s legal profession would vanish.

There is to be a massive legal corroboree during those two days on Melbourne’s sacred ground, under the auspices of the Australian Bar Association and the Victorian Bar. Everything possible is up for discussion, including “what corporate clients want from the legal profession” and “the interrelationship between PR and litigation”.

Appearing in chambers’ lifts throughout Yarraside is a flyer bearing an airbrushed-to-buggery picture of PM Turnbull and a gushing note from bar big-wig Willy Alstergren:

“I am delighted that the Prime Minister has agreed to speak at the VicBar-ABA national conference ... as you can see, we have arguably the best line-up of speakers ever assembled for a legal conference in Australia. The fact that the Prime Minister has agreed to speak (another first) is testament to this.”

Gorgeous George Brandis is also a star speaker. The gleaming portrait of Mal Turnbull plastered all over barristers’ lifts has confirmed for some concerned briefs that Vic’s Bar is a Liberal Party front.

The whole show can be yours for $1300 a pop.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 8, 2016 as "Gadfly: Race to the bottoms".

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