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

Gadfly: Expert panel beaters

Pull yourself together and for heaven’s sake get out to Castle Hill RSL by 4pm today (October 15) for a Q&A-style performance starring Tony Abbott and two dancing bears from Lord Moloch’s tissues, Chris Kenny and someone named Rita Panahi, who is being shipped in from the starship Herald Sun

The show is being staged by the god-fearing rump of the NSW Nasty Party, under the baton of the man flogging off the public’s silverware, Finance Minister Dominic Francis Perrottet, and fellow devoted Christian Damien Tudehope MP. 

“Sick of the left-wing bias when watching Q&A on a Monday night? Feeling excluded from the public policy conversations which shape and transform our culture and our society?” Well, this is the moment for you.

The chinwag is badged by an outfit called The Policy Forum, “a group of mainstream conservatives” who are devoted to family values, freedom and getting the government out of the road so that insiders can make a quick buck. 

The flyer could not be more tempting. “Tony, Rita and Chris are tireless warriors for the conservative cause.” That’s probably a typo for “tiresome”. 

Dom Pérignon Perrottet is mentioned in Macquarie Street circles as a future far-right premier of New South Wales, replacing Yes-No Baird, as a creepy, latter-day Captain de Groot.

1 . Immature cheddar 

Gadfly spent most of the week on the banks of the Yarra in a slow crawl through bars, galleries and eating houses. 

One noticeable feature of Yarraside is the professionalism of waitpersons in restaurants etc. Efficient, polite, attentive – qualities that are generally foreign to sloppy old Sydney. In fact, two Melburnians told me of their experience in Sydney recently when they went to the Monopole wine bar in bobo Potts Point for an after-dinner drink about 10.30 on a Saturday night. 

With a couple of glasses of wine they also ordered a cheese plate and a bit of charcuterie. “The cheese plate is off,” hissed the cheesed-off waiter. “It’s been a long day and I’m sending the chef home.” 

It’s an interesting workplace demarcation issue about whether a chef is required to cut off a chunk of cheese and put it on a plate, while the skill required to plate up some sliced meat doesn’t bear thinking about. 

For the sixth year in a row Melboring, as the late Peter Blazey called it, has been scored by The Economist as the most liveable city in the world, while Sydney has disappeared from the top 10 altogether because of “a heightened perceived threat of terrorism”, not to mention the heightened threat of terrible waiters. Even Adelaide at fifth and Perth at seventh were ranked more liveable than the city where cheese is forbidden after 10.30pm.

2 . Olsen twins

Gadfly visited two galleries in Melbourne and discovered an altogether different cultural disposition.  

The Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery in the lobby of Owen Dixon Chambers at Vic’s Bar’n’Grill hosts portraits of dead briefs and judges. Some may still be alive, but it’s hard to tell. Stiff, formal and fossilised faces glare down at you in a chilling display of what a life in the law can do to the human animal. 

Over at the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square there is a large exhibition of John Olsen’s work. Olsen was born in Newcastle but raised at Bondi Beach and his paintings, tapestries and pottery just burst with joy and colour. 

His is a completely romantic and poetic exploration of the Australian landscape. It makes you feel dizzy with pleasure. It would have been lovely if he could have painted Pig Iron Bob and Sir Owey Dixon and brought some pleasure to the O’Callaghan gallery.

3 . Never mind the Pollocks

Young senator James Paterson (14-and-a-half, Lib, Vic) was on hand to remind us that even the puerile have a place in our polity. 

The Sprog has been on something of a publicity drive, coming up with some top brainwaves: sell Blue Poles to help pay down the national debt, and boost private schools because they produce people with better values. 

This just shows things can go badly wrong when Labor parents send a lad to a state school, instead of making him fag for someone in the upper-sixth at Greyfriars.

4 . Tip of the Zuckerberg

A fresh memo is on hand from the top brass at – Fairfax’s online news site across the dutch – as if we needed more reminders about the direction in which journalism is heading.

While The New York Times and The London Times talk of giving customers long, thoughtful articles, and even keeping exclusive stories off the web, Fairfax continues its Gadarene digital-first plunge over the cliff. 

The Stuff reporters have now got to write stuff that will make it onto Facebook and other “social channels”, for example a crime story of a woman pinching a neighbour’s garden herbs. 

The memo says, “The question for us as a group is how do we reach our existing audience as well as find brand new readers, particularly on mobile? The answer is often using our social channels, particularly Facebook”.  

The hacks are instructed that at editorial meetings they have to come up with “contenders” for Facebook and the home page: stories “that evoke emotion (sadness, joy, anger, nostalgia ...), or reflect our readers’ identities. Incredible images. Fascinating statistics or facts. Stories that support social video”. 

It seems that almost a third of stories are not being read, so “why are we doing them?” These are “boring stories with no hook or visual elements”. Court and local government reports can be boring because “very few people follow stories from start to finish ...”

What is being advocated is the listicle model of journalism, where complexity, important details and depth are avoided like the plague.

5 . Budgie strugglers

Tragically, our submarine program and other defence industry policies are now without the steadying hand of Budgie Nine playboy and Poodles Pyne adviser Jack Walker

Jack has withdrawn his services to the Commonwealth and a new future awaits. Maybe it will be with his dad, the accomplished businessman John Walker, who recently appeared on the telly making “no comment” noises from Malaysia. 

Dad is the former managing director of Thrifty rentals. He helped arrange for the NRMA to buy out a 75 per cent stake in the car hire company in a deal worth $9.8 million. Walker would keep 25 per cent, which was subsequently also sold to the NRMA for $1. 

Johnnie Walker has had more jobs than Gravel Guts Macfarlane has had hot dinners. He’s been chairman of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, creator of its “bridge to nowhere”; a Domino’s Pizza executive; general manager of the Richmond Valley Council, at a time when negotiations were underway to sell  the heritage-listed Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome to coal entrepreneur Peter Lynch of Galilee Basin fame; Collingwood footballer and co-founder of the West Coast Eagles; ex-manager of Liverpool Council; deputy CEO of the City of Perth; and CEO of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where he has been busy reining in the costs of running the golf course.

6 . Trump stump

A news bulletin arrived from a friend in Maine on the north-east coast of the US of A.

The state of Maine is generally Democratic, although governor Paul LePage is a Trump man. Trump–Pence signs on front lawns outnumber Clinton–Kaine signs by three or four to one.

No one seems to have been embarrassed enough to remove their Trump placard following the revelations of the “locker-room banter”.

Maybe it’s the quality of US TV news, which consists of shallow snippets, so no one really knows what is going on. My field agent, who keeps an eye on the Australian media, says we would have a better idea of the ins and outs of the election than many Americans.

Governor LePage put the 2005 video of Trump’s charm offensive for women into context:

“Is he a slimeball? I’d be the first one to say, not a guy ideally I’d want my daughter going after. But I will tell you one thing, as the head of state, is he going to protect our nation and fight the debt or is he going to go after interns? That’s the bottom line.”


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 15, 2016 as "Gadfly: Expert panel beaters".

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