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

Broderick’s uni assignment

Former sex discrimination commissioner Liz Broderick has been engaged in a mission to drag residential colleges at the University of Sydney into the 21st century.

The university puts the project in genteel language: “Ms Broderick will provide a proposal to the university and colleges to ensure effective and cohesive action, which builds on the independent cultural change programs under way at the colleges.”

This is longhand for trying to stamp out the pillaging and brutalisation, particularly of women. 

Some of the councillors and wise men of these institutions have been throwing up objections to what they see as interference in the magnificent traditions that have characterised our hallowed institutions of higher learning. 

It didn’t seem all that long ago that a young woman at Roman Catholic St John’s College was hospitalised after being made to drink a “cocktail” of dog food, sour milk, alcohol, Tabasco sauce and shampoo. The college rector, Michael Bongers, suspended 33 students and ordered them to undertake community service. Following the incident Bongers was forced to back down, with another barrister (Fat) Roger Gyles overturning some of the penalties.

Bongers is locked in a cultural struggle with traditionalists  at the college, including Sydney barrister and St John’s old boy Jeffrey Phillips, SC, who is running this year for election to the bar council.

Phillips loves to hang around the college, organising special treats for the youngsters such as cigar and whisky appreciation evenings. On one occasion, he began an after-dinner speech by saying, “I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this place – the Benedictines who came from the great English nation.” He later apologised to an Indigenous woman who had been present, but said “it is important, especially in an environment of vigorous debate, such as a university, that simple misunderstandings by one student not be blown out of proportion”.

Phillips’ friend and fellow conservative Margaret Cunneen is not running this year for re-election to the council of the NSW bar’n’grill, leaving her more time to attend and address functions organised by Fred Nile, the Mosman branch of the Liberal Party and supporters of Empire Day. 

1 . Bench chic

While on high-level legal affairs it was great to see my many friends who sit on the High Court decked out in their new finery.

Fresh robes have been commissioned for their Hons and they do look rather special in what one visitor thought were judicial “kimonos”.

The court itself issued a useful explainer to describe the way the new merino wool and silk costume reflects its functions in the Australian federation:

“There are seven equal tucks reflecting the seven components of the Federation – the States and the Commonwealth. There is a hand-woven element in the sleeve ends based on sand ripple patterns and a triangular motif suggestive of the High Court’s function as the final court of appeal for Australia.”

2 . Book launch has strings attached

A big day for Gadfly on Sunday as he raced to the Sydney Opera House for an Australian Chamber Orchestra concert in the packed-to-the-rafters concert hall. 

Bach, Vivaldi, Interval, Vivaldi, Vivaldi and Bach stole the show. 

Edmund Capon, Marie Bashir, John Kaldor and the dowagers Packer and Pratt were trying to attract Gadfly’s attention, but after the music we headed instead to the cocktail area for the launch of Margaret Throsby and Anthony Browell’s book celebrating the 40th birthday of the ACO. 

Fashion godfather Peter Weiss did the honours, as well he might after the announcement he had donated to the orchestra a 287-year-old Guarneri “filius Andreae” cello. Principal cellist Timo-Veikko Valve put the ancient wood and gut contraption through its paces and it sounded pretty spectacular. 

Old cellos are doing better than some of the ancients who assembled for the concert, many now shuffling and hovering on sticks. 

I see that the scandal plagued Commonwealth Bank had a 250-year-old Guadagnini violin tucked away in the vaults, which it has provided to the ACO. True to banking customs, this is a loan, not a gift. 

The book itself is as attractive a coffee table addition as you’re likely to find this side of Christmas. Text by Throbbers and snaps by Browell, who followed the ACO for a year, including on gruelling tours to New York, Hong Kong and Uluru, fill the tome. 

Throsby told me it was the second book launch this month for her family – daughter Holly Throsby, she of singer-songwriter fame, sent her debut novel Goodwood down the sales slipway to critical acclaim.

3 . Hume’s high (and mighty) way

The ABC’s new comptroller-of-standards, Senator Jane Hume, freshly escaped from the spellbinding superannuation sector, has turned in a senate estimates cross-examination of ABC brass that would make Otto Abetz and Ian Macdonald proud. In fact, she could be the love child of Otto and Ian, if such a coupling were thinkable. 

It was all about the wicked bias of Monday night’s Four Corners, which exposed the tragedy of children banged up in the hellhole of our immigration prison on Nauru. 

While most of the population was weeping with despair about what was being done to these bright and beautiful youngsters, Nasty Party flamethrowers were horrified that the national broadcaster would dare to be critical of government policy. 

How could the ABC know these interviews with children were not orchestrated; why wasn’t every child on Nauru interviewed; why weren’t the nice school and hospital Australia had provided shown in the footage; why was YouTube footage of brawling Nauruans used; and that rotten old toilet, why did we need to see that? 

The fact that journalists are not allowed on Nauru, with the exception of government flag-waver Chris Kenny, may explain the use of images and footage from other sources.

Minister Dutton, one of the government’s strongest intellects, came to the rescue, saying if this sort of ABC–Guardian stuff keeps up more people will be drowning at sea. 

There is another take, from leading communist Julian Burnside, QC: people are being sent to Nauru as punishment for not drowning at sea.

4 . Old dogs rehomed

Josh Manuatu is a name I hope we get to see in print more often. He’s a staffer to Otto Abetz and “development director” of the Young Nasty Party Movement.

There he was in the Hobart Rupert banging on about the evils of 18C and how it should be shredded so people can go boots and all after same-sex marriage exponents. Otto surely would be proud of his apprentice.

Meantime, senate president and former mortuary scientist Stephen Parry has hired one of the three discarded Tasmanian Liberal amigos, Eric Hutchinson.

Eric will be advising and representing, in a non-political way, President Parry at glittering events in Launceston and Ulverstone and in the process trousering $160,000 a year plus expenses.

“I couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” Parry insisted, adding that Eric is “a round plug in a round hole”.

I wonder if he was ordered to hire the former member for Lyons by Otto and, if so, can an appointment for Field Marshal Nikolic be far away?

Other round plugs who have picked up government gigs in different shaped holes include the former Liberal member for Eden-Monaro and Turnbull loyalist Peter Hendy, who has been recruited by the PM as his “economic adviser”. Hendy is also a former chief-of-staff to defence minister and concocter of the children overboard affair Peter Reith.

There’s also Matt Williams, whom the voters of Hindmarsh tossed out at the last election, only to be thrown a lifeline by Education Minister Simon Birmingham to come onboard as his “policy adviser”. It’s a soft landing while Williams seeks to get his bottom on a safe state Liberal seat in South Australia.

And what about Karen McNamara whose time in the Abbott government was spent on the backbench strategically sitting a row or two back in full view of the cameras and nodding sagely with every deft pronouncement of the then PM?

Her regular appearance on the telly as a professional nodder did her no good as the voters of Dobell rejected her. Happily, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific has seized on Karen’s talents and appointed her a part-time adviser on seasonal worker policy. Perfect.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 22, 2016 as "Gadfly: Broderick's uni assignment".

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

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