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

Arch Deakin

Next week the NSW Society of Labor Lawyers celebrates its fifth birthday at a Greek restaurant in Macquarie Street. (What happened to the fine tradition of Laborites feasting alongside a lazy Susan at a Chinese chophouse?)  

The shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is the guest of honour, with no shortage of entertaining items about which to talk: senate committee findings on Lyin’ George; 18C and 18D; permanent lockouts for offshore refugees; Chris Christie for AG of the United States.  

The big drawcard of the evening will be the auction of Professor J. A. La Nauze’s Alfred Deakin: A Biography. Deakin is a hero to Australian Tories and the great-grandfather of what is today’s Nasty Party. What makes this volume so special is the handwritten inscription on the inside front: “To Sir John Kerr with warmest regards Thomas Harley & George Brandis, 4:v:1985.”

1 . Public flogging

Gadfly steps out to the National Art School for the end-of-year exhibition of post-grad artistes at the old Darlinghurst Gaol. The sunset plays on the sandstone walls of the Colonial and Victorian buildings, turning them pink, then gold. The palms are swaying. The place is bathed in softness as drinks are served in the courtyard. 

No wonder the Pepsodent Kid and his League of Christian Bankers want to flog the place – it’s simply too good for struggling artists. 

For a moment there the historic St Albans Common in the Macdonald Valley, north of Sydney, was also about to be nabbed courtesy of new Crown land management legislation – even though the common is not actually Crown land.  

It was granted to the community 160 years ago by Queen Victoria for agistment of cattle and horses. Locals say this 1000 hectares is vital for the viability of smaller landholders. It’s got tons of wallabies and koalas and unique wetlands featuring black swans – all of which makes it ideal to be snaffled by the state. 

The locals kicked up such a fuss, including letters to two important monarchists – HM the Queen and the Reverend Fred Nile – that holy roller and finance minister Dominic Perrottet, said the legislation will be amended so there can be more consultation with the locals.

2 . IPA loves the jokes, not the gags

Try as I might not to watch Q&A for reasons of mental health, sometimes it’s irresistible – particularly when there’s a double helping of IPA sidekicks.

We had Senator Sprog Paterson (14-and-three-quarters) and the Baby Fishnets, Georgina Downer.  

The topic was the strangulation of free speech because, for instance, we can’t yell “ape” at Aboriginal footballers.  

Yet the outcome in Prior v QUT was a victory for free speech, the complaint being tossed out by the court. You wouldn’t believe so if you listened to Senator Sprog, who told the viewers: “There’s now a number of court cases under section 18C which demonstrate it does restrict freedom of speech. The most recent is the Queensland University of Technology students’ case…” Que?  

He complained that the respondent students weren’t told until late in the piece that the complaint was being conciliated. Maybe QUT had as much a role to play in not informing them as did the Human Rights Commission – but who cares when you are fixated by the notion that human rights get in the way of the upward-thrusting pistons of capitalism.  

Then it was Georgina’s turn, on climate change. It’s pure gold:  

“Well, the IPA is absolutely committed to research and discussion of the facts. And the issue with this climate change consensus around science is that you use a lot of political language. ‘Consensus’ is a political word. Science should be about facts. And the climate science is a constantly evolving science because our data sets are very, very, very small … We don’t have an IPA opinion on climate change per se. We have a committed line of research into the facts…” 

She must have missed Alan Moran’s contribution, Climate Change: The Facts, an IPA book with essays from Ian Plimer, Nigel Lawson, “Lord” Monckton, et al, published when Moran led the IPA’s “deregulation unit”, before he left after this tweet: “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam?”  

3 . That’s free speech – IPA style. 

Pell and high contorter

Which gets us to Father Gerard Henderson’s contributions as chief PR officer for Cardinal Gorgeous George Pell

Father Gerard complains in last weekend’s Catholic Boys Daily that reports on the ABC about submissions from counsel assisting the child abuse royal commission don’t paint the full picture about the cardinal’s saintly role. 

Oddly, Gerard’s own work is a threadbare rendition of what really went on with monstrous priests, Gerald Ridsdale and Peter Searson, both of whom were active on Pell’s watch. 

Hendo wants to know why the ABC isn’t reporting that other unattractive allegations against Pell are not being pursued by the commission. He reassures us that damning submissions from counsel assisting Gail Furness are just that – only submissions. 

Furness presses the case that George failed to exercise proper care for children in Melbourne and Ballarat. Pell, at the relevant time, was on some committee in Ballarat that moved Ridsdale around with the common understanding that he was abusing children. Don’t worry about that, it’s only a submission. 

Gerard also rehashes Pell’s line that the Catholic Education Office never told him Searson was a dangerous sadist and psychopath. In fact, his article failed to mention that the Catholic Education Office said that at no stage did it keep information about Searson from Pell. 

Nor did he mention the submission from the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council that backed the education office, not the cardinal. 

As Gail Furness put it: “The matters known to Cardinal Pell on his own evidence … were sufficient that he ought reasonably to have concluded that more serious action needed to be taken in relation to Searson.” 

Clearly, it’s about time the ABC pulled up its socks. 

4 . Constitution carol

To the Federal Court in Queens Square on Tuesday for the annual Tony Blackshield Lecture, hosted by Macquarie University Law School.  

Blackshield taught law at Sydney Uni, UNSW, La Trobe, and Macquarie, and among his students were luminaries such as Murray (Smiler) Gleeson, Spiggsy Spigelman, Michael Kirby, Keith Mason and David Marr. The lecture was given by Alan Cameron, chairman of the NSW Law Reform Commission, who in a lightning 45 minutes traced the history of law reform from the Codex Justinianus to the present day.   

Blackshield responded with a song about the division of powers in the Australian Constitution. Chapter I deals with the parliament, chapter II the executive government, and chapter III the judicature.  

There’s no better way of teaching constitutional law than through the power of song, so to the tune of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Three Coins in the Fountain”, this is how the emeritus professor says the federation works:  

“Three branches of power 

That’s how the system’s meant to run. 

So, first, legislation 

Is dealt with at length in chapter I. 

Executive power – 

That’s all confined to chapter II. 

Chapter III is judicial; 

That gets assigned to you-know-who. 

Which one occupies the throne? 

Which one strictly stands alone? 

The first kinds of power 

In practice tend to intertwine. 

Which one’s strict independence 

Bears out the draftsman’s true design?   

Make it mine! 

Make it mine! 

Make it mine!” 

5 . America says: time to take our Trumps

A friend of Gadfly’s remarked that viewing the electoral college on Wednesday was like watching your legs being cut off by a quack doctor. 

It was uplifting to see white supremacist, Holocaust denier, conspiracy theorist and former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, “Dr” David Duke, congratulate our own Julian Assange for his role in Donald Trump’s election. 

“God bless WikiLeaks – Julian Assange is a hero -> America owes this man one thing -> Freedom!!! Thank you, sir – thank you!” - tweeted the neo-Nazi. 

If he wasn’t holed up with the Ecuadorians, Julian may have added sparkle to the Trump celebration party in Sydney with Mark Latham, Miranda Devine, Janet Albrechtsen, Bettina Arndt, Bronwyn Bishop and fluffy haired funny man Rowan Dean

Many people have the impression that Trump is an unbalanced narcissist, sexual predator, warmonger with small hands, and vulgarian who lies every time he opens his mouth. 

Apparently, that counts for nothing, but what counts for something is that his party controls all organs of the state – the White House, the senate, the house of representatives and the Supreme Court. 

And here we are, America’s most reliable lapdog. 

Journalist and author Mike Carlton did us a favour by tweeting a quotable quote from H. L. Mencken

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people … On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” (July 1920.)

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 12, 2016 as "Gadfly: Arch Deakin".

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

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