Klein energy counsel

The spectre of an era of global barbarity didn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd that turned up to hear Naomi Klein accept the Sydney Peace Prize a week ago.

People were hanging off the rafters at the Town Hall as Naomi took us into the dark heart of global warming and climate denial, reminding us not to be swayed by Josh Frydenberg’s brilliant idea that sending coal to India was a “moral” mission. Coal would save millions of people who died from burning wood and dung, according to Josh, who has been named in parliament for allegedly leaking classified information to Andreas Bolt (BA, pending).

The minister did not provide details of coal’s superior cleanliness, compared to dung. However, Naomi’s point is that repackaging coal exports as a humanitarian operation is about as deranged as it gets.

She sat down to a standing ovation. Next on the stage was the Human Rights Commission’s Professor Gillian Triggs to present the award to Klein. Another thunderous standing ovation for Triggs, who said the enthusiastic reception gave her enough of a boost to get her through the next few days.

Toxic Turnbull has said her contract as president of the Human Rights Commission will not be renewed, which must come as a considerable relief for her.

Triggs was followed by Jess Scully, a “creative industries expert” and recently elected councillor of Clover Moore’s City of Sydney team, who went on and on, enthusiastically. As someone remarked, it was like batting after Bradman. An interlude with songstress Missy Higgins was just the tonic.

Outside, venders of the Green Left Weekly were doing a vigorous trade, along with people handing out flyers for a human rights march next month and for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

1 . Dinner peace

Then to the Sydney Peace Prize Dinner around the corner at the Hilton, to be met at the entrance by the vertically unchallenged Tara Moss and her poet husband, Dr Berndt Sellheim (Awake at the Wheel).

Sitting nearby was acting Justice Jane Mathews, who confided that she was heading into her 56th Ring Cycle, which she says could be a world record.

As we waited for our mains (fish or beef cheeks) guests perused the ballot bidding forms. There were some interesting items on offer: dinner with Albo (minimum bid $2000); a signed framed photo of Nelson Mandela (min. bid $5800); a comparable signed photo of the Dalai Lama (min. bid only $3800); a cocktail masterclass, which presumably stretched to more than drinking (min. bid $1250) and; an item of “ethical jewellery” in Fairtrade yellow gold (min. bid $1750).

All this for the entirely worthwhile cause of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and the promotion of peace with justice. A wild idea, I know.

2 . Date night

As if further distractions were necessary, Gadfly nonetheless headed to the harbourside gaff of photographer Anthony Browell and writer Jan Howlin to hear Bill Risby tickle the ivories with Ian Date on trumpet, guitar and vocal cords. It was called Date with Risby.

What a night. The air was warm and filled with the perfume of jasmine. The jacarandas in full bloom swayed to a zephyr breeze and bats hung upside down in the figs.

It was jazz and blues and lots of “date” jokes in between. As the performers were departing, an overexcited guest stuck her head in their car window and blurted, “up your date”.

The elites. You can’t beat them.

3 . Blind faith

What is it with the Irish? Why are they among the best writers of English in the English-speaking world? 

At Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, Judy Davis directs her husband Colin Friels, Alison Whyte and Pip Miller in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, the story of Fantastic Francis Hardy who, during the Troubles, tours the Celtic fringes of Britain looking for audiences of the maimed, disfigured and dysfunctional.

Hardy is a shyster, showman, fantasist and tyrant whose healing hand occasionally manages a cure.

Of course, it’s now the era of the shyster showman. One has managed by some miracle to get himself elected to a great office, also with cures that won’t work. With what soaring language would Friel endow Donald Trump, I wonder.

4 . ICAC handed killer blow

The Pepsodent Kid and his government in NSW are up to more of their schemes. ICAC is to be defenestrated, with Commissioner Megan Latham out of a job for which she would probably not bother to reapply.

The idea is to close down the corruption commission’s public hearings by having two part-time commissioners (thumb-twiddlers) alongside a full-time commissioner. Public hearings would only take place if two of the three commissioners agreed – which would please the spivs and hucksters no end.

The Coalition dominated joint parliamentary committee on ICAC has the power to approve or veto those appointments. Given the nasty reception that Commissioner Latham received at the hands of Liberal and National Party members of that committee, there can be no expectation of her being reappointed – particularly after the anti-corruption commission flayed Liberal MPs over their dodgy political fundraising activities.

It does seem a clumsy way to go about getting rid of the commissioner. Surely, the appointment of suitable Coalition flunkies as part-time commissioners would make life sufficiently miserable for Latham so that she would have no option but to resign.

But Pepsodent & Co are not into subtlety when a sledgehammer will do. With the dismantling of an effective ICAC and bringing corruption investigations under political control, the premier’s noble words about integrity in public administration are no more than balderdash.

5 . Crown jewels in jeopardy

It gets worse, almost. The NSW Crown Land Management legislation passed through the parliament with the support of the Nile Christians and the Shooters, Rooters and Elephant Eaters Party.

This is an unbelievably awful piece of legislation, which gives the lands minister power to deliver control of Crown land to other government agencies, such as the Department of Property Flogging.

It represents a considerable dilution of the usual safeguards for the sale of Crown lands and it was snuck through under cover of the United States elections. Further, the legislation sanitises previous unlawful uses of Crown land.

If it’s not the outright sale of land, the path is now cleared for charges to be levied for the use of beaches, parks and commons and the commercialisation of what is public property.

Shooting things in national parks is still encouraged.

6 . 18C case left speechless

It’s a dreadful disappointment that the 18C case against Bill Leak and his nasty cartoon in response to the Don Dale revelations has withered on the vine.

Kevin Gunn and Bruce Till from Fitzroy Crossing are reported as wanting to pull out of the case. They follow the withdrawal of Melissa Dinnison, who said lawyers for Leak were keen to get the case into court because they were sure of winning.

With no case in progress, the shouty 18C people at The Catholic Boys Daily have been deprived of a vital platform and Leak has lost his role as a brave free speech hero. All very trying.

7 . Irregular regulation

The NSW parliamentary standing committee on law and justice has been beavering away on a review of the workers’ compensation scheme. Among others, it heard evidence from Anthony Lean, the chief executive of the State Insurance Regulatory Authority, and his executive director, Carmel Donnelly.

This little slice of transcript heaven is worth sharing with a wider audience.

The Hon. Daniel Mookhey: You might want to take it on notice to save time. How many enforcement actions has SIRA launched against insurers in the last two years?

Ms Donnelly: Enforcement actions? What does that mean?

The Hon. Mookhey: You are the regulator, are you not?

Ms Donnelly: We are.

The Hon. Mookhey: It is your responsibility to undertake enforcement action for insurer behaviour that is found to be outside the rules and regulations, the law, is it not?

Ms Donnelly: Do you mean non-compliance with the legislation–

The Hon. Mookhey: Yes, non-compliance with the legislation.

Ms Donnelly: –or unsatisfactory performance?

The Hon. Mookhey: Non-compliance with your guidelines and unsatisfactory performance. Please feel free to itemise the enforcement actions by category for the last two years.

Mr Lean: In terms of things like licence suspensions or some of the other stronger sanctions that we have, certainly in the time that I have been in the chair I am not aware that we have taken any. But that said, there are a range of other interventions so I mentioned that complaints escalated–

The Hon. Mookhey: So what is the most frequent intervention?

Mr Lean: Do you mind if I finish…


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 19, 2016 as "Gadfly: Klein energy counsel".

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