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

Plenty o’Dutton

Where to start in a week of shattered dreams? The best place would be the inspiring news that former Queensland drug squad copper Peter Dutton has added another property to his investment portfolio.

His sixth piece of real estate is in Townsville, HQ for the proposed piping hot Adani coalmine. Others include a $2.3 million Dutton spread at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, a house at the engagingly named Camp Mountain, two others somewhere in the Pineapple state, plus one in Canberra.

Palm Beach alone is returning the Duttons $1300 a week in rent. And here we were thinking the minister for borders is a drongo. Doubtless his contribution to the negative gearing debate in cabinet is worth listening to.

It was also news to me that the minister’s family has interests in the childcare business, with Mrs Dutton reportedly running one on Gympie Road, Bald Hills. There’s also an associated school for tots on Camelia Avenue, Everton Hills.

Both are described as family-owned and operated for 15 years.

There’s a moving philosophy behind these establishments, along the lines that “every child is an individual … and that the individual child should be respected …” Importantly, the Camelia Avenue establishment declares that it is “influenced greatly by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

Perhaps Mrs D could get Detective Pete to be “influenced greatly” by the convention when it comes to his function as a guardian for the children banged up on Nauru.

1 . Going, going, gong

There are other breathtaking developments north of the Tweed. Briefs from the Bar Association of Queensland were incandescent last week when they discovered that only four of their number had been gonged as Queen’s Counsel.

The BAQ had sent a list of 14 names to Chief Justice Catherine Holmes to be approved as silken ones. Contrary to the expectation that she would just sign the piece of paper and keep things ticking along, the CJ instead scratched 11 names and added one of her own. No need for reasons, this is procedural fairness bar’n’bench style.

Under the strange tropical arrangements to which banana benders cling, those selected automatically become QCs – part of a scheme put in place by the monarchist-crazed former conveyancer-general Jiving Jarrod Bleijie.

It was the CJ’s write-in power that saw George Brandis, without a significant practice at the bar, ending up getting the royal bauble.

2 . 18C is what you get

Still in northern parts – how could we depart so quickly? – there are further developments in the section 18C case involving the Queensland University of Technology and some of its students.

We know that the Federal Circuit Court summarily threw out the case brought by Aboriginal woman Cynthia Prior against Alex Wood, Jackson Powell and Calum Thwaites. The claim arose over Facebook posts following Prior’s request that these students leave an Indigenous computer lab at the university.

Judge Michael Jarrett dismissed the action saying it had no reasonable prospect of success.

Thwaites argued, and the judge accepted, that there was no evidence he had posted in 2013 the words “ITT niggers” on the Facebook page called “QUT Stalker Space”. Someone else must have done it.

Prior is seeking leave to appeal to the Federal Court and that is before Justice John Dowsett next week. In the meantime, Labor MP Terri Butler has told parliament of a secret Facebook account (BrockSpace), also used by QUT and other Queensland students.

She also detailed some of the vile abuse directed at Prior in readers’ comments posted on The Australian and elsewhere. In fact, Susan Moriarty, Prior’s solicitor, says there have been 24,500 abusive online comments about this 18C case, which if printed runs to 4000 pages.

BuzzFeed reported this week there is a comment on BrockSpace from someone using the name Calum Thwaites and with a photo of young Calum himself.

One character posted, “I wonder if you can say ITT niggers on ss2.0 [Stalkerspace 2.0] now?”

The account using the name “Calum Thwaites” replied: “Give it a crack what’s the worst that can happen?”

Butler is being sued by Thwaites for defamation arising from comments she made on the ABC’s Q&A.

When the sleuths at BuzzFeed sought clarification from his lawyer Tony Morris, he said that because of the pending defamation action “it is not appropriate to engage in any public discussion of such matters, which includes answering any questions from journalists”.

“Just because Calum let the ABC off the hook – accepting that they acted in good faith – it should not be assumed that he will be quite so accommodating to any other media organ which continues to publish Ms Butler’s defamatory comments, or otherwise attempts to throw mud at him.” 

And we thought fighting against the yoke of 18C was done in the name of free speech. Gadfly hopes that Headless Thomas of The Catholic Boys Daily can make sense of all this in fewer than 235,000 words.

3 . Kiwi polish

Great gushes of praise have clogged the airwaves and the daily blatts since New Zulund prime minister John Key announced he was hanging up his sheep-crutching implements.

In typical understatement PM Turnbull said Key’s resignation was a “great loss to New Zealand and a great loss to the world”.

The Institute for Paid Advocacy also was effusive. Executive director John Roskam and research “fellow” Andrew Bushnell declared the ponytail aficionado was a man of bold vision:

“It is time to remember one of the old maxims of government: good policy is good politics. John Key proved it…”

But hold on. To be PM of NZ is a complete and utter doddle. No obstructionist senate, no mad and unyielding states, no complicated power-sharing constitution, the parliamentary loons confined to a corner.

By comparison, running Australia is akin to constantly cleaning up after a mad person’s breakfast.

4 . Emissions intensity storms brewing

The latest carbon pricing slug-fest and climate review is as tragic as it gets.

Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg jumping to the tune of  their coal industry sponsors and knuckle-draggers such as Cory, Otto, Abbo and the Murdochs is pathetic to behold.

The post-truth stream of misinformation is something else. For starters, an emissions intensity scheme does not involve any net added cost because those generators over the baseline pay into a fund in proportion to the amount of power they generate and their excess emissions intensity. This is then distributed to generators with lower intensity than the baseline. Hence no addition to net costs, but ultimately forcing older and less efficient emission intense generators to drop out. What could be fairer than that?

As for the repeated claim that renewables are more expensive – that is too sweeping a generalisation. The latest global study by the financial consultants Lazard shows rooftop solar is fast getting cheaper and large-scale wind and solar is much cheaper, especially when bought in big blocks of power as in South Africa or the ACT. Wind-power generators are often bidding to supply the demand at prices lower than coal. No wonder Joe Hockey thinks wind farms are “offensive”.

And for good measure, contrary to Frydenberg’s insistence, the blackouts in South Australia are not the result of too much reliance on renewables. Storms and the line from Victoria are in the frame here.

5 . Trumpette #3

Work is well under way at Trump Tower NY on the transition. Far-right economist Stephen Moore told Republican members of congress that president-elect Trump has “converted the GOP into a populist working-class party”.

The progressive United States website Common Dreams gave us a peek at this working-class populism, with the “rogues’ gallery” of insiders, corporate lawyers, fund managers and big-money-backed think tanks running the “landing teams” that do the nitty-gritty work of transitioning government agencies from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.

Here we find Joel Leftwich doing the staff work for the US senate committee on agriculture, nutrition and forestry. Joel is a former lobbyist for PepsiCo and DuPont.

Paul Atkins is in charge of financial regulation for Trump. He served on the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he was seen as stoutly opposed to regulation.

There are 10 people on the landing team for the Department of Defence, more than half of whom have worked for defence contractors.

Another nine are teaming up for the Department of Justice, drawn from the ranks of corporate law firms, two-thirds of which are involved in corporate criminal defence work.

In the cabinet room various foxes have been installed to look after the henhouse. For instance, billionaire Christian Betsy DeVos will be in charge of the public education system. She is a long-time advocate of for-profit schooling and detests public schools.

The health and human services secretary is to be Tom Price, an orthopaedic surgeon bent on scrapping all aspects of Obamacare.

Treasury goes to Goldman Sachs’s Steve Mnuchin, while the new transportation secretary is Elaine Chao, whose family owns an international shipping line.

As they say, “the workers, united, will never be defeated”.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 10, 2016 as "Gadfly: Plenty o’Dutton".

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

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