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

SLO motion

So Doc Donaghue from Vic’s bar’n’grill takes up the poisoned chalice of second law officer of the Commonwealth, or SLO.

It was poisoned by the first law officer (FLO) who put the previous solicitor-general on a leash when he showed too much independence.

In the past week, George Brandis has been making a flurry of appointments to the Federal Court, the Federal Circuit Court, and another 17 additions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, including Field Marshal Nikolic from the Nasty Party. Maybe the AG is off somewhere and wants to cement things in place before he vanishes.

Anyway, Gadfly asked one senior commercial silk at Vic’s bar what they thought of the new SLO, only to be told, “Never heard of him.”

It just goes to show there are tribes within tribes. Stephen Donaghue has appeared in more than 40 cases before the High Court, overwhelmingly for the Commonwealth and state governments.

He was for the Dutton forces in the “keep them on Nauru” case (M68 v Minister for Immigration), with the government in the Williams case about funding school chaplains, Momcilovic, the Victorian human rights case, etc.

It’s as though he’s been a backstop solicitor-general for ages. How come he sailed under the radar for so long?

1 . Developments in Monaro

A field agent has kindly passed on correspondence from the member for Monaro and recently installed NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro, leader of the Deliverance End of the Hill Tribes.

It comes as a scrap of insight into the Premier State’s deputy leader and minister for skills, about whom, until he was flung centre stage, precious little was known.

Barilaro had come up with something called the Monaro Service Awards, “designed to honour community champions for their outstanding contribution ...” Basically it was a way the local member could get his mug in The Queanbeyan Age with a bunch of achievers from the borough.

Imagine the delight experienced by the magistrate Chris Bone when he received a missive from the MP saying his service to the community was to be recognised by a Monaro Service Award.

There were, however, a few odd things about the correspondence. It was addressed to Magistrate Bone but started with “Dear Mr Goldie”. The RSVP date was three weeks after the event, which was to be held at 10 o’clock at night at the Airport International motel, Queanbeyan.

Mr Bone replied to the MP that he did not think he had made an outstanding contribution and, anyway, he still had a few judgements to finish writing before he finally wrapped up at the court so it would not be wise to be accepting an award from a politician.

He concluded: “In view of the confusion I enclose a copy of your letter as it may be that Mr Goldie might otherwise miss out on this singular honour.”

To further confusion, Labor has been asking in parliament whether Barilaro’s wife had been making prohibited donations to the party as a property developer. The Nationals maintain that Barilaro and his wife were not really property developers and, probably, that 10pm is a perfectly reasonable time for an awards ceremony to begin.

2 . Going off half-mast

Phil Kimber, of the venerable Hobart law shop Butler, McIntyre & Butler, got into frightful strife with some of his partners after he flew the Cuban flag at half-mast from the firm’s pole to mark the death of Fidel Castro.

It fluttered for a good three hours while debate raged downstairs. Ultimately, Kimber was ordered to remove the offending item from atop the Georgian premises on Murray Street.

Kimber explained to Gadfly: “The situation is much more complex than the members of a mere law firm in the Antipodes can comprehend, so when a flag is flown, the full panoply of meaning and sentiment is inevitably going to escape some. We have flown the ‘26 de Julio’ flag in the past, but no one else seemed to understand the difficulty Fidel had at the Moncada Barracks and the contest between the corrupt regime in place at that time – in Cuba, not Butler, McIntyre & Butler – so there were no calls for its removal.”

Imagine the damage to the central nervous system of local vexillologist Otto Abetz if he had spotted this revolutionary symbol dancing in Hobart’s breeze.

3 . Legacy builder honoured

There was much mourning at the death of quintessential Melbourne figure, architect, theatre designer and writer Peter Corrigan.

Among other contributions, he designed suburban churches with plenty of doors – “importantly, they’re easy to get out of” – as well as RMIT University’s bold multicoloured Building 8 on Swanston Street, created with partner Maggie Edmond.

He also worked with playwright Jack Hibberd at the artistic laboratory, the Pram Factory. He, Hibberd and Dinny O’Hearn pushed for authorities to make the old house of representatives into a theatre and contemporary arts centre, while the senate chamber would be a cinema showing Australian films. Alas.

Corrigan, who had some raucous stoushes and loved a good argument, was farewelled at Newman College chapel, at the University of Melbourne, one of the great unfinished works of Walter Burley Griffin.

“In Australia,” Corrigan once said, “there seems to be a prevailing sense of ephemera, as if nationalism was an ice-cream or a T-shirt. I am interested in old-fashioned ideas like the old Bulletin, old paintings, hoons like Tucker and Nolan, unmitigated nationalism.”

Mourners included Shane Maloney, still lamenting the loss of his laptop, containing 55,000 words of a novel, from a hotel room in Turkey; Helen Garner; knockabout poet Barry Dickins; this paper’s theatre critic, Peter Craven; artist Rick Amor; actress Evelyn Krape; and snapper John Gollings.

A eulogy was delivered by Rupert Murdoch’s nephew, director Michael Kantor, in a cream suit, with the gathering stilled by Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe”.

4 . News’s degrees of reparation

Who would have imagined that Rupe’s News Corp is deep into sustainability, recycling and reducing carbon emissions?

“We’re not just talking the talk, we’re walking the walk,” declared a video on News Corp’s website, titled 1, where the company extols its environmental credentials.

News Corp hacks and execs are into flying less, videoconferencing more, saving heaps of rainwater, using efficient lighting, smarter airconditioning and lower-emission vehicles. In addition, “our computers sleep on demand” (just like the hacks).

Importantly, the company is reducing its carbon emissions, so much so that it’s “like we took over 7000 cars off the road, like we turned off 55,000 light bulbs”.

And then there’s the environmental benefits of composting all those newspapers, complete with the fossilised contributions from Morry Newman, Jennifer Oriel, Little Kris Kenny, Monseigneur Henderson et al.

5 . The ear and now

Now that the Syrian regime, at a staggering human cost, has taken control of the pulverised ruin that was once Aleppo, what happens next?

It’s unlikely that the souk can be restored to its former glory. It was the largest covered market in the world, with Iranian, Arab, Jewish and Armenian traders selling silks, spices, dyes, coffee, carpets, metalware, soap, ice-cream – in fact, anything a human being wanted.

Gadfly was there just before hostilities broke out, having a cocktail at the famous Baron Hotel, its bar filled with hucksters, poets, drunks, authors and some mad English travellers bicycling their way through Bedouin country.

Aleppo in all its glory stood at one end of the silk road where you could catch a train to Baghdad.

Gadfly was particularly taken by the sales technique of an Armenian rug trader in the souk. As we pondered his wares he crept up behind me and quick as a flash put his fat, moist tongue in my ear.

Apparently, it’s regarded in those parts as a sure-fire way to land a sale.

6 . Trumpette #4

It’s as important to look back as it is to look forward, and scouring the house of representatives’ Hansard for June 3, 2004, we find some refreshing insights on President-elect Donald Trump and his massive New York towers.

It came from the then minister for health and ageing, T. Abbott, MP, in answer to a Dorothy Dixer about the Centenary House affair. That was the nice little rort whereby a Canberra property owned by the Labor Party was charging exorbitant rents to various tenants, including the Audit Office.

The lease contained a clause that increased rents by 9 per cent each year, showing that the ALP is no slouch when it comes to capitalism.

Anyway, health minister Abbott was making heavy weather of Labor’s rent diddle, saying that “taxpayers are paying more for a humdrum office in Barton than they would for top-quality office space in New York” – specifically The Trump Building on Wall Street.

Abbott told parliament that, with its limestone exterior and bronze and marble lobby, the tower charged rents of $847 a square metre on its 61st floor, “which is significantly less than what the taxpayer is forking out for Centenary House”

Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, at $953 a metre, was just a little more than the then Centenary House rent. Abbott proceeded to say: “If the leader of the opposition is not prepared to end the rent rort and pay the money back, the Australian people will conclude he is an even bigger spiv than Donald Trump.”

The speaker: “Order! I ask the leader of the house to withdraw that latter reference to the leader of the opposition.”

And the Libs complained that Bill Shorten called Trump “barking mad” and “entirely unsuitable” to be president.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 17, 2016 as "Gadfly: SLO motion".

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

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