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

Banana republican

Field agents dotted around the Great Hall at Sydney University for the Australian Republican Movement birthday party report that the mood was up, up, up as the PM was cheered to the stage with a burst of Vance Joy’s “Riptide”.

There were even wolf whistles as he reached the microphone. For some reason, the Gobelin tapestry of Joseph and his Brethren that hangs behind the stage was covered for the occasion with black plastic.

All went well for a time. Malcolm Turnbull was glorious in his praise of the republic but the mood began to sag when – soon after warning the crowd that much “hard work, smart work” lay ahead – he failed to offer to lend a hand.

He embarked on a long and familiar defence of “the ARM model” that reminded too many in the room of the boredom of the 1999 campaign. By the time he insisted nothing at all could be done until HM the Q died all the joy had gone out of the air.

It didn’t help that the room was stiflingly hot. A southerly buster hit while the PM worked his way to the end, but in a troubling sign for the republic movement there was a struggle at the door to keep the fresh air out – apparently because it was ruffling the hairdos on table 18. In the end, fresh air won.

Everyone had wolfed down the cured Petuna salmon with chorizo marmalade and truffled fennel salad and had to wait until Turnbull finished before the roast Cape Grim tenderloin, silky Paris mash and daube jus was plated up.

The night looked rather a fizzer until Peter FitzSimons took to the stage. He’d cast off his red bandana for the occasion, revealing a vast head to puzzle phrenologists. His calls for immediate action had the crowds cheering. Seems that since he took over the show, there’s Packer’s money in the bank and workers at HQ.

Fitz declared there is “so much love in the room”. He added: “We believe that the daughter of a trucker from Nambucca can be our head of state.”

As long as Turnbull is not throwing too much support behind the newly rebranded “republic movement”, it might have a chance of success – after all, it’s up against David Flint and, possibly, Reverend Fred Nile.


1 . Do the Strand


There was Lord Fishnets Downer with his own special YouTube presentation wandering around Australia House.

He went up the grand staircase while his voiceover spruiked the juicy possibilities of an Australian free-trade agreement with the Old Dart. There was footage of him waddling into a meeting with glum-looking officials saying, “good news about the cricket”. What good news is that?

What is so loveable about Fishnets is the childlike way he spells everything out, as though he’s struggling to get a handle on the fluff that’s going on in his brain.

“Australian consumers could purchase British-made cars for less and we’d buy more of them and we’d give British households access to cheaper, fresher food all year round. Our summer is during your winter, so Australia can provide British households with fresh produce when the equivalent British or European product is out of season and Australian households would have access to British products when it’s in season.”

A Butter-for-Bentleys trade agreement. “By the way,” Fishnets adds, free-trade agreements are not just about trade and investment. No, they are also about geopolitics where we can “work more closely together” on security, the spread of democracy and human rights. Yes, human rights, one of Lord Downer’s very favourite concerns.

The camera panned onto shots of his Lordship with HM and a cricket ball in a Perspex case, before he stepped into his official Jag with number plate AUS 1 and disappeared up the Strand.


2 . Sicks and Seven


The big cheese at Channel Seven, Tim Worner, apologised for his “inappropriate” behaviour with Amber Harrison, a personal assistant at the company.

Apparently the CEO thought the job of a personal assistant was to assist him whenever he felt randy. According to the blizzard of PR bumph that has been churned out since Ms Harrison fingered the network’s chief pants man, Tim has been working alongside the board and senior management types to ensure “improper behaviour” is not part of Seven’s “culture”.

There’s nothing quite like having the perpetrator trying to clean up the mess.

For his part, Tim says he’s still “trying to make amends. I am obviously filled with the deepest regret and shame.”

Obviously. Quite apart from Ms Harrison, what about expressing some regret and shame for the bilge his network foists onto the wider public? What can you say about a line-up that includes: Highway Cops, Highway Patrol, Air Rescue, Gold Coast Medical, Harry’s Practice, Border Security: Australia’s Front Line, Car Crash TV and Home Shopping?

None of this is as awful as the ABC’s alleged comedy shows. Nonetheless, what Tim needs to do is go on television and apologise.


3 . Market force


Gadfly dashes to Bowral in the Southern Highlands, an hour-and-a-half from Sydney, for a service to mark the death of the late, great goddess of market research, Elizabeth Dangar. She pioneered new ways for corporates to sell margarine, sugar, hamburgers, cars and other products that prop up modern life.

The people who spoke at her service told of her talent, her generosity and her grandeur as she famously converted a run-down federation house in Centennial Park into a Tuscan villa.

The service was conducted at the old Anthony Hordern estate, Milton Park, under a seven-metre-wide, 150-year-old weeping beech tree that encompassed the congregation like a leafy cathedral.


4 . Distasteful greed


For the purpose of informing the public of the manner in which Indigenous woman Ms Dhu was treated, the WA Coroner released footage of her final hours in police custody.

It showed her being dragged across the floor having slipped into septic shock, and then being carried from her cell to a police van. She was handcuffed because one of the officers thought the incapacitated woman was a flight risk.

She died before she reached the emergency room, dismissed by the police as a “junkie” who was “faking it”. Ms Dhu had been sentenced to four days in custody to cut out $3622 in unpaid fines. At the time she was arrested she had septicaemia and pneumonia caused by a rib broken from an episode of domestic violence three months earlier.

The police footage was distressing, but some of the media, including Fairfax and Seven West, saw it is an opportunity to make some quick money, by posting it online adorned with ads for Aldi and My Kitchen Rules. Readers have contacted Gadfly to express their dismay at this unthinking piece of commercial grasping. We can only count our blessings we were spared from getting one of Bill Leak’s sensitive “free speech” cartoons.


5 . Rupert barefaced


Quote of the week, maybe quote of the year: “I have made it a principle all my life never to ask for anything from any prime minister.”

It’s from Rupert Murdoch and it’s right up there with, “This is the most humble day of my life.” His latest was in a letter to The Guardian denying that he had ever told Evening Standard columnist Anthony Hilton: “When I go to Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels, they take no notice.”

Rupe was trying to get the message out that he’s a non-meddling sort of guy, while the politicians are pondering whether his Fox bid for the remainder of the Sky shares he doesn’t already own should be referred to the regulator for a public interest examination.

The trouble is Hilton said he stands by his story and that Murdoch made the remark to him when he was city editor of The Times.

A similar statement by Murdoch to the Leveson inquiry was pounced on by former PM John “Underpants” Major, who said the wizened mogul “was not averse to pressing for policy change”. Murdoch disliked Major’s European policies. “He wished me to change,” Underpants said. “If not, his papers could not and would not support the Conservative government.” Murdoch referred to all his papers as “we”.

He also twisted Tony Blair’s arm to lobby the European Commission to wave through a proposed joint-venture deal between Sky and BT. Rupe’s memory must be fading.  


6 . Trumpette #5


Donald Trump is spending his Christmas tucking into truffled pork at Mar-a-Lago, his tasteful pile at Palm Beach, Florida. Post-election fundraising plans are in a confused state with uncertainty whether the president-elect’s two Ken doll sons will be available for the $US500,000-a-head celebration of “the great American tradition of outdoor sporting, shooting, fishing and conservation”. Fortunately, another stylish event, the “Camouflage & Cufflinks” evening, is definitely going ahead in Washington following the inauguration.

For Gadfly, time’s up. Pens down. The exam is over. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s cross-eyed looks. We’re outta here. Thanks for all the reading, the tips, the nice and the rotten emails. I’m sure there’ll be more next year. Merry Christmas.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 24, 2016 as "Gadfly: Banana republican".

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

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