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

Gadfly: St John’s wart

An unmissable event for your calendar: next Saturday it’s a foundation dinner at Sydney University’s St John’s College with a guest speaker in the form of 1976 old boy and all-round terrific bloke, The Hon A. J. Abbott.  

What a top choice. If everyone can stay sober long enough, they’re sure to find that Tone’s got a grip on the issues that are pulsating with Australians.  

A few naysayers don’t see it that way and are boycotting the dinner, presumably because they’ve heard it all before and want an early night. St John’s has an unsavoury reputation for its bastardisation rituals and for being a bullies’ paradise. 

Anyway, I hope old boy Jeff Phillips, SC, will be at the Abbott evening. He has been a patron of the college’s students’ club, where at another celebrated dinner he paid tribute to the “traditional custodians of this place ... the Benedictines who came from the great English nation”.  

Abbott was sufficiently moved to appoint Phillips as defence force advocate, allowing the famous silk to dress up in a variety of military costumes.

1 . Non-lefty catering

Sadly, I had to miss the launch on Wednesday in a Brisbane watering hole of a book of essays called Making Australia Right. The evening was hosted by scribblers for The Catholic Boys Daily, Nick Cater and Mrs Cater (aka Rebecca Weisser), alongside Professor James Allan from Queensland Uni.  

The book is all about what is wrong with Australia and “how to fix it”, written by some of the most forward-thinking people ever to put pen to paper, including Brendan O’Neill, Judith Sloan, Gary Johns, ex-military man Jim Molan, religious expert Peter Kurti, Roger Franklin from Quadrant on his disappointment with the Liberal Party, and flat earth legal academic (no Bill of Rights, please) Jim Allan. That should get the blood pumping, even without a contribution from Abbo.  

As Allan says in his introduction, the book gives an outlook that is “something other than the bog-standard left-wing perspective”, which dominates so much of the media and “these days, alas, even what some Liberal MPs will voice inside the party room”. Yes, the bog-standard left-wing perspective inside the Liberal Party is a real worry.

2 . Wagners wring  supreme action

It’s concerning that Nick Cater ventured into Queensland at all, what with the $2.5 million defamation action brought in the Supreme Court against him and Alan Jones by local rich-listers Denis, John, Joe and Neill Wagner.  

A quarry owned by the Wagners was cleared in an inquiry by Walter Sofronoff, QC, of having any culpable role in the 2011 Grantham floods.  

The Wagner boys say that Jones and Cater conducted a “campaign of vilification” against them and they are mightily upset.  

At least there was one small consolation for Alan and Nick – The Bowen Hills Bugle reports that Justice Peter Applegarth this week struck out a few of the plaintiffs’ imputations, including one that claimed the Sydney pair had “orchestrated a campaign of intimidation”.  

Other key imputations survived intact, including one that says Jones alleged the family orchestrated, or had knowledge of, a cover-up of the deaths at Grantham.

3 . Feign dining

Famished ticketholders were turned away on Saturday from Kylie Kwong’s Chinese New Year food markets at Sydney’s Carriageworks.  

By early in the evening there was already a devastating shortage of essential morsels. The slim pickings that were available at the various stalls took ages to procure, such as 45 minutes for a shallot pancake – barely enough to sustain the human frame through the stifling humidity.  

One customer complained that there wasn’t enough food, only to be told that it wasn’t so much a shortage of anything to eat, there were just too many people.  

A clearer perspective later arrived via Ms Kwong’s Facebook page: “I want to extend my deepest, most sincerest apologies to those of you who had a disappointing experience due to the long, long queues, the overcrowdedness, the food running out too soon and so on. I completely appreciate and acknowledge your disappointment...”  

The Carriageworks people are working out how to process refunds for the starving masses.

4 . Moloch’s minions

Rupert is in town and his performing seals have been in top-notch form. Little Chris Kenny had a piece that seemed to be saying the Liberals could win the next election if they scrapped their renewable energy target, now at 23 per cent.  

In step with this thinking, PM Turnbull now says the renewable energy target was “never intended to be perpetual”.  

This is odd, because when the RET was being formulated polling showed community support for it at almost 90 per cent. Not to worry: Jennifer Oriel was on hand with a thesis about “therapeutic jurisprudence”, which she says is “transforming court practices around the country”. Nowadays it’s all about rehabilitative moralism rather than retributive punishment. In the face of an overall trend towards more imprisonment and longer sentences, and without managing to cite one judgement, she says there’s a “systemic failure of our legal system” to lock up violent criminals.  

Jennifer used to brag that she had been “acclaimed as one of the top nine ‘brightest people’ in higher education”.  

On Tuesday, columnist Gary Johns returned to Kenny’s theme – renewable energy targets are bad, coal is good – and on Wednesday Janet the Planet told us that a man’s horse in Central Park had been attacked because he was a Trump supporter. A lot of her column was about people saying to her how brave she was to be wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap around NYC.  

What a pile of sheer delights for Moloch as he races towards 86 years of age. Actually, it was reported in the Financial Times and elsewhere that Planet’s hero, President Trump, had asked Moloch, co-chairman of 21st Century Fox and acting CEO of Fox News, to suggest candidates to run the Federal Communications Commission. 

What could be more democratic?  

5 . Brandis wigs out

At least Bookshelves Brandis could swan about in his full-bottom wig for Monday’s swearing-in of Susan Kiefel as chief justice of the High Court. The judges themselves don’t wig up, but that’s no excuse for anyone else not to pile on the horsehair.  

In fact, the wig is so beloved by the attorney-general that he arrived at a Federal Court swearing-in fully wigged, to the gobsmacked amazement of the assembled dignitaries.  

It had been Federal Court lore for some time that “wigs, full-bottomed or otherwise, are not worn on any occasion”.  

The Financial Review got muddled and ran a photo of Kiefel being sworn in by Chief Justice Smiler Gleeson in 2007. She was, in fact, sworn in as CJ by Senior Puisne Justice Virginia Bell – but photos seem to be scarce.  

6 . Trumpette #7

What a week it’s been for the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, sowing confusion here and everywhere about which Muslims could enter the US of A and whether our Muslims on Nauru and Manus were part of the ban. Then the attorney-general got sacked for expressing concerns about the constitution, shortly followed by the nomination of circuit court judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, to fill the long smouldering vacancy of crack quail-shooter Nino Scalia.  

Surprise – he’s a “bedrock conservative”, whose writings Trump says he’s read “closely” – but not too closely as Trumpy wasn’t sure about his nominee’s current court. “Today I am keeping another promise to the American people by nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Supreme Court to be of the United States Supreme Court.” 

What is more concerning is that the French are having trouble getting a handle on the new US president. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, professional translator Bérengère Viennot said she thought it was unlikely that a politician who speaks like Trump would have political success in France. She explained that in her country there is a pride in having political figures who speak well. “People would give less credit to a politician who speaks bad French.”  

Unlike Trump, Marine Le Pen, she says, is a good, clear speaker. 

People were shocked when president Nicolas Sarkozy told a farmer who refused to shake his hand, “Casse-toi pauvre con” – Beat it, asshole.  

It was a Trump-like thing to say and in France, according to Viennot, it was considered “dishonourable” for a president.  

French translators are having special problems because they like to make people “feel” the words. This is difficult with Donald’s syntax, “first of all because most of the time when he speaks he seems not to know quite where he’s going ... Trump seems to go from point A (the question) to point B (himself, most of the time) with no real logic.” 

She adds, Trump presents “un casse-tête inédit et désolant” – an unprecedented and depressing headache. 

And not just for translators.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 4, 2017 as "Gadfly: St John’s wart".

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