The spirit of ’76

There are a few follow-ups that need attention. 

First: there’s the big dinner at St John’s College on Saturday night with guest celebrity T. Abbott, the man who didn’t leak Cory Bernardi’s priceless secrets to The Catholic Boys Daily

Abbott Watch expert David Marr has signalled that several things were missing from last week’s item about the night at St John’s, principally that the former PM was barely at the college at all, having spent only one year there – 1976. And what a year it was. The place was Tone’s idea of heaven, with lots of blokes and late nights at the pub.

It was also the year he joined the Sydney University Democratic Club, the front organisation for Santa’s National Civic Council.

He later wrote in The Bulletin that this was a “magnificent, exuberant, boisterous time”. 

Maybe his dad, Dick Abbott, decided to pull the pin on Tone’s college life so he could study quietly at home. Maybe the college thought this was an excellent solution.

Nonetheless, the young blade continued to hang about the place, corralling squads of Johnsmen for his anti-gay, anti-women political campaigns on campus. 

Tonight, there’ll be much toasting the triumphs of that glorious era.

1 . Justice served

Second: Gadfly had the distressing duty last week of pointing out some tiny weaknesses in a newspaper opinion piece on “therapeutic jurisprudence” written for the Daily by “one of the top nine ‘brightest people’ in higher education”, Jennifer Oriel

Jennifer’s cocktail of twaddle claimed this alternative form of criminal proceedings was “transforming court practices around the country” and it represented a “systemic failure of our legal system”. 

For good measure she also implied that these “revolutionary” courts were responsible for the recent deaths of pedestrians in Melbourne’s Bourke Street and that the “activist judiciary” has escaped scrutiny. 

Basically, Ms Top-Nine was saying, “Give ’em lots of prison time.” 

The Judicial Conference of Australia (JCA), a sort of discrete lobby organisation for judges, must have noticed Gadfly’s despair because this week it put out a statement comprehensively booting Jennifer out of the top nine. 

The president of the JCA, Justice Robert Beech-Jones, had to patiently point out that because some organisations work on alternative models to reduce offending, it doesn’t mean that judges don’t seek to apply the law when it comes to sentencing offenders:  “The article confuses the role of various participants in the criminal justice system with that of the judiciary.” 

As an interesting coincidence, the Northern Territory royal commissioners into child detention have been in Nu Zulund, where they discover that restorative justice programs have had a dramatic effect of reducing youth reoffending. 

Come the revolution.

2 . Out of commission

And the other royal commission, the one on institutional responses to child sexual abuse, has had a busy week releasing figures that in the 35 years up to 2015 just shy of 4500 people have alleged they were abused as children by 1880 perpetrators in Catholic institutions. 

In other developments, allegations relating to George Pell at Ballarat’s Eureka public pool, and elsewhere, have been passed between Victoria Police and the DPP like a hot potato. 

The coppers had the allegations first up, then they went to the DPP, then it was back to the police, and now a brief of evidence has landed on a desk somewhere at prosecutors’ HQ. 

The cardinal has announced from Rome that the claims against him are “without foundation” and for extra good measure “utterly false”. 

Now Wild Bill Shorten has come out and insisted that Pell return to Australia to face his accusers. The archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, has made a valuable contribution to the discussion by saying he has no right to ask priests about their sex lives. 

I’m wondering how Monseigneur Gerard Henderson will handle all this in his column for The Catholic Boys Daily. Fortunately, an early draft of his comments has fallen into my lap. It reads: 

“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has, of course, turned into a left-wing witch-hunt. Much has been made by the left-wing media of certain statistics and, I repeat, we are only talking here about statistics – not proven facts. 

“If, as the commission claims, 4444 people were allegedly abused by 1880 alleged perpetrators, that is only 2.36 victims each, much lower than the national average. 

“When you break the figures down further, of the 1880 so-called sexual deviants only 600 were Catholic brothers, another 564 were actually priests, with a remainder of lay Catholics and sisters. 

“Of course, none of this is the responsibility of Cardinal Pell. He was a very junior priest – an altar boy, really – when it was happening...”

3 . Back to barracks

In view of the findings of the royal commission it’s worthwhile pausing to reflect on how the news was greeted when Julia Gillard announced its creation in November 2012. 

Here’s Father Paul Kelly, Catholic Boys Daily editor-at-large, on November 17, 2012: 

“The dismal, populist and doomed quality of Australian governance has been on display this week with Julia Gillard announcing an in-principle royal commission into child sexual abuse, a panicked Tony Abbott falling into line and an ignorant media offering cheer upon cheer. 

“Rarely, has an Australian government embarked on such a sensitive and vast project in profound ignorance of what it was doing, with virtually no serious policy consideration and driven entirely by politics ...” 

Don’t you love the bit about “ignorant media”? 

Then, at the time of the findings of the NSW special commission into Maitland-Newcastle Catholic cover-ups, conducted by Margaret Cunneen, Dutch scholar Andreas Bolt (BA, on hold) pilloried police whistleblower Peter Fox in a piece dated June 1, 2014: 

“Fox triggered a royal commission [sic] after telling the ABC’s Lateline in 2012 that paedophile Catholic priests were being protected.

“He claimed a Catholic mafia in NSW Police had rigged ‘sham’ investigations into Hunter Valley priests that were ‘set up to fail’.

“Alarm bells should have rung, not least because Fox’s claim was so improbable.”

Despite the attack on him by the special commission and the sideline barracking by Bolt, Fox’s claim is looking particularly credible – according to those figures from the child abuse royal commission. 

Joanne McCarthy in the Newcastle Herald reported the other day that in the 20 years to 2010 more than 10 per cent of the diocese’s priests were the subject of child abuse allegations. One in five Marist Brothers were also accused of child sexual abuse, and between 1950 and 2015 some 40 per cent of the St John of God Brothers who ran a home for intellectually disabled boys were abusing those in their care. 

That was the highest percentage of alleged abusers in any Australian Catholic order or diocese. 

Bravo Bolto. 

4 . Trumpette #8

There’s lots of backward delving this week, so to cap it off Gadfly has unearthed that famous 1990 Vanity Fair interview with Donald Trump by journalist Marie Brenner

Apart from describing the immense silver bowl filled with plastic fruit on the dining table of his Mar-a-Lago pile in Palm Beach, there was the interesting, but not entirely surprising, revelation Trump kept beside the bed a copy of Adolf Hitler’s collected speeches: My New Order

At least, that’s what Ivana told her lawyer Michael Kennedy. Marty Davis from Paramount confirmed that he gave Trump a copy of My New Order. Trump tried to wriggle out of it, telling Brenner: “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.” 

That was Trump’s version of “I smoked, but didn’t inhale”.

Brenner added that one of Trump’s lawyers told her: “Donald is a believer in the big-lie theory. If you say something again and again, people will believe you.” 

“One of my lawyers said that?” Trump replied when pressed about it. “I think if one of my lawyers said that, I’d like to know who he is, because I’d fire his ass. I’d like to find out who the scumbag is.”


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 11, 2017 as "Gadfly: The spirit of ’76".

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