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

Piers group pressure

Those Q&A boys must have imagined that having George Brandis and Piers Akerman together in our living rooms on a Monday night was the treat for which we’ve all longed.

In a way, it was. First question to George was about politicians’ expenses: why were they so extravagant and unchecked, while pensioners were being put up against the wall?

Naturally, the colour drained from the first law officer’s face. His mind raced: “Am I being set up? Surely this is terribly unfair.”

Indeed, FLO’s personal expense extravagance is legendary. Billing taxpayers for his shock-jock wedding jaunt, the books and the massive bookshelves, taking little Simon Brandis on a chartered plane trip to the Bilby Ball at Charleville and racking up expenses to attend the prime minister’s New Year’s Eve soiree.

This is quite apart from his executive blunders, which we won’t mention: solicitor-general, Bell Group, legal aid funding, giving jobs on administrative tribunals to Liberal Party cronies etc.

And what about Piers? From where was he disinterred? Honestly, I thought he must by now be in a care facility. To see him making his trademark sage remarks, with the additional prop of a bow tie, was a sheer delight.

One nice thing about the show was that Piers didn’t try to hide his small hands.

1 . Ming’s dynasty

Supporters of the Menzies Research Centre received a circular from executive director Nick Cater on Tuesday.

He was chuffed beyond belief that the New South Wales Board of Studies wants to include the legacy of Pig Iron Bob in the school syllabus.

This has been a lobbying exercise of Nick and the centre’s bigwigs for some time. The chairman of the Education Standards Authority, Tom Alegounarias, went so far as to say: “You can’t study post-World War II Australia without studying Menzies.”

It’s completely uncertain where that leaves the legacy of Gough Whitlam and the prime minister who actually got us through the war, John Curtin.

Instead, the youngsters can learn all about Bob’s fight against the Commies, the triumph of getting us into the Vietnam War, how to have a really good credit squeeze, how he solved the Suez crisis, his delirious love affair with the royals etc.

Nick sees great fundraising opportunities for his “research” centre. He has launched a program to turn Little Winston’s TV series Howard on Menzies into “source material for schools to develop a better understanding of the prime minister and the philosophy that created modern Australia”.

The centre has purchased the “educational rights” to Howard on Menzies and is working with experts to “develop units of material that can be used in schools”.

To this end, stand by for the launch of a “content-rich, multimedia digital hub” jam-packed with Ming-related delights.

Nick asks supporters to dig deep and send tax-deductible dollars to keep this fabulous Liberal Party project on track. Presumably, this is on top of the $240,000 a year that the taxpayer shovels into his “think” tank.

2 . Radio control

A pensioner and regular listener to the Alan Jones wireless show tells me that he’s having difficulty knowing what to think since Alan has been on extended sick leave.

For instance, take the vexed issue of the NSW Police Force, remembered as one of the best that money could buy.

Commissioner Andrew Scipione wants to be out of the top job and into his slippers by April, and among the contenders are the two lovebirds Catherine Burn and Nick Kaldas.

Both have been stung by criticism from the NSW Ombudsman, but they are hoping to shake off this negativity and emerge squeaky clean.

There’s also talk that the “Angry Fly”, aka Australian Border Force commandant Roman Quaedvlieg, is interested in the job. With any luck, if he gets it he can introduce his Hugo Boss-style uniform to the NSW coppers.

Roman might expect a reference from Peter “Benito” Dutton, as they once served together in the famous Queensland police force. As the top cop, Quaedvlieg could also proceed uninterrupted with his Operation Fortitude, whereby dusky-skinned people are randomly pulled over for visa checks.

In the good old days, the Masons and Catholics took it in turns to run the NSW Police Force. Now 2GB’s terrible twins, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, are supposed to decide these things.

Ray, filling in for the Parrot, explained to listeners, with their tortoiseshell ear trumpets pressed close to the machine, that even though he and Jones differed over who should be police commissioner, they are still “joined at the hip” – a terrifying admission.

According to The Daily Smellograph, Ray is backing Kaldas while Al is a Cath Burn man. If only Jones would get back behind the mike and straighten this out.

3 . Razing memories

Last weekend the Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law in Brisbane caught fire. Trials were cancelled and briefs were wondering whether they should have their hands out for cancellation fees.

Apparently it was an electrical conflagration on level 11 that left a “residual odour” requiring the wheels of justice to stop grinding for longer than expected.

It brought back sad memories of the great Brisbane Supreme Court fire of 1968, when an unemployed man, David Brooks, got into the building, found his way to the judges’ chambers, jabbed a knife into a desk and wrote a note that must have sent chills down judicial spines: “Judge not lest you be judged, sinner.”

He then set the building ablaze.

Former judge Richard Chesterman was an associate to Justice Charles Wanstall at the time. He wrote an account of the fire for the Selden Society, in which he described Brooks as a “mean and spiteful drunk”.

4 . Moments of truth

Here we were packed into Sydney’s Seymour Centre for a Guardian Live event on the topic “Does the truth matter?”

Unpacking the question were Lenore Taylor, editor of Guardian Australia; Katharine Viner, global editor-in-chief of The Guardian; and Mark Colvin, the man, not the kidney. 

Straight up Kath Viner is asked, “What’s your position on lies?” It turns out she’s against them, but it’s more difficult than it seems. 

Karl Rove, christened “Turd Blossom” by Dubya, once told a journalist: “We create our own reality.” 

Today’s troubled journalistic landscape was well traversed and one shocking revelation was that in the United States of every media advertising dollar, Facebook and Google take 99 cents. 

What can be done? One thought was more engagement with the audience and to this end Mark Colvin explained the ABC’s telephone etiquette. 

Long-time reporter at the national broadcaster Peter Cave was on deck one evening when an irate listener called with a long and ranting complaint about a program that had just gone to air. Eventually, Cave interrupted and asked, “Do you know who I am?” 

“No,” said the man at the other end of the phone.

“Good,” said Cave. “Then fuck off.” 

Engagement is critical.

5 . Trumpette #10

What’s with Sweden and Donald Trump?

In his Florida speech the president excited everyone by saying, in the context of global terror attacks, “look what’s happening in Sweden”.

Like most other things, it was confusing and he didn’t mean what everyone was supposed to think he meant. Thank goodness Dr Bolt and Ms Devine were on hand to tell us that Trump was only referencing a story from fair and balanced Fox News.

It’s all the more puzzling because Trump himself claims to be of Swedish ancestry. Actually, he’s not; he’s German, but close enough. 

As Gadfly reported last year, grandfather Friedrich Trump got out of Germany in 1885 to dodge the draft, turning up in Alaska where he ran a brothel.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote that his father, Fred, was born in New Jersey in 1905. He went on to say that Fred’s father “came here from Sweden”.

Donald’s cousin John Walter did an elaborate family tree. “We shared the same grandfather,” Vanity Fair quoted Walter as saying. “He was German. So what?”

Walter also worked for The Trump Organisation and Ivana claimed that whenever he turned up in Donald’s office he clicked his heels and said “Heil Hitler”.

The Trumps were keen to hide their German ancestry because Fred thought that Jews would never rent from him if they knew his lineage. 

When Marie Brenner asked Donald Trump about this for her Vanity Fair profile in 1990, he replied: “My father was not German; my father’s parents were German ... Swedish, and really sort of all over Europe ... I was even thinking in the second edition of putting more emphasis on other places because I was getting so many letters from Sweden. Would I come over and speak to parliament? Would I come meet with the president?”

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 25, 2017 as "Gadfly: Piers group pressure".

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

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