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

Gadfly: Brandis logs his claim

Tasmania has a nasty piece of legislation named the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act. As its title suggests, it gives the police powers to arrest, punish and prevent people from political protests at logging sites, or in fact at any “business operation”.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown was among those arrested in 2016 for protesting against the proposed logging at Lapoinya Forest. The police later dropped the charge, but Bob and his co-plaintiff, Jessica Hoyt, are pushing on with a High Court challenge to the legislation claiming they have standing to argue it is unconstitutional, as it infringes the implied right of political communication.

Yes, it’s a free speech case, and guess who has just given notice that he will intervene on behalf of the state of Tasmania in upholding this restriction on free speech? Why, the old free speech champion himself, attorney-general Bookshelves Brandis.

The High Court received a notice of intervention on Wednesday, with the fetching news that “the attorney-general intervenes generally in support of the Defendant”.

Bravo, Bookshelves.

1 . Talkus interruptus

What a night it was as citizens filed into a UTS lecture theatre in Sydney’s Haymarket to watch renowned street artist Anthony Lister paint a portrait of a nude woman lounging around the platform with accompanying commentary from barrister and performer Charles Waterstreet.

This was dubbed as a “Non-Ted Talk – when art collides with law”.

It didn’t exactly collide at all. Lister did his paintings while Waterstreet talked about acting in court for artists Adam Cullen and Nigel Milsom, at various stages of their non-artistic careers.

Naturally, attendees could purchase books by Charles, such as the seminal work Precious Bodily Fluids, and artworks by Lister.

Waterstreet said he thought the Archibald Prize-winning portrait of him by Milsom made him look like a gynaecologist – and that wasn’t the only peculiar thing that evening. There was a lady down the front of the audience who interrupted proceedings.

She said that Waterstreet needed to change his glasses, he’d been wearing the same ones too long. That didn’t seem to work, so she loudly declared that the barrister owed her money. 

Waterstreet muttered he should have agreed to an AVO when he had the chance. It was altogether a distracting evening.

2 . Packer’s prize

There was a fascinating letter in the March edition of The Monthly from Francis Packer, of Thirroul, NSW.

Francis is the son of the late Clyde Packer. He is grandson of Sir Frank Packer and cousin to the gambling entrepreneur James Packer.

He revealed much in 14 paragraphs. “If a person can be said to determine his life by one act, then my father’s resignation from the chairmanship of Nine and ACP in 1972 was such an act.”

It came about because Clyde had wanted ACTU president Bob Hawke to be interviewed on Nine’s A Current Affair. Sir Frank exploded, “I won’t have that fucking communist on my channel.” At that point Clyde quit and Kerry Packer became heir apparent.

Clyde ultimately reconciled with Sir Frank, with the old man declaring that he would change the arrangements of his estate. But it was too late – the next day he slapped the cue in the rack.

Clyde entered into some sort of estate settlement with younger brother Kerry, worth about 20 cents in the dollar, sold his ACP shares, and moved to California to wear kaftans in peace.  He didn’t talk to Kerry for 10 years.

Being a Packer is not a guarantee of wealth. Francis estimates he is worth one-hundred-thousandth of cousin James. If the Casino Kid is worth $3 billion that would put Francis’s net worth at $30,000.

At the end, Clyde made his son promise to say nothing about the family while Sir Frank’s second wife was still alive (she died in 2012); not to return to Australia until Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister; and to tell his father’s mistress that Clyde loved her very much.

“These three things I have now done,” Francis wrote.

3 . Big business

Now Fairfax Media is busy turning itself into an events company, it’s little wonder that The Australian Financial Review should devote scads of forest to coverage of its Business Summit held last week.

Hairy old reptiles of the press mingled with bankers and captains of industry who made speeches about the terrible cost of doing business in Australia, why their corporations should have tax cuts, the need to face up to structural change, the “moral imperative” of cutting budget spending, and other blindingly original concepts.

Then they all had drinks and congratulated each other on their terrific speeches, proving once more that business leaders are at their finest when talking to themselves. Of course, there’s a risk they’ll go blind if they keep it up.

4 . Going to extremes

It’s Harmony Day on Tuesday, brought to you by the fun people at the Department of Social Services. It’s “a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home”. The website has lots of happy people from various backgrounds smiling and bonding and looking rapt at being Strayans.

Macquarie University’s student equity and diversity unit is celebrating the day with a panel discussion on “The Rise of Global Extremism and its Impact on Australia’s Cultural Harmony”.

Criminologists and security boffins are talking, along with the director of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. There’s nothing quite like a good chinwag on global extremism to help set a harmonious tone.

5 . Geert’s dye is cast

Talking of extremists, how’s Geert Wilders going since his Dutch election disappointment? I’m told by political analysts there that Geert dyes his hair blond so he looks more European and less Muslim.

His mother was part-Indonesian, so there’s a good chance that Geert has a drop of Muslim blood in him, although he was raised a Roman Catholic. Is there a bit of self-loathing in his rampant Muslim-baiting, we wonder?

Interestingly, he is pro-gay, because he says Muslims are anti-gay. In this respect he is different from one of our own leading Muslim haters, cartoonist Larry Pickering, who told a Q Society dinner gathering that he starts shaking if a Muslim is on the same street.

In an attempt to be harmonious, he added: “They are not all bad, they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings.”

This surely raises difficulties for Geert if he is ever again invited to a Q Society knees-up.

6 . Jocks and gowns

Radio man Alan Jones thoughtfully allowed the News Corp empire to publish his photograph from a hospital bed looking pale and wan after back surgery.

The image was undoubtedly brightened up by Jones’s dressing-gown, a luridly striped Missoni affair in colours seen on brightly coloured tropical parrots.

We checked this item out and found that Missoni has a range of these dressing-gowns with names such as Stephen, Seth and Stan. Alan is wearing a Scott and it retails online for £205 ($327), the most expensive in the collection.

Meanwhile, with Alan banged up like this his breakfast slot on 2GB dropped 1.6 percentage points in the latest ratings survey. Thanks, Ray (Joined at the Hip) Hadley.

7 . Trumpette #13

The US of A does have, what seems to sensible people like us, some very strange habits. Take the administration’s sacking of 46 United States attorneys, the chief prosecutors for their various districts. Nearly all of them were Obama appointees.

Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, was sacked while investigating business practices at Fox News, including payment of hush money to female employees who were sexually harassed by former boss Roger Ailes, an adviser to the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief during the presidential election campaign.

Attorney-General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions asked for their resignations, although subsequently a few were allowed to stay on for a few extra months so as to chalk up 20 years of service and qualify for federal retirement benefits.

The Ku Klux Klan-loving Sessions was himself sacked as US attorney for the southern district of Alabama by Bill Clinton. At that point Sessions was being groomed for a federal judicial post.

An American lawyer told Gadfly he could see no problem with moving prosecutors in and out with the change of presidential guard. They were, after all, political appointments, approved by the senate.

At least in the Wide Brown Land prosecutors have a bit of permanent tenure, putting them one step removed from their political paymasters.

Meanwhile, Washington political news site The Hill says that Trump on nine occasions in seven weeks has turned up at one of his golf courses.

He is spending as much on travel in one month as Obama spent in a year, not including travel and security expenses for his children or the cost of keeping Melania and little Barron tucked up at Trump Tower.

In 2012, Trump was complaining about Obama’s holiday expenses. “President @BarackObama’s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars – Unbelievable.”


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 18, 2017 as "Gadfly: Brandis logs his claim".

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