Diary

Gadfly
Radio National treasure

Gadfly took a leisurely drive along the Hume Highway to Canberra and what a treat to have Radio National for company.

By the Mittagong turnoff there was James Carleton’s show “God Forbid” with an item on the advantage of being white, leading into a top-rate discussion on 18C with academics Helen Pringle and Iain Benson. Hands down it was one of the liveliest talks on this well-worn topic since Dr Andreas Bolt (BA-in-waiting) had trouble with his fair-skinned Aborigines.

As I turned onto the Federal Highway, Richard Fidler was in conversation with British journalist and author Decca Aitkenhead on the drowning death of her husband in Jamaica. This was no ordinary husband: he was a reformed crim and crack addict who had spent an inordinate part of his life in pub car parks wholesaling drugs.

On the way back home there was Sir Phillip Adams’ interview with David Marr on Marr’s Pauline Hanson essay, and Damien Carrick’s “Law Report” dealing with divergent decisions from the European Court of Justice on the sacking of women who wore the hijab to work, plus a British case about a temporary receptionist who lost her job for not wearing heels at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The intersection of dress codes with the law is a neglected topic, but not on Radio National. And thank God for that. There have been disturbing signs that former Moloch trusty and now ABC chief Michelle Guthrie doesn’t “get” RN, but more recently there have been smoke signals that the new ABC chairman, Justin Milne, is quite keen on the network.

Frankly, you could scrap large chunks of the ABC and the nation wouldn’t lose any sleep – but not so with the eccentric and informative RN.

Guantanamo hawks

It was straight to the Australian National University for the launch of a powerful work by former journalist, now academic, Cynthia Banham.

She has turned her PhD thesis into a book called Liberal Democracies and the Torture of Their Citizens. Gadfly was on hand with Prof. George Williams to say a few words to help Cynthia launch the work onto bookshelves around the globe.

Here we find all the chilling reminders of what life was like in the Howard era, when the government was whipping up a chorus of demonisation against Guantanameros David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. Who can forget that Howard agreed it was “fair” Hicks be held in indefinite detention, and that we should take the suggestion that he had been tortured “with a grain of salt”?

Former attorney-general Daryl Williams thought that all people held at Guantanamo Bay were “guilty” of terrorism; while his successor, Philip Ruddock, declared there was no substance to concerns that Hicks’s military commission trial process was rigged.

Foreign minister Fishnets Downer was asked about the rendition of Habib from Pakistan to Egypt and said he didn’t have all the details on that: “There are a lot of different ways you can get from Pakistan to Egypt.” Those were the days. Howard only got a wriggle on in arranging to get Hicks back when the polls showed a majority of people thought the government was involved in a stitch-up – which proved correct. Hicks came home after pleading guilty to a trumped-up charge that the US courts later found to be bogus, while Habib was never charged with anything and got a secret compo payment from the government.

E. Cummings

The other delight at the ANU was the retrospective exhibition of Elisabeth Cummings’ work at the Drill Hall Gallery. Across the lake the National Gallery of Australia has Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, yet real treasures of Australian art are here at the Drill Hall. Cummings has been painting for years as part of the artists’ colony at Wedderburn, south-west of Sydney. This show will transport any soul on the cusp of a discussion about torture in liberal democracies, with energetic abstractions of the Australian bush and joyful interiors, invariably with a pooch or two in the corner.

Methodist acting

The ANU was electric with news that David Marr had appeared on campus in conversation with The Australian Financial Review’s Laura Tingle. Pauline Hanson was the topic, as it was on Radio National, all part of Marr’s victory lap to celebrate the completion of his Quarterly Essay The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race.

He had just come from Melbourne where his interlocutor was the editor of this paper, Erik Jensen. The discussion was held in the austere Methodist Church of All Nations in Carlton and Marr delighted the gathering by explaining that the Methodists had taught John Howard his racism and were busying themselves with taking Aboriginal children when JWH was a tot. The church reformed but, Marr said, Howard did not.

I discover that Jensen himself is a product of Methodist schooling in Fiji and was brought up under a grim judgmental eye with lashings of the cane. This explains why today he runs this God-fearing paper with a rod of iron and an unerring belief in the decency of deadlines.

PC gone madcap

Gadfly was too late back to get to the Sydney Town Hall for the IQ2 debate on the topic “Political Correctness Has Failed Itself”.

Speaking for the affirmative were Kris Kenny from The Catholic Boys Daily, alongside Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, an Alice Springs councillor. For the negative were Tasneem Chopra, an author and consultant, and Mikey Robins, billed as a comedian and author.

Quite apart from the content, the voting was interesting. The poll taken of the large audience before the debate began had the Kenny–Nampijinpa Price argument in the bag. Some 47 per cent agreed that political correctness had failed, while 22 per cent thought it hadn’t failed and 31 per cent were undecided.

They barely had to open their traps to bring across a tiny percentage of the undecideds and Kris and Jacinta would have won the night. As it was, by the time they finished their schtick, their support had completely collapsed. The post-debate poll showed that 69 per cent thought that political correctness hadn’t failed itself. The anti-correctness score had shrunk to 18 per cent, with the undecideds at 13 per cent.

The Kenny team’s powerful arguments, using meaningless phrases such as “virtue signalling”, saw a drubbing grabbed from the jaws of victory.

Cereal filler

Freedom Boy, Freedom Boy. Come in, Freedom Boy. We picked him up on our trusty crystal set crackling away in the house of representatives last week.

The member for Goldstein’s thesis was that political parties were similar to consumer brands. In the realm of breakfast cereals he said that the Labor Party would be akin to a bowl of Coco Pops.

“You might add milk so they become ‘a chocolate milkshake, only crunchy’. But that does not reduce the amount of sugar that you consume. The legacy is that eventually your insulin capacity maxes out and ‘debtabetes’ sets in...”

“Debtabetes” – geddit?

He went on. The Greens are a bowl of organic muesli with a dollop of almond milk. “That is seemingly good, but only the uber rich can afford it. Meanwhile, their policies of forcing up electricity prices harm the poor.” One Nation are Froot Loops and “we know their colour does not come naturally”.

The Liberal–National parties, wait for it, are Sultana Bran. “It is consumed for the health of the nation because we clear out the system and make things regular again ... The point is that the benefit of Sultana Bran is that it is everyone’s logical second choice, but Sultana Bran and Froot Loops should never be mixed.”

Goldstein voters must lie awake at night pondering how this man, spawned by the IPA, seeped into their lives.

Trumpette #15

It’s been a busy time for President Pussy-Grabber’s lawyers. Attorney Marc Kasowitz has filed a defence in the Manhattan Supreme Court claiming that Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, can’t sue Trump for defamation while he’s president. Trump called her a liar on the campaign trail after she said he repeatedly kissed her on the mouth without consent, touched her breast and pressed his “genitals” against her in 2007.

This is the same immunity plea that president Randy Clinton used in the Paula Jones harassment lawsuit, although the Supreme Court never got around to deciding the point.

Meanwhile, there was strife from Trump’s legal people for a 17-year-old from San Francisco who had developed a website that let visitors hit the president’s face with the paws of a kitten.

The teen, initially identified as Lucy, said she had received a cease-and-desist letter from lawyers at Trump Tower. Alan Garten, the Trump Organisation’s chief legal officer, denied sending this letter, but Lucy said she received the demand three weeks after her website went live. She took Trump’s name out of the URL, changing it to “KittenFeed.com”, “but they still came at me”. KittenFeed says that “Trump seems tough at first, but gets weaker with every scratch”. The game is set to Rick Astley’s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 1, 2017 as "Gadfly: Radio National treasure". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.