Diary

Gadfly
Unrepentant. Always.

To the House of Fairfax first, where the knives came out with another grand opening of the redundancy program.

The culling of a further 125 editorial jobs at the once mighty publishing group is the most galling act of newspaper bastardry in recent history. The ABC’s 7.30 reported on Wednesday night that in the past six years Fairfax has lost more than 600 journalists.

Despite the relentless crucifixion of journalism by management, the Fairfax metropolitan papers have done pretty well with dwindling resources. The latest cuts are a crippling blow and make farcical the company’s incantations about “strengthening journalism”. 

The point, surely, is that it’s now more important than ever for investment in “Independent. Always” dailies, otherwise the field is left undefended against the sort of agenda-laden stuff Lord Moloch’s hacks dish up. The fact that successive governments have allowed so much of the news media to be concentrated in the hands of the Molochs is one of this country’s great tragedies.

Fairfax chief Greg “Maserati” Plywood was never, in Gadfly’s humble opinion, much of an editorial warrior when he served on The  Australian Financial Review, and his legacy now is even more wretched. A year ago journalists passed a vote of no confidence in their boss, saying he was “overpaid and underperforming”.

According to the company’s annual report, Plywood’s pay and equity benefits granted last year were worth $2.735 million, against the year before of $2.491 million. So while everything else is diminishing around him, his patch of clover grows more luscious.

In recent years, Fairfax Media has operated a “transformation incentive plan” which is “designed to reward executives for achieving objectives linked to the company’s transformation strategy and for creating growth in shareholder value”.

That is an explanation for what’s going on.

Remaining scribes are anxious to know whether The Dauphin, James “Market Forces” Chessell, can save the day when he eventually moves back from London and takes up the mantle of Uber Metro Editor.

Freedom speeches

There was a room full of reptiles at Ivy in Sydney last Friday night, tucking into chicken and steak while up on a big screen it said “12 journalists killed around the world in 2017”. Pass the butter, please.

Yes, it’s press freedom time and what better way to celebrate than with a big feast and fundraiser.

Tables of Moloch hacks kept their distance from more refined Fairfax and ABC types. Corporate tables groaning with bejewelled dames knocked back vats of wine while David Weisbrot and Michael Rose from the Press Council roamed the room looking for scalps.

Up on stage a glittering Sandra Sully did the MC duties and David Speers from Sky News made a keynote address that touched on how the Turnbull regime in Canberra was not keeping up with global trends when it came to transparency. Unlike reporters in other so-called civilised societies, hacks here do not have briefings on or access to war zones, refugee dumping grounds, budgetary expenditure and political donations in real time.

Everyone cheered. Then it was the turn of The Chaser’s Craig Reucassel. As auctioneer he had the excruciating job of extracting money from journalists and sozzled bipods. Interestingly, a degustation for four at wharf-side restaurant Otto with Kate McClymont and Linton Besser was sold for $2000, while another degustation at Tetsuya’s for six people with Lisa Wilkinson and hubby Peter FitzSimons fetched a lousy $1500.

Reucassel said FitzSimons could likely knock out a book during the dinner and have it on the market by the same night. He added that last year when a dinner with The Chaser boys was auctioned, the successful bidder didn’t even turn up to enjoy the prize.

Sadly, a date with Channel Seven’s Tim Worner was not on offer.

The auctioneer appeared tired and emotional, freely issuing profanities and commenting about the attacks on the Safe School program – whereupon a few Christian Democrats upped and stalked out of the room. Everyone else retired to the Ivy Pool Club.

The art of the matter

Gadfly was “in conversation” last Thursday at the Potts Point Bookshop with Judith White, author of Culture Heist: Art versus Money.

Until relatively recently, Judith had been executive director of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, the members’ arm of the state’s art gallery.

Her work questions the role of bankers and merchants on the boards of cultural institutions – something that has come about in pronounced measure because governments are increasingly stingy with their support of arts organisations and museums.

Oscar Wilde said he preferred the company of bankers because they loved to talk about art, while artists only liked talking about money. 

There has been a procession of industry’s captains as trustees of the gallery. At the moment David Gonski is, again, president, and he presides in the steps of a couple of Lowys, Frank and Steven, of shopping centre fame.

In her book, White remarks that it is expected for trustees and presidents, when their tenure ends, to donate a substantial work to the gallery. Frank donated Bryan Westwood’s 1997 portrait of himself, which is held in storage.

The Potts Point gathering was told that earlier this year Brian Adams, who made documentary films about numerous artists and wrote two biographies of Sidney Nolan, had visited the AGNSW. He inquired of a smartly turned out attendant at the information desk what special events were being planned to mark the centenary of Nolan’s birth.

“Would you spell that name, please?” the attendant asked.

Justice travails

Boring moments, or even hours, around Victoria’s courts are usefully spent in speculation about who will be the state’s next chief justice when Marilyn Warren steps down in October. 

With 12 years at the head of the Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell has not been fully discounted, even though at 64 he is only a year or so younger than the former squash ace and keen cyclist Warren. Ten of the current supremo judges are women, so maybe another will get the crown. 

A couple of years back Warren and Maxwell joined forces to deliver a worthwhile but ultimately futile protest against all-male clubs – the Melbourne, Australian, Athenaeum and Savage – for persevering in a century-long ban on women members. Both declined invitations to speak at the crusty watering holes, with Maxwell saying, “Gender equality is a fundamental issue of human rights.”

Unlike every other Yarraside chief justice Warren was not invited to join any of these establishments.

Gadfly’s law organ Justinian opened a book on who was favoured to replace chief justice Warren. Indeed, Chris Maxwell was heavily backed at 2:1; president of the Law Council Fiona McLeod came in at 5:1; Mark Dreyfus at 25:1; with Gina Liano at 33:1.

Vale Michael Gurr

There was the untimely death this week of talented Melbourne playwright, political speechwriter, firebrand and social activist Michael Gurr.

Even at a young age he was immensely prolific with plays such as Jerusalem, Sex Diary of an Infidel, Something to Declare, Crazy Brave, The Simple Truth and Julia 3. His mentor was Ray Lawler and Bruce Myles his guiding stage director. His work covered the pressing issues of the day – AIDS, terrorism, war, refugees. He also wrote speeches for Victorian Labor leaders John Brumby and Steve Bracks.

Gadfly remembers being at a Gleebooks event to mark the publication of Gurr’s autobiography, Days Like These, where the author was stumped when asked whether he preferred being directed by Bruce Myles or Steve Bracks.

Colleagues and family had gathered at Gurr’s bedside at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s in a round-the-clock vigil. As Gurr lay dying, one of his long-standing friends said she would see him again soon. “Let’s make it a proper catch-up next time,” he said.

It was Gurr who was on hand as speechwriter the night Bracks unexpectedly defeated the Kennett government in 1999.

Quick, where’s the victory speech? Gurr produced for Bracks from his pocket a sheet of paper on which was scrawled a single word, “Fuck!”

He died at age 55.

Trumpette #20

The Pussy Grabber in Chief’s contributions to the English language are one of the hallmarks of his presidency.

It is hard to top his tweet of April 24: “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”

Katy Waldman of Slate carefully parsed it. “Maybe the consolation here is that, in a certain dimension, existing theoretically and eventually if not visibly and actually, there may already be a wall. Write this down Spicer: ‘There is already a wall’.”

In February the president told congress the wall would begin “ahead of schedule”, which sent everyone searching for the schedule. It hasn’t been found.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 6, 2017 as "Gadfly: Unrepentant.Always.". Subscribe here.

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

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