It’s incredibly heartwarming to see Flag-Pin Morrison muscling up in the wake of the alleged tax fraud arrests. “Those who think they can defraud Australian taxpayers – today’s events show that they have another thing coming,” the treasurer said, without being too fussed about pre-trial prejudice. By Richard Ackland.

Cranston pickle

It’s incredibly heartwarming to see Flag-Pin Morrison muscling up in the wake of the alleged tax fraud arrests. “Those who think they can defraud Australian taxpayers – today’s events show that they have another thing coming,” the treasurer said, without being too fussed about pre-trial prejudice. 

It shows a certain amount of chutzpah from a man who has let some of Australia’s biggest corporations off the tax hook. 

Police media issued photos of the arrest of a pudgy Adam Cranston without his shirt on, the top of his underpants showing over his trousers and his hands knotted behind his back with police wristbands. 

That’s one way to get the media to present an image of an accused person. Adam is son of ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, who is also under investigation. The lad didn’t help himself by having Salim Mehajer-type snaps of his wedding and fast cars plastered all over the internet. 

If you’re going to gyp the tax system – and unlike Morrison, we’re not suggesting anyone has – do it with modesty, in the manner of US digital companies, Big Pharma, and the mining giants. 

Why would Hywood?

We are none the wiser about the fate of Fairfax Media after the appearance earlier this week of Greg “Maserati” Plywood before a special senate committee. 

The senators were troubled by Plywood’s hefty take-home pay, but the chief executive battered away impertinent questions about his salary and options and didn’t want to go into the matter of his bonus payments. With a straight face he told the legislators: “You have got to pay appropriate market rates to get the best results.” There was a photo of Plywood at the hearing, showing his nicely rounded tummy, suggesting a few bob may have been spent on truffled pig’s trotters. 

The puzzling bit was about the role of Domain, Fairfax’s cash-rich real estate advertising business. On the one hand Plywood says it sustains the whole company, but the mastheads, such as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, have to be self-supporting. 

Greens senator Scott Ludlam said it looks like this: “We have some quite profitable businesses that have been spun off, raking in enormous revenues and profits, and we have the editorial parts of the business being slowly starved to death.” 

Ludlam failed to extract from Maserati just how much money the Domain business supplies to the newsrooms. Apparently, we’re viewing this all wrong because it’s all about shareholders supporting the company if they see the mastheads supporting Domain and streaming service Stan. 

Of course – silly us. And we’re also being silly about media diversity. The whole point about the government’s proposed ownership rules is to allow media companies to gobble each other up. Yet Plywood insists it doesn’t matter who owns the business; instead we should be concentrating on “at-scale journalism”. 

It’s understandable he would say something incomprehensible, what with vultures knocking at his door. 

And for good measure, the ABC got a kick in the pants for having the temerity to compete by posting their stories online. Even more disgraceful, they’re all free. 

Senator Kimberley Kitching (ALP, Vic) asked Greg whether his staff call him the “Marie Antoinette of Fairfax” – presumably a reference to revolting peasants and cake. We know that the new editorial supremo James “Market Forces” Chessell is known as The Dauphin, so who the hell is Louis XVI?  

Fairfax share facts

The offers are pouring in for Fairfax Media – well, at least two so far. San Francisco equity fund Hellman & Friedman is the latest, having last tried to climb aboard in 1991.

Which gets us to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, aka Régime de retraite des enseignantes et des enseignants de l’Ontario, and its Texan bedfellows, the tax-dodging and asset-stripping outfit TPG. 

Do teachers in Ontario really know what they are getting themselves into? Do they assume their pensions will be safeguarded if they sink money into journalists scribbling articles in Australia.

Funnily enough, when Plywood was asked whether his employees’ entitlements would be safeguarded if TPG and the Ontario schoolies buy the ship, he gave no guarantee. Anyway, the chalkies have more than $C175 billion in assets floating around the till, so do they really need a few extra bob from the labours of these gallant scribes? 

The extraordinary thing is that no Fairfax director nor government minister has come out and said these proposed takeovers shouldn’t happen because they are not in the interests of the country. 

That dazzling performer Mitch Fifield, the minister on the poop deck, says it’s a matter for the shareholders. 

The wizened Moloch and his two sons, dubbed “The Cretins” by former Fox boss Peter Chernin, are beside themselves with glee. 

Gurr’s der

Gadfly made a quick dash to Melbourne to pay his respects to playwright and political speechwriter Michael Gurr, whose wake, or “celebration”, was held at a jam-packed Malthouse Theatre. 

Former journalist James Button was the master of ceremonies for the night, introducing those who made moving tributes to Gurr, his life, and his work. Button said that in 2008 he got a job writing speeches for Kevin Rudd, while Gurr had been a speechwriter for Victorian Labor leaders John Brumby and Steve Bracks

Two weeks into the job James was told to write five Australia Day speeches to be delivered by Rudd in five capital cities over five days, each dealing with some technical aspect of the global financial crisis – toxic assets, collateralised debt obligations, and so on. A day before the deadline he was having trouble, so he rang Gurr, who half an hour later came back with a “barrage of punchy lines”. One said: “As I travel around this country I sense a steadiness among our people, an awareness that times are hard, but a willingness to help each other, to stick together.” 

Button threw all of Gurr’s suggestions into Rudd’s Australia Day speeches, to huge acclaim. The Daily Telegraph reported on page one that as Rudd travelled around the country he sensed “a steadiness in our people...” Of course, it was not Rudd travelling around the country sensing steadiness, it was Michael Gurr sitting in his living room in Footscray, with his ever-present pot of tea, making it all up. 

Button added: “After all, it was Australia Day, the population was probably in the pub, as unsteady as hell.” 

Pell tell

Also in Yarraside, Martin Foley, the Victorian minister for housing, disability, ageing, mental health, equality and creative industries, launched with passion and eloquence Louise Milligan’s book on Cardinal George Pell

Watched by defamation lawyer Nic Pullen, among many others, Foley paid out on the “power and deep pockets” of big institutions. An open bar, courtesy of Melbourne University Press, saw the Guinness flow upstairs at the Last Jar in Elizabeth Street, as battered-looking victims of paedophile priests and brothers rubbed shoulders with parents whose children are dead because of abuse.

Listening, too, was Father Bob Maguire, who was “managed out” of his parish by Pell’s successor in Melbourne, Denis Hart(less). Among the late arrivals was Milligan’s husband, ABC comms chief Nick Leys, who somehow missed the message and mistakenly headed for a similar hostelry, the Drunken Poet.

Milligan was signing books for an hour and customers lined up to buy three and four copies at a time. MUP publisher Louise Adler is confident of a reprint as the first 10,000 copies fly off the shelves. 

Menzies frenzy

May 22 is drawing critically close, the day the Menzies “Research” Centre has set aside to commemorate the “greatest oration in Australian political history” – Pig Iron Bob’s “forgotten people speech”.

Head of the centre, former Moloch editor Nick Cater, has announced that at 9.15pm, “75 years to the minute after Menzies began speaking”, his speech will be delivered by a distinguished actor – Peter Cousens, father of Daisy – to a grateful nation. Little Winston and Alan the Parrot will be at a special event to mark the occasion and Nick has told radioman Steve Price that he gets “goosebumps” thinking about it. 

However, historian Humphrey McQueen has put a bit of a spanner in the works with a paper called “The Forgotten Fascists: Menzies’ Chosen People”. 

He says that “The Forgotten People” was not a single speech but one of a series of broadcasts and the context was that Ming was trying to stage a comeback. It was not a pitch to the “forgotten” people at all, but to the entirely unforgotten middle class, the class that had “responsibility for homes – homes material, homes human, homes spiritual”, and by today’s Nasty Party standards, homes negatively geared. In fact, Pig Iron was more interested in looking after Collins Street than Aussie battlers.

Let’s hope the MRC extends this goosebumps event across the entire spectrum of Ming’s forgotten speeches so they are broadcast on and on and on.

Trumpette #22

Discussion of Donald Trump’s mental health has reached new intensity following his thoughtful provision of state secrets to the Russians and asking FBI chief James Comey to go softly on poor old Michael Flynn and his Rusky connections. 

The New Yorker recently had an article about crazies in the White House, citing a study by psychiatrists at Duke University published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 2006. It makes the disturbing assertion that half the presidents, from George Washington to Richard Nixon, met the requirement for a psychiatric disorder – depression, anxiety, substance abuse, paranoia and other delusions. The study found that one in four presidents had symptoms “evident during presidential office, which in most cases probably impaired job performance”. 

Lyndon Johnson became increasingly disturbed as the war in Vietnam disintegrated. He carried false statistics in a pocket book so he could give information about “victory” and troop commitments. Researchers at Arizona State University studied transcripts of Ronald Reagan’s news conferences and concluded in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that his speech patterns, even before he left office, showed evidence of dementia. 

So, we’d like to comfort you with the knowledge that the narcissistic, lying, deluded pussy-grabber is not alone when it comes to mental ill health in the Oval Office.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2017 as "Gadfly: Cranston pickle".

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

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