Phillip Coorey, AFR’s political correspondent, the other day confirmed that PM Trumble’s pre-election frontbench reshuffle “would see the departure of Attorney-General George Brandis” – something that has been eagerly awaited for some time. He goes on to say that while London has frequently been mentioned as a likely destination for Bookshelves, “Wellington is now on the cards”.

By Richard Ackland.

Last-ditch posting

Phillip Coorey, political correspondent for The Australian Financial Review, had a disturbing piece of speculation in his column the other day. He confirmed that PM Trumble’s pre-election frontbench reshuffle “would see the departure of Attorney-General George Brandis” – something that has been eagerly awaited for some time. 

He goes on to say that while London has frequently been mentioned as a likely destination for Bookshelves, “Wellington is now on the cards”. 

In Bookshelves’ book this must be the diplomatic equivalent of Ulaanbaatar, and incredibly disappointing to the heaps of Young Liberals who were lining up for a stay at Stoke Lodge in South Ken.

No doubt frantic lobbying is under way, designed to highlight the many triumphs of Brandis’s attorney-generalship, worthy of being rewarded with a decent plot of pasture.

Family ties

While in Bookshelves territory we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the AG’s family law innovation, unveiled with a $12.7 million four-year drum roll in the budget.

It’s hard to keep abreast of these innovations. We got the Howard dynasty’s Family Relationship Centres and now we have the Trumble era’s Parenting Management Hearings. The PMHs have been enthusiastically advocated by Professor Patrick Parkinson and mediation expert Dr Nicky McWilliam. Parramatta has been chosen as the testing ground for this experiment.

The aim is to help resolve family law troubles between self-represented litigants, and the process will be run by panels of lawyers, psychologists, social workers and child development gurus. 

Parko is well known in family law circles. He is weary of marriage equality and “feminists in lesbian relationships” and has conducted research for the Australian “Christian” Lobby. He’s also spoken at a knees-up for the lobby and written in opposition to the Safe Schools project. All in all, a pretty rounded fellow.

Needless to say, this project of Bookshelves’ has its naysayers. What sort of quality control is to be applied to the selection of lawyers, social workers etc, and what powers will they be exercising? Shadow AG Mark Dreyfus weighed in, saying: “You cannot test something on distressed families and parents in the midst of custody battles to see if it works.” 

While alternatives to litigation are desirable, it seems there are infuriating details to be resolved and all before the Australian Law Reform Commission has even started on its review of the entire family law system. 

Dr Nicky, the daughter of the late art dealer Eva Breuer and the wife of Channel Seven litigation enthusiast Bruce McWilliam, is a key part of a business called Sydney Mediation Partnership. Maybe the Amber–Timbo extramarital feud could be resolved at one of these management hearings. 

Mr and Mrs McWilliam met at Rodney Adler’s wedding.

Sophistry never repeats

Intriguingly and shockingly, in 1905 the judges of the High Court went on strike – over the state of their bookshelves. 

Amazing but true, according to Justice Stephen Gageler, whose article on this topic appears in the latest edition of the Melbourne University Law Review

There was the most almighty stand-off between the court and Sir Josiah Symon, attorney-general in the government of George “Yes-No” Reid. The AG was furious about the court’s travel expenses and refused funding for “300 feet” of bookshelves to be installed in the Sydney chambers of chief justice Sir Sammy Griffith

Symon told the judges to pay for their own hotel expenses when they were sitting in Melbourne, as well as expenses for steamship travel between Sydney and Hobart. 

He also decided that the Sydney chambers of the court should only be allowed to have one telephone and directed that the other lines be cut off.

A direct challenge to judicial independence had been made, and the judges were livid. Richard O’Connor was so upset he refused to sit in Melbourne to hear a civil case. 

A headline in The Advertiser screamed: “Is the High Court on strike? The Attorney-General’s Economy; Bookshelves Disallowed.” 

Today, of course, such a crisis would be unimaginable, when we have an attorney-general who is an enthusiastic exponent of public expenditure on bookshelves and a generous amount of travel, official and unofficial.

Pig-Iron cross

Steve Priceless’s hosting on the Macquarie Wireless Network of Pig Iron Bob’s “forgotten speech” brought the nation to a halt on Monday night. This was Goosebumps Cater’s stellar PR moment for his Menzies Research Centre. 

I wish they’d dug deeper and broadcast a few more of Ming’s Magic Mile of Oratorical Masterpieces, starting in 1938 when, as attorney-general, he addressed the Australian Women’s National League. 

According to press reports of the event, he told his audience that Neville Chamberlain had displayed more imagination in handling the European crisis than any other prime minister for a century. 

“If you were Germans you would take off your hats to Herr Hitler, who does really rule Germany and is not a figurehead. He has produced results. He has been able to bluff and the other nations have not been able to call his bluff.” 

Ming concluded that the principal cause of war was ignorance. 

More please, Goosebumps.

Lette it be

We can never get too much of Kathy Lette

Here she is in the latest issue of the Qantas magazine with some travel notes, and in the process was able to slip in a few of her thigh-slapping puns and fabulous turns of phrase: the “creme de la crim” of Australia’s past; or to London, where she needed “emotional thermals to survive the social frostbite”. 

Her latest book, Best Laid Plans, also gets a mention, as it does in the current issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, where she and her son Julius Robertson are subject to five pages of photos and puffery. 

Kathy has already discussed her son’s autism and wrote a roman à clef about it, The Boy Who Fell to Earth. As she put it: “I was so nervous and torn about coming out about Jules’ autism ...” 

In any event, Best Laid Plans takes things a step further, where English teacher Lucy is arrested for kerb crawling, trying to pick up a prostitute for her autistic 20-year-old son, Merlin. Lette tells the Weekly readers: “Once more I’m nervous about invading my son’s privacy, but sex for the ‘differently abled’ is an important issue.” 

There’s one other private matter announced to the select group of insiders who read the AWW: “Kathy is in the process of splitting from her husband, Geoffrey Robertson ... ‘I really don’t want to say much. Basically Geoff and I have separated on the warmest of terms ... I think that for women life is in two acts – the trick is to survive the interval. I’m in the interval right now, but I’m definitely buying a big round of drinks.”

Arch dished up tutu

Australian Fashion Week in Sydney has come and gone for another year, but not without leaving an impact on some of the citizens. 

Gadfly spotted two style innovations in the city’s bo-bo inner east. One gentleman was pushing a shopping trolley along the street wearing a tutu and tights, while only metres away another chap
had turned out in a matching yarmulke and Driza-Bone.

Trumpette #23

The poor, besieged Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief has escaped the torment of Washington to bask in the soothing balm of the Middle East, priming himself with a range of religious experiences before getting down to business with the Pope in Rome. 

Frank Bruni in The New York Times was insensitive enough to observe that Trump is to nominate Callista Gingrich as the next US ambassador to the Vatican. Callista is Newt’s third wife, who was sleeping with him while he was still married to No. 2. 

Not that the Vatican should care, what with some of the priestly sleeping arrangements that have consumed commissions of inquiry across the planet. 

Trump is a bigly God guy. The Christian Broadcasting Network asked him, “Who is God to you?” He replied: “God is the ultimate. Nobody, no thing, there’s nothing like God.”

It’s Bruni who reminds us that the pussy grabber, as a lad, attended the Marble Collegiate, whose celebrity preacher was positive thinker Norman Vincent Peale

Peale told his believers, “Attitudes are more important than facts.”


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2017 as "Gadfly: Last-ditch posting".

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

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