Diary

Gadfly
Malcolm’s hokey poke

Honestly, Jane Goodall did her best, but up against the combined crashing boredom of Senator “Sprog” Paterson and right-wing religious fellow the Reverend Peter Kurti, from the Centre for “Independent” Studies, Q&A on Monday was doomed. 

It was impossible to recover after kicking off with the nation’s unfunniest men discussing Malcolm Turnbull’s Trump jape at the Mid Winter Ball. Sprog keeps hearing that politicians are too uptight, so you’ll be pleased to know he’s “pretty relaxed” about the PM’s levity. 

Kurti was more worried, questioning whether “the prime minister of a country ought to use satire to poke somebody like the president of the United States”. 

The fact that the Canberra press gallery thought Trumble’s skit was hilarious shows the tragic state of affairs in that wasteland. Surely Gadfly was not alone in thinking this was a wooden performance, devoid of flair and wit? 

The alternative viewing was Line of Duty, a corrupt copper drama on Netflix, where there was the relatively less painful experience of watching crims trying to cut off a policeman’s fingers with bolt-cutters.

Sound bites

The Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, described the ABC–Fairfax exposé of political donations from foreign sources as “cooking up the overnight cold rice”. 

Politicians here are well practised at rebutting an embarrassing story by labelling it as “old news”, but reheating rice is so much more in step with our engagement in the Asian Century and should catch on. 

It almost pips another useful culinary analogy that entered the patois this week. Senator Chris Back (Lib. WA) on ABC Radio’s AM was distressed that Catholic schools will only be $3.4 billion better off over 10 years than they are now. He believes that poor parents sending their tots to these institutions need more help. 

Back, who is soon to leave parliament, was on the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia for nearly 10 years. He said that as a senator he was a veterinarian “representing that profession, representing oil and gas”. 

But he thinks the education minister, Simon Birmingham, is doing a fantastic job. As the senator put it: “He’s managed to unmesh the terrible omelette that was created by the Gillard government, the Rudd government in terms of funding – he’s undoing all that.” 

Unmeshing the terrible omelette and cooking up the overnight rice are both on the menu from now on.

Begg to differ

You have to marvel at the audacity of these think tanks. Take the Institute of Paid Advocacy and Hendo’s Sydney Institute, both of which blather on about how appalling it is that other organisations are “taxpayer funded”. 

Might this be a touch much to swallow when the IPA openly advertises that donations it receives are tax deductible and the Henderson Institute is “tax exempt”. Either way, to meet the government’s income target the burden of the forgone revenue from these concessions will have to be made up by other taxpayers. 

Both outfits keep the identity of their donors under lock and key, but you can guess who’s paying the piper when the IPA comes out and says the government’s bank levy amounts to “quasi nationalisation” and will turn banks “into an arm of the bureaucracy”. 

It’s almost as mindless as the attack on Professor Ros Croucher, the president of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the incoming head of the Human Rights Commission. 

An IPA wally named Morgan Begg declared that Croucher is “a person with no apparent commitment to freedom of speech” and that this will erase “the government’s good work in attempting to expand our liberal democratic rights by reforming s.18C of the Racial Discrimination Act”. 

If Morgan had bothered to consult the ALRC’s report on the encroachment by Commonwealth laws on traditional rights and freedoms, an inquiry led by Croucher, he would discover a great slab of work on freedom of speech. 

It covered laws on secrecy, incitement and conspiracy, the Border Force Act, the ASIO Act, court suppression orders, contempt of court, and this bit on the IPA’s pet obsession: 

“In the ALRC’s view, s.18C of the RDA would benefit from more thorough review in relation to implications for freedom of speech. In particular, there are arguments that s.18C lacks sufficient precision and clarity, and unjustifiably interferes with freedom of speech by extending to speech that is reasonably likely to ‘offend’.” 

Ignorance, thy name is Begg.

Council pressed

It was distressing to see David Weisbrot being hounded from his job as chairman of the Australian Press Council. 

Hacks from News Corp laboriously attacked the council over the election of GetUp! deputy chairperson Carla McGrath as a public member of the newspaper watchdog. The particular offenders were the aptly named reporter Mitchell Bingemann and legal affairs man Chris “The Tamil” Merritt

Weisbrot breathed fresh air into the council, developed a strategic plan, hosted a major press freedom conference, collaborated with journalism schools, and got Indigenous publications into the tent along with other new members – even the Daily Mail

He bent over backwards and sideways to make News Corp feel comfortable with the adjudication of complaints against its tatty rags, even handing well-deserved press freedom medals to one of its reporters and a Holt Street in-house lawyer.  Moloch’s hacks have never wanted an outfit resolving complaints about their stupefying beat-ups. 

The chairman cited a campaign of “misinformation” over McGrath’s appointment, and added that his “heart is no longer in the job, and it’s a difficult enough job at the best of times”. 

The needless savagery is a bit much coming from a global organisation with a history of illegally hacking into people’s private lives and sexually harassing female employees.

Throwing away the book

There’s great consternation at the Sydney Law School, where library staff have been busy binning its collection of books from Cambridge University Press. Some 671 works are heading to landfill or some other suitable graveyard, including tomes written by the university’s academics. 

Unlimited online access has been purchased for the same items that are being junked. 

Honi Soit reported earlier this year that the university library was shredding about 25,000 books and such was the furore that the authorities later said they would try and “rehome” some of them. 

Reading large and complex works on the internet is not to everyone’s taste and the law school board has “expressed serious concern” about the books-to-landfill policy and called on the library to cease and desist until further investigation.

English test

The Shaky lsles look shakier every day. Political earthquakes have destabilised Kiwiland to such a degree that the new PM, Bill English, faces a kick in the shins from voters in three months after a series of own goals.

In an interview this week, English couldn’t recall that one of his MPs, 27-year-old former tobacco lobbyist Todd Barclay, told him he’d secretly and illegally recorded his electorate secretary. Then, four hours later, English recovered his memory. 

A police inquiry had ended after 10 months, with Barclay refusing to be interviewed. Barclay quit this week but will hang around until the election because his vote is needed for the government to survive. 

Now the rozzers must work out what to do. Plod put a lot of energy into a complaint by former PM, and ponytail fancier, John Key after he was accidentally taped by a cameraman with a radio mic. To add to the fun, a top National Party person pressed Barclay’s staffer to drop her complaint because it could potentially take the party down and harm her and her family.

She was secretly paid out over an employment dispute by English, who said in texts: “He left a dictaphone running that picked up all conversations in the office ... settlement large to avoid potential legal action. Had to be part paid by prime minister’s budget. Everyone unhappy.” 

English leads a party that is on 47 per cent and has run hard on law and order. He is likely to survive: Labour is on 26 per cent, with its leader Andrew Little consistently overshadowed by his deputy Jacinda Ardern

Trumpette #27

Sweden’s Museum of Failure opened a fortnight ago, displaying a collection of innovations that left the consuming public stone cold. 

The museum’s curator, Dr Samuel West, told the media, “I genuinely believe that as a society we underestimate failure. We are too obsessed with success.” 

The collection includes the Rejuvenique Electric Facial Mask, which promised that in 90 days your face could be rejuvenated sufficiently that you would look like Linda Evans from Dynasty

There’s a Harley-Davidson eau de toilette, which bikers rejected in droves. A plastic bicycle that didn’t rust but wobbled dangerously when pedalled. A “female” Bic pen, potato chips made with fat substitutes that appealed to the weight conscious but unfortunately delivered diarrhoea, the Newton MessagePad from Apple, and something named Heinz “Green Sauce”. 

However, pride of place is reserved for a Donald Trump-branded board game called I’m Back and You’re Fired!

The curator says it was “a very lousy version of Monopoly”. A much better version is currently being played out in the White House.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 24, 2017 as "Gadfly: Malcolm’s hokey poke". 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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