Diary

Gadfly
We shall fight on free speeches

It was uplifting to read Little Winston Howard’s gushing endorsement of Reverend Peter Kurti’s tome The Tyranny of Tolerance. The book is a long whinge about mainstream beliefs being criticised by anyone outside the mainstream. At least that’s what it appears to be about, plus the Rev is alert to the dangerous attempt by “social engineers” to let girls wear trousers instead of skirts to school. Another vital value mercilessly under attack. 

In his foreword, Little Winny is concerned about the “intolerance and bigotry” towards people expressing “traditional views on social issues”, with resulting diminution of “free speech”. 

Citizens around the nation must have choked on their Crunchola and yoghurt as memories of Winny’s own contributions to intolerance and bigotry came flooding back. 

Indeed, Howard had a big part in remaking Australia into a country with smaller, meaner and nastier attitudes. He preferred to appeal to divisiveness rather than our larger natures. His race card election campaigns are a case in point, along with the bastardry of the Pacific Solution. Even his hasty non-plebiscite amendments to the Marriage Act to lock in the man–woman formula was as fine a moment of bigoted sexual politics as you could find.

Howard punch

Of course, the Howard era was the apogee of free speech. Debate was never freer and more exciting than in this period, led by free speech experts such as Wild Bill Heffernan and Fabulous Phil Ruddock

One thing is striking about Winston’s latest wheeze and his complaint about “minority fundamentalism”. He says: “Companies even have been targeted or vilified because of the personal views of certain officers or employees. This trend has been most obvious in the debate about same-sex marriage ... The trend represents a root-and-branch attack on free speech.” 

He’s talking here about the attack on “traditional views on social issues”, yet among those most brutally savaged was Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for signing the national airline onto the marriage equality campaign. Thunderbolts were thrown down on Joyce, particularly by some of the crashing bores who pass for columnists in the Moloch press. In fact, Winny’s argument just doesn’t seem to make sense because he assumes that the proponents of marriage equality are a “minority” and that “traditional views on social issues” are in the ascendancy. 

The issue has now reached the depths of absurdity with Poodles Pyne apologising for suggesting that there be a conscience vote in parliament, an idea that is supported by 81 per cent of Australians.  

Tempting Tony

The Manly Daily is fast becoming my favourite newspaper – a Moloch organ that covers Sydney’s northern beaches from Tony Abbott territory right up to Bronwyn Bishop hairspray and twin-set country. 

One of its curious characteristics is that it refuses to conform to ukases from News Corp central command, including publishing stories actively opposed to the “traditional” views on marriage. 

Last month we mentioned the paper reported that Abbott’s local ice-cream shop, Ben & Jerry’s, has been refusing to serve two scoops of the same flavour to customers until two people of the same gender can legally marry. Now we discover the paper favourably reported that a wedding video business is offering to film same-sex marriage proposals free, until parliament changes the law. 

If this had been The Smellograph or The Catholic Boys Daily, news items like that would have been accompanied by delirium and derision. 

Mr Jesse Peacock from Marry Me Movies said he was not part of the LGBTI community, “but I support it”. 

Meanwhile, from one of my far-flung field agents, more information comes to hand about St Anthony Abbot, an ancient forebear of the current member for Warringah. Last month we reported the sighting at Bilbao’s Museo de Bellas Artes of a painting from the 15th century called The Temptations of Saint Anthony Abbot, depicting a miserable-looking fellow being set upon by devils. 

There’s been another sighting of the saint in a fine tapestry at the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy. It turns out that Saint Anthony was a Copt and the “father” of monasticism who pursued the life of a religious hermit. The hospice functioned as a hospital between the 1440s and 1984 and was the original God’s waiting room, with a large chapel adjacent to the world’s first 30-bed ward. 

The historical parallels with today’s Mad Monk are too numerous to mention.

Dirty Dexit

Reports from London have it that Lord Moloch was in a frightful mood as results of the recent British elections came in. 

Former deputy PM John Prescott claimed the Dirty Digger left The Times party in a fury on election night after seeing the exit poll.  

The Guardian reported a source that disputed there had been any storming out. However, Private Eye’s mole at the event “confirms that the proprietor was indeed in full-on red mist mode at the increasing prospect of Jeremy Corbyn denying Theresa May an outright majority”. 

The Eye went on to note that this was the first time since 1974 that a political leader has dared defy Murdoch and failed to win a decisive victory “after receiving the gift of his backing”. 

Things are not going well for Rupe. The Guardian reported last week that the wizened mogul took his bride, Ms Jerry Hall, to an event at the East End Film Festival. She had a cameo role in a picture about a homeless person and the economic divide. 

As the lights came up at the Hackney Picturehouse, a “young Corbynista” in the audience shouted at the Digger: “We are the majority now, you cunt.”

Menzies group

In other right-wing developments, new blood has been injected into the Menzies Research Centre, run by Nick “Goosebumps” Cater

Old Macquarie Bank chairman Kevin McCann has been appointed chairman of the centre and another banker and Liberal Party celebrity Warwick Smith also joins the board. Former Treasury boffin and escapee from the Financial Services Council, Spiro Premetis, steps up as head of the Menzies enterprise policy initiative, working hand in glove with Tony Abbott’s audit guru, Tony Shepherd

Not too much policy focus there on health, education, the environment or other “second tier” issues.  

In making the announcement, Goosebumps also reminded all and sundry that now was the moment to make an end-of-financial-year, tax-deductible donation to the centre. 

Yes, another conservative “think tank” with its hand out for taxpayer-funded subsidies. I noticed last week that Father Gerard Henderson was grumbling in a pot and kettle moment that the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney is “taxpayer subsidised”. So, too, is the Henderson Institute, whose auditors have referred to its “tax-exempt status”.

Trumpette #28

Data journalism is all the rage and The New York Times has done an excellent job documenting with colourful diagrams the Pussy Grabber’s lies and falsehoods since his inauguration. 

In January there were seven outright lies, February was a peak month with 13 lies, March had 11, April also 11, May seven and for June there were four. 

February was a month where there were no days without lies or falsehoods. In fact for the first 40 days of his presidency a day didn’t pass without a lie or falsehood. Since then he has said something untrue on at least 74 of 113 days. On the days without something untrue he is absent from Twitter, on holidays at Mar-a-Lago or golfing. 

The lies are fairly clear-cut: “I wasn’t a big fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq.” (He was for an invasion before he was against it.) “Between three million and five million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.” (There’s no evidence of illegal voting.) “I have been on the cover of Time magazine 14 or 15 times – the all-time record.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Richard Nixon 55 times.) “I want to help our miners while the Democrats are blocking their healthcare.” (The bill to extend health benefits for certain coalminers was introduced by a Democrat and was co-sponsored by mostly Democrats.) Etc etc. 

The Times notes that while every president has shaded the truth, or told occasional whoppers, no other president has set out to convert reality into irrelevance. 

Falsehoods are in a broader category, such as exaggerating military spending in the Middle East. The result of this veracity void is a growth in the American public’s mistrust of Trump, from 55 per cent at the time he was inaugurated to about 60 per cent now. During the same period, those who thought he was honest fell from 42 per cent to 36 per cent. 

To make matters worse, The Economist has published a survey from the Pew Research Centre that shows America’s global standing under the Grabber has plummeted.

In Australia there was a 55 percentage points change in confidence when the final ratings of the Obama administration are compared to the trust in Trump. The country with the highest loss of confidence in the US is Sweden, at 83 percentage points. The country that preferred Trump to Obama the most was Russia, where confidence jumped 42 percentage points.

 

Tips and tattle: justinian@lawpress.com.au

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 1, 2017 as "Gadfly: We shall fight on free speeches". 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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