Diary

Gadfly
A hardman’s tale

The television spinoff of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale is an allegory of life under a type of Abbott-Abetz-Andrews-Bernardi-Shelton totalitarian Christian theonomic regime, run by cold-hearted biblical nutters who have women enslaved and minorities cast into vats of bubbling oil.

Ten Flags Tony and his fellow Old Testament trolls insist that the only pathway to marriage equality is through a plebiscite whose outcome they can gleefully ignore. At the same time, Tony says Labor’s plebiscite for a republic will lead to the collapse of what he refers to as Australia’s “way of life” – a rare and delicate organism, carefully tended behind a white picket fence, by a bigly white God. One plebiscite leads to salvation, the other to ruin.

Even Greg Sheridan, a republican, told a spellbound Q&A audience on Monday that a plebiscite for a republic will never work. Just imagine if we ended up electing as governor-general someone like Trump. Grouper Greg said he’s joined something called Republicans for a Constitutional Monarchy.

Yes. It’s best to keep things exactly as they are. After all, how can you improve on perfection?

Erich bin ein Berliner?

This naturally leads us to Otto Abetz and the new game of Spot the Section 44 Dual Citizen. John Hawkins, a contributor to Tasmanian Times, has made a painstaking study of his state senator’s citizenship. The key dates in Hawkins’ time line:

• Little Otto is born Erich Abetz in Stuttgart, on January 25, 1958, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany;

• He migrates to Australia with his parents and four siblings, arriving in Melbourne on March 22, 1961, aboard the Castel Felice;

• On July 22, 1971, in Melbourne, he is issued with a German passport, number C1674055;

• On December 3, 1974, in Hobart, he becomes a naturalised Australian;

• Tasmanian Liberal Brian Roper resigns from the senate on January 31, 1994, and three weeks later Erich is elected by the Tasmanian parliament to fill the casual vacancy.

• Abetz is elected to the senate at the 1998 and 2004 elections.

• On March 9, 2010 the senator produces a certificate of German citizenship renunciation.

So, Otto was in the clear for the 2010 elections, but what about 1994, 1998 and 2004? John Hawkins says he has not publicly produced documents that show he’d washed Germany out of his hair prior to filling the casual vacancy.

Did the Oberführer of Tasmanian Liberals sit unconstitutionally for two-and-a-bit terms in the senate? Maybe this is akin to Malcolm Roberts’ twilight zone, where we’re told documents exist but they can’t be seen. As we understand it, renunciation requires concerted steps to be made, not just an assumption that everything is functus.

The reich stuff

Otto is not the only practical one in the Abetz family. His brother, Peter Abetz, was until the March state election a member of the West Australian parliament, where he brought some compelling arguments to the floor of the house.

On the contentious issue of WA’s proposed powers for coppers to stop and search people, Pete argued that unless this law was passed, someone like Hitler might come along and fill the gap. He said his mother told him that Adolf rose to power because he promised security during a time of anarchy. Where have we heard that recently? It’s likely his wise old mum gave Otto the same information.

Peter told parliament: “If we allow anarchy to develop, in the end we will actually lose far more freedom than the tiny little bit of freedom that we might give up.”

Family duels

This neatly gets us to the point of siblings. Happily Otto and Peter are two little peas in the same political pod, but this is not invariably the case.

Indeed, there are some famous instances of siblings who fell from the same tree but at widely differing angles. Take Little Winston Howard and his brother Dr Bob Howard, an academic and Labor man. Their father was sympathetic to the New Guard, about a thousand miles from Bob’s views. There must have been a frisson of dinner table excitement, after prayers, at Chez Howard in Earlwood.

Then there are the Costello boys – Peter as hard-arsed a neoliberal as you are likely to find, and his brother, Reverend Tim, a caring leftie working in the cause of refugees and human rights.

And what of the Alstons? Richard was one of Little Winston’s ministers and later federal president of the Nasty Party. He made a name for himself lodging a massive number of complaints about the dreadful communists at the ABC and their misguided reports on the entirely reasonable scheme to invade Iraq.

After a stint at Australia House on the Strand, Alston went on to gather a glittering array of directorships: Amex, China Telecom and the national board of the shop-soiled chartered accountants body, CPA Australia. His brother is Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He is a law professor at New York University and co-chairman of the law school’s Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice.

In fact, he’s giving a lecture on the “Grand Challenge on Inequality” next Thursday at the University of New South Wales law school. According to the blurb for his talk, he’s at some distance from the official position of his brother’s party.

“In responding to the poverty that accompanies this extreme inequality, governments are often more concerned with finding novel ways to stigmatise those living in poverty than in crafting solutions.”

I almost forgot the O’Gormans: John “Bluey” O’Gorman was head of the Queensland police SWAT squad; brother Terry headed the Council for Civil Liberties.

So far, all blokes – what about politically binary sisters?

Spout badges

Father Lyle Shelton from the Australian “Christian” Lobby has moved into the modern era with a useful ACL smartphone app. It comes in handy for the campaigns, including the one against Victoria’s proposed assisted dying legislation. The ACL claims the app “revolutionises advocacy in Australia”.

Christians now earn “action points” for answering Calls to Action, whether it be in standing against euthanasia, Safe Schools, LGBTI rights, marriage equality or other beastly schemes to undermine “values”.

Collectors of sufficient action points can unlock ACL “activist badges”, which can be posted on the home pages of dedicated campaigners. Keep your eyes peeled for these online baubles.

Robes gallery

The walls of the Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery at Owen Dixon Chambers West are crowded with portraits of the great silks and judges who have dominated Yarraside’s regime of law and order.

Austere relics of the past gaze down on lowly citizens who venture through the doors of the gallery. The most recent edition is a rather moving, fully clothed snap of retired High Court judge Ken Hayne by Bill Henson. In fact, the patron of the gallery is Justice Michelle Gordon, wife of the subject of that portrait.

The POCQCG, as it is popularly known, is now a charitable foundation and has been endorsed as a recipient of tax-deductible gifts. The donations form notes that the gallery pays “tribute to the enormous contributions of the bar’s champions and acts as a source of inspiration for future generations of barristers”.

Scrolling through the charitable purposes under the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), it’s a mystery as to which best fits the gallery’s functions. Could it be the advancement of health, education, public welfare, religion, promoting reconciliation, culture, human rights, safety of the public, the natural environment, or preventing the suffering of animals? Culture might come close, but it would be a tight squeeze given that the POCQCG’s primary purpose is the glorification of barristers.

Anyway, space at the gallery is at a premium and some of the deceased codgers will have to be shifted to the basement to make way for more wall-worthy entrants.

Trumpette #33

Squeamish news anchors and current affairs gurus throughout the western hemisphere were having difficulty translating into drawing-room English the hastily departed Anthony Scaramucci’s locker-room claim that, unlike Steve Bannon, “I’m not trying to suck my own cock”.

Analysts and pundits wrote off this feat as an onanistic impossibility. Certainly, that would be so in a White House populated by people with small hands or, in the case of Bannon, reeking of bourbon and with the little facial florets of burst blood blotches to prove it.

These characters are not good advertisements for athletic accomplishment.

In the flexible, athletic, Pilates world in which Gadfly moves, however, we hear this feat is not at all uncommon and partly explains declining birth rates in affluent suburbs.

Surely, Mattel is planning to bring out a Scaramucci version of a loose-limbed Ken doll, which will have the ability to perform acts of auto-gratification.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 5, 2017 as "Gadfly: A hardman's tale". 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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