Liberté, fraternité, fraternité
Julian Burnside’s new book was launched in Sydney on Tuesday night in a Q and A interrogatory with leading silk Bret Walker.
Watching Out: Reflections on justice and injustice is a follow-up to his Watching Brief: Reflections on human rights, law and justice.
Gleebooks was packed to the gunwales as Burnside explained that his role as counsel for Liberty Victoria in the Tampa case gave rise to death threats and hate mail.
A sample: “Dear fuckwit, What makes you think that being a QC means anyone is interested in your opinions. Why don’t you fuck off and die.”
Burnside replied: “Thank you for your email. The offer of your sister is interesting. Please send photographs.”
This produced a slightly more conciliatory response: “Fair enough. I suppose I was a bit over the top.” The hate mailer went on to explain that he just had a huge night out and he started arguing about refugees with someone he couldn’t stand.
“I should have written to him I suppose. Instead I wrote to you. Actually I think you are doing a pretty good job, so please ignore me.”
One interesting morsel that emerged from the discussion at the book launch was that at the time Thomas Paine wrote his Rights of Man in support of the French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges was publishing her Declaration of the Rights of the Woman and of the Female Citizen (1791). For her troubles de Gouges was accused and convicted of treason and promptly executed at the guillotine.
Gender equality got off to a bloody start.
It was uplifting to see Otto Abetz out of the box with a scribble in The Mercury under the headline, “Talking Point: Respect our flag and fly it proudly”.
It’s hard to believe, but Otto was complaining that Hobart City Council was flying the rainbow flag – on Australian National Flag Day, of all sacred dates.
Maybe the Liberal senator had sent in a school essay written by an eight-year-old – at least that’s how it read. “… Our national flag has been a uniting symbol of pride in our nation. Something that brings together all Australians in times of war and in peace ... The flagpole outside my electorate office only flies the Australian flag – our pre-eminent symbol of national unity. Come campaign time, I don’t fly the Liberal logo...”
He went on to complain about union officials “writing slogans on public ambulances” during the last federal election, adding that it’s important to keep public facilities “above the fray”.
According to Otto’s essay, keeping above the fray requires “integrity ... self-discipline ... and principled leadership”.
It’s fascinating to see a third-rate mind hard at work.
Otto could draw strength and inspiration from President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. Kenyatta had just won the elections, or he thought he had, when the country’s supreme court decided to nullify the result and order that the polls be rerun in 60 days.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga was pretty happy with the court’s decision because he had claimed the election results were “hacked”.
According to The Economist, Kenyatta made two statements. In English he seemed graceful, calling for peace and calm. In Swahili he criticised the decision of the six judges, saying it was the work of “whites” and “homosexuals”.
It’s been full-on for Gadfly this week: a motoring trip to Canberra en route to Cooma, in the footsteps of our leather-jacket-clad supreme leader as he poked about the tunnels and tubes of the Snowy Mountains.
There’s a marvellous triennial of Indigenous art at the National Gallery of Australia called “Defying Empire”, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
It was interesting to see an Aboriginal interpretation of Captain Cook, who has been in the newspapers lately with stories about his “discovery of Australia”.
Jason Wing from the Biripi people had his bronze bust of Cook in the exhibition, his face covered by a balaclava, bushranger-style, and the caption, “Captain James Crook” – just to rub home the point that “Australia was stolen by armed robbery”.
As fine a reinterpretation of the Enid Blyton version of our history, with ginger beer and lashings of cream, as we’re likely to see.
Then on through the Monaro, with its grey plains and boulders, to Cooma and the Raglan Gallery and Cultural Centre, where the 8th Gully Gang Exhibition was drawing capacity crowds in the Imants Tillers wing. As far as Gadfly could work out the Gully Gang are a bunch of enthusiastic local artists who get together to daub paint onto canvas in various styles to create an impressive artistic energy on an annual basis.
Gadfly was drawn back to the area having spent a mind-altering four months after school as a jackaroo on a local sheep spread, bringing with us our awesome urban skills in repairing pumps, cleaning tanks and crutching merinos.
Then there’s the great contribution of the migrant workers to the Snowy schemes and the wider region. Gadfly is proudly told by a descendant that the first Italian espresso machine in New South Wales was located in Cooma. On their day off from constructing dams and tunnels, each Sunday, some of these New Australians from Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy and beyond would get into their best suits, brought with them from the old country, catch the bus up to Goulburn and parade along the main street, possibly stopping for a milkshake and a mixed grill at the Paragon Cafe.
Goulburn never felt so sophisticated.
Regrettably, there was no time to visit Eddie Obeid at the Cooma Correctional Centre where, I’m told, he’s running flower-arranging classes and helping inmates with their tax returns.
On Tuesday, in parliament, Prime Minister Bollards Trumble was asked by the leader of the opposition about releasing the solicitor-general’s advice on the eligibility of Barnaby Joyce to continue to sit as an MP.
Trumble said: “As the honourable member knows, it has never been the practice of the government – or any government, as far as I’m aware – to publish legal advice. And we certainly don’t propose to change that practice now...”
Hang on a jiffy, Trumble: governments have released advice from solicitors-general on numerous occasions, as you well know.
2016: The Turnbull government released the solicitor-general’s advice on the eligibility of Rodney Culleton and his problems with section 44.
2011: The Gillard government released two opinions of the solicitor-general on the impact of the High Court’s ruling on the “Malaysia solution”.
2010: The Rudd government released legal advice of the solicitor-general as an annexure to the national human rights consultation report.
Clever lawyers in Mark Dreyfus’s office have found another five occasions in recent memory when advice from solicitors-general has been released by government: Howard in 2000 and in 1999 (including on the eligibility of Warren Entsch); Keating in 1995 on payment of MPs’ legal expenses; Hawke in 1991 on advice about judges’ taxation; and in 1984 on the extent of the constitutional power to remove Lionel Murphy from the High Court.
Trumble is not the only one having trouble with his terminological exactitudes. His nuclear war ally Donald Trump is also scoring poorly on the truthiness index.
Of Trump’s statements analysed by PolitiFact, only 5 per cent were found to be true, 26 per cent were mostly true or half true, and 69 per cent were whoppers – “mostly false, false, or pants on fire”. Most recently, the Department of Justice found his claim that president Obama had wire-tapped Trump Tower just before the election to be a “total fabrication”.
Maria Konnikova in Politico reminded us that all presidents lie. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton lied to protect their reputations. Trump, however, lies “for the pure joy of it”.
To borrow a phrase of Goebbels, Trump is master of his own “lie factory”.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 9, 2017 as "Gadfly: Liberté, fraternité, fraternité". Subscribe here.