Diary

Gadfly
Just wild about Harry

Invariably Gadfly turns to Grouper Greg Sheridan in The Catholic Boys Daily for thought leadership.

Grouper’s endorsement of Admiral Harry Harris, the United States commander in the Pacific, as Barking Dog Trump’s ambassador to Australia, could not have been more reassuring.

There is the admiral’s “cool assertiveness [and] his strategic clear headedness” and the added bonus that the Chinese hate this “great Pacific commander”. Not only that, says Grouper, they dislike “the way he speaks”.

Maybe the Chinese are onto something there.

Before he served in the Pacific, Harry was the commander at the US gulag in Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. It was there that our man shot to prominence after what appeared to be the suicides of three prisoners following a “psychological operation” at the base.

The Pentagon kept pesky investigative journalists away from the story and Harris went on the offensive, declaring that the men died, “not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare against US”.

As Grouper gushed: “Welcome aboard, admiral”.

Tree speech

Central to the idea of free speech is the right to protest – a fact that was horribly neglected by the 18C campaigners.

It would be a mighty dextrous court that found legislation that prevented people peacefully protesting in forests and elsewhere was not a burden on political communication.

If only the application of the implied constitutional right of free speech about politics was so simple. It may work for Bob Brown and Tasmanian tree huggers – who won a challenge to anti-protest laws this week – but the High Court has gone to the special trouble to make the Lange doctrine as complex and unworkable as possible for the rest of us.

It’s safe to say it never works as a defence in defamation. There are now three hoops to jump through before the court will find invalid legislation that imposes a restraint on free expression.

First, does the law impose a burden on political communication? Second, is the constraint compatible with the constitutionally prescribed system of representative and responsible government? Third, is the law reasonably appropriate and adapted to advance its legitimate purpose?

Good luck with that. To make the free speech waters even muddier, the court is split on the question of “proportionality analysis”. Don’t get me started.

The court may have sent off a piece of obviously repressive legislation, but has done nothing about the ludicrous complexity introduced by the highest judges in the land over a number of “free speech” cases.

Ming time for Hitler

We mentioned last week the reprise of “The Forgotten People” performance by Goosebumps Cater’s Menzies “Research” Centre.

This proved so wildly popular the first time around that the centre is now charging $190 a seat for the Melbourne season.

A kindly reader has asked why the centre hasn’t hired an actor to do Ming’s “Departed Friends” speech delivered in July 1939 at Anzac House, where he is reported in the press at the time to have said, against a background of catcalls:

“History will label Hitler as one of the really great men of the century ... As far as the German people are concerned Hitler has proved himself a great man and a tireless worker. He dragged his nation from bankruptcy and revolution, and I think he has too much intelligence lightly to cast them back into another war.”

Pig Iron was interrupted as the wallopers turfed out a dozen or so protesters and three months later, England, Australia and others were at war with one of the great men of the century. 

That speech and the associated disruptions lend themselves to so many more theatrical delights than an actor droning on about forgotten people who, because of compulsory voting, can hardly be forgotten at all.

Camper van Leyonhjelm

A great piece in The Saturday Paper last week by Mike Seccombe about the small-bore gun nut and parliamentary dill Senator David Leyonhjelm.

A while back The Chaser struck gold with this Colonel Klink of the upper house after he said people who were unhappy with Wicked Campers and their sexist slogans were “wowsers”.

The Chaser team turned up outside the senator’s home with a van bearing a Wicked-style message: “The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 minutes of silence.”

With all the wit and sophistication he could muster, the Liberal Democrat told them to “fuck off”.

After last week’s article, which shot holes in Leyonhjelm’s post-truth analysis of the safety of guns and how relatively few people are killed by them, his flack merchant sent Seccombe a text: “My boss has a file called ‘cunts’. You’re now on it.”

Challenge to a dual

Gadfly’s old constitutional law lecturer, Emeritus Professor Tony Blackshield, was in touch to say he had written a piece for Inside Story about the Gillespie case and section 44(v) of the constitution.

David Gillespie is, of course, the assistant health minister whose family company Goldenboot Pty Ltd owns a shopping centre at Lighthouse Beach near Port Macquarie where one of the tenants is a licensed post office.

The issue is whether Dr Gillespie is validly a member of parliament because of this pecuniary interest with the Commonwealth public service. It’s a question that may never be reached because there are preliminary principles to be determined.

The retired prof dug up a 1975 quote from Doug Anthony, the then leader of Cockies Corner, who expressed concern about the undesirability of these actions against MPs being pursued: “I venture to say that if the letter of the law as it is written in sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution were to be followed we would possible [sic] have a very thin parliament.”

Twenty-four years later, a youngish Tony Abbott was on his feet in parliament complaining of the dangers of the High Court getting its hands on these eligibility cases. On June 10, 1999, in relation to a move by Labor to refer Warren Entsch to the court, he told the house:

“... if the opposition go down the track that they are proposing with their motion this afternoon, there will be many members of this house who are in jeopardy. That is what the opposition is proposing to do: they are proposing to place many members of this house in jeopardy by their proposal to send this off to the High Court.”

Was he, perhaps, concerned that his own British citizenship, renounced the year before he was elected to parliament, could be dragged into contention?

Public spectre

Civil Liberties Australia points out that the Criminal Code Amendment (Impersonating a Commonwealth Body) Bill, 2017 takes the cake.

The Kafkaesque explanatory memorandum says: “New subsection 150.1(3) provides that, for the purposes of new section 150.1, it is immaterial whether the Commonwealth body exists or is fictitious. Provided a person makes a false representation in relation to a Commonwealth body, it is not necessary that the specific body they purport to represent be actually in existence.”

Examples of possible fictional departments are cited in the memorandum: the Ministry of Internal Security and the Commonwealth Department of Alcohol and Fisheries.

However, it is pointed out that the offence would not apply if a person falsely represented to be acting on behalf of the Australian Government Hot Dog Authority or the Ministry of Silly Walks, because “a reasonable person would not believe such Commonwealth bodies exist”.

Really, can we be sure about that?

Trumpette #44

On August 16, 1984, John F. Bassett, the owner of the football team known as the Tampa Bay Bandits, sent a letter to Donald J. Trump at the Trump Organisation, 725 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.

It’s worth disinterring what Mr Bassett wrote, because 33 years later there’s an eerie echo: “On a number of occasions over the past meetings, I have listened with astonishment at your personal abuse of the commissioner and various of your partners if they did not happen to espouse one of your causes or agree with one of your arguments ... While others may be able to let your insensitive and denigrating comments pass, I no longer will.

“You are bigger, younger, and stronger than I, which means I’ll have no regrets whatsoever punching you right in the mouth the next time an instance occurs where you personally scorn me, or anyone else, who does not happen to salute and dance to your tune ...

“Think before you shoot and when you do fire, stick to the message without killing the messenger.

“Kindest personal regards” etc.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 21, 2017 as "Gadfly: Just wild about Harry". 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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