Diary

Gadfly
Parry, dodge, spin, ha, thrust

Let’s pause a moment to reflect on the torrid time for Otto Abetz and his island kingdom of Tasmania.

Not only do the polls show a majority of postal responses in favour of same-sex marriage, which Otto thinks could lead to people marrying the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but the wheels are falling off his badly oiled state branch of the Nasty Party machine.

One of Otto’s favourites, the president of the senate and a former Burnie embalmer, Stephen Parry, has gone up in a puff of dual-citizen smoke, leaving Richard Colbeck to take his spot.

Curiously, Parry consulted the British Home Office about his eligibility – and the answer was the same as if he had read the High Court judgement re: Canavan, Ludlam, Waters, Roberts, Joyce etc.

Colbeck, loosely described as a “moderate” among the Tasmanian hill tribes, is the very man Otto dumped down the Nasties’ senate ticket to an unwinnable fifth spot. As if the loss of the Three Amigos in 2016 was not bad enough.

On Saturday there is a byelection for the legislative council seat of Pembroke and it seems the Liberals’ state director, Sammy McQuestin, is under investigation for potentially running foul of two pieces of legislation: the Electoral Act and the Anti-Discrimination Act.

The Nasties have been making fun of the poll’s frontrunner, independent candidate Doug Chipman, 71, claiming he lives in a “lifestyle village” and putting together a Photoshopped image taking a pot-shot at Doug’s age. The image shows a collection of what is purported to be on parliament’s doorstep – golf clubs, slippers, a Perry Como album and a fishing rod.

Otto’s performing seals know all the tricks.

Incorrigible showman

Journalist and former prisoner of Egypt  Peter Greste has his book, The First Casualty, on the shelves, exploring the war against journalism from the Middle East to the West.

But be careful what you ask for when requesting the volume from the local librarian. There is of course The First Casualty, a crime novel by British author Ben Elton, and The First Casualty, a history of war journalism from the saintly Phillip Knightley (RIP).

And while you’re pondering whether book publishers have run out of ideas for titles, there’s Gareth Evans’ memoir, called Incorrigible Optimist.

Gadfly must dip into it to see what’s been left out. Anyway, it should not be confused with The Incorrigible Optimists Club by Jean-Michel Guenassia. It won the Prix Goncourt and The Sydney Morning Herald said, in 2014, that it was the work of a “major literary talent”.

It’s the story of a 12-year-old boy who discovers a group of intellectuals and émigrés in the backroom of a Paris bistro and is drawn into their orbit and their stories about life behind the Iron Curtain.

It could be quite easily muddled with Gareth’s memoirs.

Gayle force win

As if the defamation courts are not causing enough strife for the Fairfax newspapers, the judge in the Chris Gayle alleged semi-exposure case also laid down the law about seating arrangements for reptiles of the media reporting proceedings in the courtroom.

One reporter was upset that schoolchildren out on a lark were taking the seats of working journalists and wrote a note to Justice Lucy McCallum to complain about this. After all, it makes life difficult if reporters have to cover a case while standing and at the same time manipulating a computer or pencil and notebook.

Her honour wouldn’t have a bar of it, saying it was a misconception to understand the principle of open justice “as a right of the press to report”. The press had no more right to scrutinise proceedings than “any member of the public who wishes to attend court”. Never mind that the media has the job of reporting the courts to a much wider audience than the handful of schoolkids escaping algebra lessons.

Furthermore, the school students were being ushered around by an outfit called the Rule of Law Institute, which does a lot of lobbying in the corridors of power for corporate interests. McCallum thought to exclude them for the benefit of journalists “would have provided a sorry lesson on the failure of the rule of law”.

Speaking of sorry lessons, Fairfax lost against Gayle and complained it didn’t get a fair trial. This apparently “troubled” McCallum, while Gayle’s barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, who spent part of the trial using his robes to re-create the alleged indecent exposure, said: “It’s extremely disappointing that a media organisation like Fairfax … should try to go on and fight like this.”

Funnel vision

The Economist had an interesting article last week about how American newspapers, particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post, are getting people to pay for news as digital subscribers.

Trump’s rants about “The Failing New York Times” have resulted in more than two million digital subscribers, while the Post has been hiring technology whizzes to improve its digital footprint and has built the newsroom to more than 750.

The strategy is something called funnelling, converting digital visitors into paid subscribers, or luring them from the free end of the funnel to the smaller paid end.

Jeff Bezos, the proprietor of the Post, made a telling point, which you’d hope Greg Plywood and Fairfax might take on board: “You can’t shrink your way to profitability.”

ROC tipster

Gadfly was chuffed to see Sharri Markson from The Daily Smellograph leading the charge for the maintenance of journalistic ethics. While the Michaelia Cash-ROC-AFP raid on the Australian Workers’ Union was in the spotlight, Sharri tweeted: “Shocking night for the media. Some journos clearly do not know how to protect sources.”

David Crowe of The Catholic Boys Daily, had earlier written: “Shocking night for the government. Michaelia Cash forced to retract, staffer forced to resign after admitting to tipping off media on raid.” 

Sharri was referring to the fact that, contrary to the employment minister’s repeated denials to a senate committee, Cash’s office was the source of the heads-up to at least one media organisation that the wallopers were going to visit AWU offices in Melbourne and Sydney.

Shortly after BuzzFeed broke the story, Cash’s flack merchant, David De Garis, resigned.

De Garis was the source of the tip-off, while the sources of the BuzzFeed story were other journalists. Yet, by taking this stand, Sharri and various others are effectively requiring journalists to protect not only their own sources but other people’s sources for stories published by entirely different media outfits.

In any event, the protection of a source who stood by while his minister repeatedly misled parliament is a nonsensical stretch too far.

Nash is to ashes

A grateful nation can breathe a sigh of relief that the High Court has seen off from our senate the British citizen Fiona Nash.

As readers know, she is one of Gadfly’s bête blondes. In the Abbott era she was assistant minister for health with chief of staff Alastair Furnival, whose family business was lobbying for the junk food industry.

Together they arranged to remove from the internet a government website that rated and graded the nutritional value of foods. Alastair also lobbied for a $16 million government grant to chocolate block manufacturer Cadbury. Talk about a glass-and-a-half of full-cream dairy milk.

Then came Nash’s even more enlightened decision to axe the funding for the peak drug and alcohol advisory body.

Maybe it’s not altogether a shock to learn that the minister didn’t think the science on climate change was settled or that there should be anything other than “traditional” marriage.

It’s hard to think of one constructive contribution she made to the nation in all her wasted years as a senator.

Trumpette #46

Major-General (ret) Jim Molan is running for president of the New South Wales division of the Nasty Party. He has mentioned his broad range of skills at managing large organisations, or in the case of the NSW Liberals, shrinking organisations.

These include staffing, lobbying, political affairs, rational arguments and nuclear war. Major-General Jim has been a key player in the party’s “democratic reform movement”, whose principal aim is to get as many conservatives, evangelicals and wing nuts into parliament as possible.

Maybe we need the cautionary tale of General John Kelly’s smarts as White House chief of staff before we get too enthusiastic about the political skills of military chaps.

In October, Kelly came to the “rescue” of Barking Dog Trump, saying the president’s phone call to the military widow Myeshia Johnson couldn’t have been more lovely. Her husband was the man who “knew what he signed up for” and whose name Trump couldn’t remember. 

Masha Gessen, in The New Yorker, parsed the general’s press briefing into four essential arguments:

Those who criticise the president don’t know what they are talking about because they haven’t served in the military; the president did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do; communications between the president and the military widow are no one else’s business; and citizens are ranked based on their proximity to dying for their country.

As if this were not enough, Kelly this week was rewriting the Civil War and blundering into historical sensitivities, declaring that Confederate general Robert E. Lee was “an honourable man”. Honourable in the sense that his mission was to expand slavery and torture.

The more we hear from General Kelly the more we should worry about the brand of “order and discipline” he brings to the dotard’s White House.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 4, 2017 as "Gadfly: Parry, dodge, spin, ha, thrust". 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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