Court of little public opinion
Who can forget those political luminaries Hunt, Tudge and Sukkar? The bold and brave “Yarra Three” avoided prosecution for contempt after their blundering statements about the Victorian Court of Appeal while it was in the process of making decisions about sentences for two terrorist offenders. The three hung their heads, shuffled their feet and made a last-minute grovel to the judges.
But all has not been entirely disremembered. The senate then referred contempt of court to the legal and constitutional affairs committee, ostensibly with a brief to work out how politicians might be able to say rude things about judges while at the same time not derailing trials or blowing up the judicial process.
A delicate balancing act if ever there was one, but apparently one of sublime lack of interest to the community. By the time the deadline passed on October 31, the committee had received only six submissions, four of which were from worthy law bodies.
The report is due by November 28 and is unlikely to be found under many Christmas trees.
Gadfly was momentarily beguiled by a poster in Sydney’s east – an advertisement for a performance by the Sydney Art Quartet at the Yellow House, called Butt Naked.
Apparently it’s restricted to people 18 years and over because it contains nudity and stars Alan Jones.
Will the dear old butterball, the protector of public decency, shed his fetching yellow, cream and gold ensemble with matching tie and hanky to hang about with the inner-city elites in some sort of confronting performance?
Sadly, no. It’s Alan Jones the artist who is daubing the walls of the Yellow House with nudes to the accompaniment of Schubert, Sculthorpe and Finzi.
At least another door has opened, as the strip clubs of Darlinghurst Road close.
The Unaoil story has taken a fresh turn. In March-April last year the Fairfax papers published a series of articles detailing how this Monaco-based company run by the Ahsani family allegedly bribed officials throughout the Middle East and elsewhere on behalf of Western companies looking for contracts.
It was blockbuster stuff about a global “bribe factory” run by a bunch of shonks. Soon afterwards teams of PR spinners and lawyers were set loose to hose down the story. Naturally they fed compliant dupes at Moloch’s Catholic Boys Daily.
Correspondent Headless Thomas was briefed by Unaoil’s London PR firm Tancredi, which resulted in a story about a Russian called “Comrade” who sought to extract $US5 million from the Ahsanis in exchange for not releasing a pile of tasty emails about these alleged corrupt activities.
The fact that the alleged blackmail attempt happened after Fairfax journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker started their investigation is a trifling detail, hardly worth more than a distracting sentence. Headless was anxious to warn us about the “potential moral hazard for journalists and media outlets” in an age when cybercriminals are on the loose. Media writer Lurch Davidson also suggested that an action in injurious falsehood means Fairfax could face damages of “many millions of dollars – possibly hundreds of millions of dollars”.
The pages of the Daily were then thrown open to Unaoil’s local lawyer, Rebekah Giles, who said her clients “believe Fairfax was an instrument in the blackmail”. Later, legal affairs reporter Chris “The Tamil” Merritt declared Giles “has been instructed by Unaoil” to file proceedings against Fairfax for preliminary discovery of its sources. The Tamil pressed on, declaring that the extortion threat against Unaoil “raised a terrible risk for Baker and McKenzie and their lawyers – that their own shadowy source was a criminal blackmailer”.
Never mind that Comrade had nothing to do with the Fairfax stories and never mind that threatened legal proceedings have not started. What is interesting is that the Serious Fraud Office in London has laid charges against two former Unaoil managers and an extradition request has been issued for one of the family kingpins, Saman Ahsani. Other members of the family seem to have located themselves to distant jurisdictions.
Suddenly, the great upward-thrusting pistons of the PR machine have fallen silent.
Gadfly runs into Mike Carlton, the naval historian and former Sydney Morning Herald columnist, who tells us he has just delivered a 200,000-word memoir to his publisher, Penguin Random House.
It is tentatively titled On Air and begins with his mother’s wartime marriage to the Catholic priest who became his father, progresses to details about his spotty, sweaty adolescence and then onto more than 50 years in the media caper.
He provides frank and intimate portraits of silver-tongued comrades of the airwaves, such as John “Cash for Comment” Laws, Alan “Gloria” Jones, Stan “The Man” Zemanek and Raymond “The Mouth” Hadley.
The tome also includes important moments of historical record, such as the author punching a Tory MP in a bar at the House of Commons and an account of his abrupt departure from the Herald after telling the then editorial manager, Sean Aylmer, to “get fucked”.
It should be a lawyer’s picnic, and slightly more interesting than the senate select committee report on contempt.
A visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the exhibition of masters from the Rijksmuseum reveals marvellous 17th-century Dutch faces wonderfully transported to canvas with oil. Indeed, if you strip away the bonnets, hats and other strange headgear, the faces become utterly contemporary.
Some of them even bear a haunting resemblance to Dr Andreas Bolt, the well-known Dutch celebrity and man of affairs.
In fact, Andreas’s eyes started following me around the gallery, so much so it was necessary to beat a hasty retreat to the souvenir counter.
Thank god our religious freedoms are going to be sorted by crusty old Nasty Party relic Philip Ruddock, of Pacific Solution fame.
The trick with this mission is somehow to open the gates for happy-clappy “Christians” from the Charismatic Church of Scott Morrison to let fly with thoughts about same-sexual people without letting those Sharia and halal worshippers in on the same freedoms.
This may be a balancing act beyond even the skills of a long-term parliamentary seat-warmer like Fabulous Phil.
In the meantime, we can rely on the ex-cathedra urgings of Father Lyle Shelton, who predicts that religious freedoms will be “wiped out before Christmas”. Hallelujah to that.
Actually, things are going seriously awry on the freedoms front. Contrary to Bookshelves Brandis’s ideas, civil marriage celebrants don’t want to be exempt from the law.
Dorothy Harrison of the Coalition of Celebrant Associations was way out of line, saying, “We have discrimination laws and we have to live by them.” She was backed by Rona Goold of the Civil Celebrations Network.
If that was not disturbing enough, The Daily Rupert in Hobart reports that cake bakers are happy to sell their wares to gays. Alistair Wise of Sweet Envy said he had never heard of anyone who didn’t want to bake a cake for someone. “Cake transcends differences,” said Alistair.
And this sort of stuff is going on in Otto Abetz’s backyard. Little wonder former Nasty Party premier Robin Gray thinks Otto is “out of touch” and is a “serious problem for the party”.
“We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat – Jones,” Barking Dog said of the candidate running for the senate against the god-bothering Republican Roy Moore, former chief justice of Alabama. “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military,” the Dotard added.
Also, unlike Moore, Doug Jones doesn’t have much of a record when it comes to allegedly molesting and harassing under-age girls. But, look, Moore “totally denied it”, the president explained before scooting off to Mar-a-Lago at Palm Beach.
With his self-awareness void on full display, the Pussy Grabber added that he was “very happy” that women are coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against lawmakers and media figures – as long as they’re Democrats.
This week New York magazine carefully assembled details of the 16 women who have made allegations publicly against Trump, ranging from groping to rape. Had he not been elected it’s likely these offences would result in prison time for the grabber.
The president’s spokesmuffin, the incredibly implausible and increasingly cross-eyed Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says that every single one of these women is lying.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 25, 2017 as "Gadfly: Court of little public opinion". Subscribe here.