Ding Dong! Merrily on high-vis

’Tis the season of “killer toys” that allow obscure ministers for consumer affairs to show their magnificent plumage. The New South Wales minister for fair trading is someone named Matt Kean and he had all his feathers fully fluffed with an announcement that “the annual yuletide safety blitz continues to sweep through retail stores”. 

Matt has a squad of inspectors seizing and impounding dancing Christmas trees, fairy lights and toxic Santas. Last year, 77 “non-compliant items were ordered off the shelves” and it is hoped that this year’s crackdown will be more impressive. 

Matt even released an alarming video of “Operation Let It Snow”, featuring his burly troopers as they stormed into shops and poked through decorations, trinkets and toy crocodiles to see what could dismember children. 

Some 903 businesses across the state have been targeted and 10,727 products have been prodded during the blitzkrieg. 

Thoughtfully, the minister issued a list of warnings, which includes the strangulation hazard posed by pieces of string. 

Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tale must have been in the minister’s mind: 

The chief defect of Henry King 

Was chewing little bits of string. 

At last he swallowed some which tied 

Itself in ugly knots inside. 

Physicians of the utmost fame 

Were called at once; but when they

They answered, as they took their fees, 

‘There is no cure for this disease 

Henry will very soon be dead’.

Et cetera.

Little Dutton Boy

What better time than now to reflect on the glories of another year, and 2017 is replete with amazements and triumphs. 

In the political sphere, there is no more stunning achievement than the floating of Peter Dutton on the surface of a very polluted pond. It just goes to show, you don’t need human empathy, charm or even a small amount of intelligence to make it in Canberra. What you need is the skill to ruthlessly enforce dead-end policies that destroy human lives and bring shame upon the nation. 

Earlier this month, Dutton insisted that refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island were lying when they complained about being attacked by locals. Never mind the video evidence showing death threats directed against detainees at the West Haus transit centre. Benito said the claims were “complete nonsense and propaganda”. 

Last week, he pulled another rabbit out of his hat and said that while the postal survey on marriage equality was a wonderful thing, people shouldn’t get big ideas and think this is the way to proceed on other issues of public policy. Same-sex marriage was a change so fundamental to a “social foundation stone” that the “break-glass option” of a postal survey was required. But further postal surveys should be mothballed.

Clever thinking, Benito. We don’t want the will of the people to override a nasty government.

Dasty the showman

What of little Sambo Dastyari? With his fabulous Chinese contacts, what’s the betting he’ll end up lobbying for the Packer casino and gambling business? That’s where a lot of superannuated Labor politicians from the right of the NSW apparatus find a comfortable bolthole, including, in recent memory, Graham Richardson, Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib

There are also the Labor insiders who have taken the Packer shilling, such as Peter Barron from the Hawke and Wran era and Gazza O’Neill, a former flack merchant for the casinos, who used to work for Kim Beazley and has also been advising Greg “Maserati” Plywood at Fairfax. Serendipitously, Dastyari is married to Barron’s daughter.

Then there’s Stephen Conroy, now a log-roller for the gambling industry. Not to say that the current Packer hasn’t lured a fair sprinkling of Liberals, including Helen Coonan, who is still on the Crown board. 

If an offer from Packer is not forthcoming, the other option for Sam is a talking-head gig on Sky “News”.

Do they know it’s Brandis?

George “Bookshelves” Brandis brands himself as the philosopher king of the Nasty Party. Readers of the Fairfax papers last weekend were doubtless gobsmacked to read a swan song interview with Bookshelves where one anonymous colleague claimed that “the government would lose a chunk of its ‘intellectual heft’ ” if it lost Brandis. 

Memories are fading of great pieces of intellectual heft such as the odd deals with the West Australian government over Bell Group and gypping the ATO, the confounding explanations made during the solicitor-general standoff, the claiming of dubious expenses, the hounding of Gillian Triggs and the fundamental belief in the fundamental right to be a bigot. 

Another alarming observation from the outgoing attorney-general was that Malcolm Turnbull has “grown in stature [and is] looking more and more like John Howard every day”. Howard, of course, is a very tall man whom Brandis once described as a “rodent”. 

Anyway, last week Bookshelves made a few farewell appointments before popping off to London, including another elevation of one of his personal favourites from Yarraside. A little while ago he appointed Melbourne barrister Willy Alstergren as chief judge of the Federal Circuit Court. Last week, he gave him another job as deputy chief justice of the Family Court of Australia. The effect of which was to deprive the Family Court of a sorely needed extra full-time judge. Willy’s appointment presages a more fused federal judiciary.

O holy knight

There should be a special place in heaven reserved for Peter McClellan and the team from the royal commission into child sexual abuse. Talk about a determination to strip bare the unctuous cant of the churches and their enablers. One hopes that Catholic convert Malcolm Trumble takes the recommendations more seriously than the sanctimonious rubbish from Archbishop Hartless and the canon law club. 

Hartless seems to think it would be better if priests were permitted to continue to molest children rather than the seal of the confessional be broken. Jesus Christ.

Fairytale of News Corp 

It’s been a big year for the media, with impressive declines in press freedom around the world, according to the latest rankings from Reporters Without Borders. 

The Scando countries remain on the top of the freedom list, with Australia at No. 19, just below Slovakia and slightly above Suriname and Samoa. Our cousins in the Land of the Strangled Vowel are at 13. 

Maybe, our freedom-crushing defamation laws are partly to blame and this year there have been some bruising defeats for the media at the hands of celebrities, while the Lloyd Rayney case in WA delivered a withering blow to Sergeant Plod. 

If juries are not bad enough, let’s not even mention judge-issued suppression orders, which are thrown around like confetti, particularly in NSW and Victoria. 

As a sign of the times, Lord Moloch’s Manly Daily, which circulates in the electorate of Ten Flags Tony, has cut its print edition from five days a week to two. This is being pitched as an “accessible and engaging” way for the organ to fit into people’s busy lives.  One old-timer commented that, with deliveries confined to Wednesday and Saturday, he will only “know what day it is twice a week”.

Not only are the aged readers of the Moloch publication disadvantaged but so too the 270 “walkers” who deliver the paper to people’s doorsteps. With fewer deliveries, Rupe saves a small fortune, paying them $16 per 150 papers delivered.  

 In other slash-and-burn developments from the Holt Street Lubyanka, free print editions of The Catholic Boys Daily and the Daily and Sunday Smellographs will no longer be delivered to 40 Fitness First gyms in Sydney. The giveaways were too expensive and the Muscle Marys didn’t read them anyway.

Trumpette #52

It’s heartening to see that trickle-down economics is being given another determined go, this time courtesy of the trillion-dollar-plus Trump tax cuts. This branch of economic theory has never worked before but that’s no reason to give up on it.

Poor demented Ronnie Reagan grabbed hold of supply-side economics, as did the horrible Milk-Snatcher in the Old Dart. It worked just splendidly to the extent that a lot more money was distributed to the top 1 per cent, and there the trickle stopped. 

Business handbook Forbes Magazine said Trump’s tax cuts were just the latest iteration of voodoo economics “in which the laws of supply and demand are suspended and replaced with ideological rhetoric to justify channeling even more wealth to the uber-wealthy”. 

Trump’s bill was, unusually, accompanied by a campaign of some well-endowed billionaires urging congress not to pass the legislation.  Why would anyone listen to them? Having been technically bankrupt three or four times, the Pussy-Grabber knows more than a thing or two about supply and demand and he thinks, like Trumble Down Under, that less tax for corporations is good for everyone.  

And Merry Christmas to that.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 23, 2017 as "Gadfly: Ding Dong! Merrily on high-vis". 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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