Planet of the gripes
If you’ve never been to one of those newspaper chat things where celebrity journalists talk about the same stuff they bang on about in print, Gadfly is here to fill you in on what you’re missing.
With $25 in his pocket, our field agent wended his weary way to the Maritime Museum in Sydney, where in close proximity to the sharks, stingrays and groupers, Janet Albrechtsen and Caroline Overington were on stage, facilitated by Weekend Australian editor Michelle Gunn, under the banner of “big voices on big issues”.
This is part of a talkfest rolling around the east coast – Sydney, Melbourne (Crown Casino) and Brisbane (State Library). If you’re anywhere else, you can only weep at the deprivation.
The show kicks off with Planet and Overington agreeing that Trumble lacks judgement, he doesn’t have a consistent story and the Barnaby Joyce affair was mishandled woefully. Planet says her columns have lost her the friendship of the PM – a magnificent sacrifice.
After that things veer awry. Overington asserts that Trump is a “catastrophe”, whereupon two people start clapping, only to come to an embarrassed stop because no one else has joined in.
Planet pipes up that Hillary would have been a disaster. Thunderous applause, everyone is on board with that idea. She ploughs on: Trump is a disrupter, he brings change and his move on steel and aluminium tariffs, while not palatable, shows he is the “ultimate negotiator”.
It’s only warming up. Rupert Moloch is the last champion of free journalism. He’s losing money and backing people in expensive lawsuits. Nonetheless, the conservative cause is losing. We’re in a dark period and haven’t had a decent conservative leader since 2007.
They must be referring to Little Winston, who plonked Planet on the ABC board. The audience is well shod and ageing and it’s weird to see them cheering on Trump’s disruption to the neoliberal order, the very circumstances that have given them generous backsides and made them prosperous.
One bright spark came up with what he said was a wild idea – that the ABC’s editorial staff be required to disclose how they vote at elections. Meanwhile, it is clear that the mourning period for Bill Leak is not over. His hero status was given another trot around the block by the “big voices”.
Yet, it wasn’t all “big issues”. There was rumination on whether Barnaby is attractive, with a consensus that he is “charming”, and agreement between Planet and O that touring Canadian psychologist and cultural critic Jordan Peterson is “hot”.
With heads spinning, attendees trudged home exhausted, mystified and relieved it only cost $25.
While in this territory it’s about time that one of the great furphies of the Moloch agenda be squelched.
There’s Tom Switzer, the boss of the Centre for “Independent” Studies, a Sydney-based “think tank”, rattling away in the Fairfax papers about the quality of ABC journalism.
Gadfly has never regarded Switzer’s scribbles as among the sharpest on offer and this is confirmed when we read whether “most Australians” might question whether the ABC’s Christmas decorations were as lavish as the Mardi Gras adornments in the same lobby at Ultimo. And, of course, it’s all very well having some Aboriginal flags on display but where was the Australian flag in the ABC’s halls?
It is to Tom-Tom we must turn to rub up against the burning matters of the moment.
Nor could he resist the well-trod ruse that, unlike the Moloch press, the ABC is funded by the government and the parliament, so it has an obligation to be “balanced” whereas the dancing bears at News Corp can say what they like.
Given that the Moloch press in this country pays little to no tax, it too is implicitly funded by taxpayers. For instance, in 2015–16 News paid no tax on income of $2.9 billion in Australia.
Three years ago, academic Jeffrey Knapp estimated that over the past 10 years companies controlled by the old spider had paid income tax at a rate of 4.8 per cent of operating cash flows of $6.8 billion. By not paying a fairer share, the burden falls more heavily on other taxpayers, who should rise up and demand that until Rupe’s army of tub-thumpers can operate without subsidies they should pull in their heads.
Taswegians can happily settle back for another four years with fresh laws for the wallopers to garrotte protesters, more poker machines, bigger and better guns, the roar of the chainsaws, the no-tender deals with old mates and all the things for which the island paradise is famous.
It’s only a matter of time before the state will be amok with biblically infused, blond-headed, blue-eyed Tasmanian youths from the Otto Abetz Academy for a Beautiful Tomorrow.
The big news, of course, is that Willy Hodgman’s government has been bought by shadowy interests to whom 170 “secret policies” have been committed. Four days after the election, the Libs unveiled a bunch of their hitherto private pledges, including hundreds of millions more for “new prison infrastructure”.
Maybe the 15-member Legislative Council, which is not controlled by the Nasty Party, has other ideas about some of these commitments.
Meanwhile, in South Australia, the election is only around the corner and already the Nasties have served up a crop of irresistible plans.
Among the vote-clinchers we find that a Steve Marshall government will remove the right to vote from prisoners serving sentences of more than three years, something that might disproportionately affect Aboriginal inmates, who make up 25 per cent of the SA prison population. They also pledge to make it an offence not to leap to one’s feet for a judge or magistrate in court. Those slow out of their chairs will face a contempt charge and a $1250 fine.
Fines for cannabis possession will go up from $500 to $2000, in line with “community expectations”. This dream policy is aimed at weed-puffing schoolchildren, who can’t vote.
In fact, under the Nasties there’ll be a real crackdown on school kiddies, with police dogs given free rein to sniff around in schools, nosing through lunch boxes and smelly sports bags.
When innovation and imagination completely escapes politicians, there is always the lunge for the tried and tired Lawn Order vote.
In New South Wales the government is tightening the protocol that governs the vexed issue of politicians visiting public schools. This is a procedure controlled by the Department of Education’s Controversial Issues in Schools policy.
Education Minister Rob Stokes has just issued a fatwa against MPs and the media visiting schools without his permission. There’s a kindly exception for local MPs visiting public schools in their own electorate, but only with the approval of the principal. If the local member is taking along another MP or member of the upper house, “the minister’s office must give approval ahead of the principal’s approval”.
Permission from headmaster Stokes is also required for MPs, federal members, candidates and other odds and sods who are visiting schools from outside their electorates.
This must be in writing and submitted five business days ahead of the visit. Sniffer dogs need not apply and corporate interests that have traditionally peddled their wares to schoolchildren are presumably free to hang around the playground.
There’ll be six of the best for anyone who disobeys the ministerial edict: “Schools are neutral grounds for rational discourse and objective study. They are not arenas for opposing political views or ideologies.”
Politician-columnist Mark Shields cracked a good line the other day on his PBS chat with David Brooks of The New York Times. He described Trump’s White House as akin to a civil war in a leper colony.
But we gotta remember that Barking Dog doesn’t see it that way. Everything is terrific, couldn’t be better. After all, one of his favourite songs is Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”
Ms Lee sings a lament about various tragic things happening in her life, such as her house burning down and her great love leaving her and then thinking, “Is that all there is?” before turning to the booze and trying to forget.
She even says that ending her life would be too much of a disappointment.
Barking doesn’t quite get the point of the song, because he thinks it a reflection of the triumphs in his life.
“It’s a great song because I’ve had these tremendous successes and then I’m off to the next one. Because, it’s like, ‘Oh is that all there is?’ That’s a great song actually, that’s a very interesting song, especially sung by her, because she had such a troubled life.”
As Barking Dog ghostwrote in his 1990 book, Surviving at the Top, released just as he was going broke: “You set out to achieve something, you get what you are after, and then you immediately start singing that old Peggy Lee song ‘Is That All There Is?’ ”
Of course, we’ve got to remember Albrechtsen’s sage words: Trump is a disrupter.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "Gadfly: Planet of the gripes ". Subscribe here.