Diary

Gadfly
Brandis cools his heel

Bookshelves Brandis’s Achilles heel is really holding things up. The famous back end of the well-rounded foot got injured while the high commissioner designate was delivering a fiendish backhand at tennis.

The “Big Beast” was meant to take over from Fishnets Downer in early April but as things would have it Fishnets is still on the public teat, and will be there for next week’s CHOGM chinwag in London.

Let’s hope the heel heals before Britain leaves the European Union and little Prince George is crowned king. Brandis’s new starting date is tentatively expected to be in May.

A knee injury after slipping on ice did not stop Bomber Beazley turning up to the White House in 2010 in a wheelchair to present his credentials as Australia’s ambassador to President Obama.

Also anxiously waiting for leadership, of the kind that only Fishnets can provide, is the British “think tank” Policy Exchange.

Downer has been anointed as the next chairman of this right-wing talk shop and is due to take up the gig as soon as he shifts out of the corner office at Australia House and the big bedroom at the felicitously named Stoke Lodge.

The old Iraq war hero is scouting for more London offers so he won’t have to move back to the Hills of Adelaide, alive with the sound of music.

In the meantime, he has been on the stump, making a right undiplomatic arse of himself. In a speech to the think tank he is soon to chair he said that Britain should get out of the EU pronto otherwise it would be “irrelevant” to Australia and other countries anxious to do trade deals.

After all, logic dictates that trading with 508 million garlic eating inhabitants of the EU is not the way to go when a handful of remnants of the Empire are available to buy Turnbull & Asser shirts, frozen Cornish pasties and tins of Horlicks malted milk.

In urging a “hard Brexit” and claiming that prices would fall dramatically if Britain left the customs union and the EU, former Blair government foreign secretary Denis MacShane said Fishnets was talking “blathering nonsense” and interfering in British politics.

Policy Exchange and Fishnets are pushing for Britain to drop its tariffs, as Australia did from the 1970s on.

However, the evidence shows that lower tariffs do not translate into cheaper prices. Organisations, such as Numbeo, which keep an eye on global price trends, finds that groceries are about 25 per cent more expensive in Australia than Britain.

In The Economist cost of living index for 2017, Sydney and Melbourne rank as the top 14th and 15th of the most expensive cities, but London is 24th.

Like a lot of these shadowy log-rolling think tanks, you can never be sure of their agenda.

An organisation called Who Funds You?, which monitors think tank transparency, gives Policy Exchange an “E” rating, the lowest available score. All its funding is hidden and no one knows who is paying the piper.

Sounds familiar.

Flint’s Labor love lost

It’s difficult to imaging that the fruity-voiced David Flint, star spruiker for the Queen, locked-on devotee of Tony Abbott and star of right-wing chat shows, was once a slim and tender member of the Sydney University Labor Club.

In 1956, he was among a bunch of members who walked out of the club due to the undemocratic activities of a communist cell within. The secessionists went on to form the ALP Club, of which Flinty was a member of the convening committee.

That’s not the end of it. Flint was not always a devoted monarchist. He protested and walked out of a lunch address in Sydney by the then viceroy Sir John Kerr, following the sacking of the Whitlam government.

The arc of life is often a puzzle and no more strange than the voyage from left to right.

Anyway, apropos nothing much, Flint was at Sydney Boys High School with the late Paddy McGuinness, who at an old boys’ reunion was asked by a fellow Sydnean what, in his view, made Miranda Devine tick.

He replied that they should bear in mind that she is “a good Catholic mother”, which apparently settled the matter to everyone’s satisfaction.

Judges keen to cut out the graft

A collection of heavyweight former judges has come up with a detailed design for a national anti-corruption body.

This is another issue where the Coalition has been dragging its feet well behind the community. The Australia Institute, which is propelling the planning for a National Integrity Commission, says polling shows that 78 per cent of the people support a commission and 85 per cent believe there is corruption in federal politics and administration.

The Coalition was hauled kicking and screaming into accepting marriage equality and it’s the same sorry out-on-a-limb story with a proposed national anti-corruption commission.

Maybe they’re spooked by the drivel pumped out by hacks at The Catholic Boys Daily upset that Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales has brought down Liberal MPs, ministers and some of their business cronies.

Labor is on board with the national commission along with most of the crossbenchers, and Malvolio Trumble has made noises that maybe the Victorian model is the one to adopt – the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Of course, he would plump for the Victorian model because its constrained jurisdiction makes it relatively ineffective. It has conducted far fewer investigations and had the least number of people referred for prosecution, compared with commissions in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

The proposal for the federal body is that its remit not be limited to public officials, but to those trying to influence government officials. It should also not be confined to examine criminal conduct, as this rules out alleged political connections from, say, the Victorian mafia and the secret tapes affair that brought down premier Ted Baillieu.

Also, commissioners should not be restricted from holding public hearings, which is the most effective way of exposing serious or systemic corruption.

Various shady customers will be having conniptions at these proposals, which is precisely why their implementation is well overdue. Attorney-General Christian Porter asked for more design details when he first met the judges. He’s now got them.

Trumpette #64

According to the staff handbook for the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, published to the world by the American news website The Daily Beast, Donald Trump would have frightful difficulty in landing a job at this gilded clip joint, even as a bellboy or dishwasher.

“Epithets, slurs, quips or negative stereotyping” related to race or religion are out of bounds at the hotel, along with “jokes, pranks or ... humour”.

There is also an uncharacteristic prohibition on “unwelcome or offensive sexual jokes, sexual language, sexual epithets, sexual gossip, sexual comments or sexual inquiries” and unwelcome flirting.

The policy bans the hiring of family members, because this “can result in the appearance of a conflict of interest, collusion, favouritism, and other undesirable work environment conditions”.

Certainly, relatives working “under the direct or indirect supervision of a relative” will not be tolerated by the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. It’s not clear whether or not that includes sons-in-law.

The handbook spells out a strict policy against employees indulging in “sexually suggestive or obscene comments or gestures”, even in the company of one of the lesser Bushes. Men are forbidden to have braided hair and women are not to have visible tattoos.

Just to round out Trumpette this week, we’d like to bring you a slice of the April 10 editorial in The New York Times, which provides a crisp character assessment of the United States president:

“Mr Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he’s gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money and his own bravado.”

And now, by the power of the presidency.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 14, 2018 as "Gadfly: Brandis cools his heel". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.