Diary

Gadfly
Bringing Downer the house

The people running the Twitter account at Australia House in London produced a marvellous photograph of the new high commissioner addressing his minions in a marbled reception hall.

The staff looked as though they were having a perfectly miserable time as His Excellency Bookshelves Brandis droned on. They’d only just got rid of Fishnets Downer; now they were rolling their eyes, wondering what this new turkey from the Nasty Party would be like.

Meanwhile, back home, Georgina Downer is the latest young fogey from the IPA angling for a spot on the parliamentary leather. There are no surprises there, as the IPA is a sort of Petri dish for breeding sprogs to be fed to the Nasties.

Fishnets is trying to shoehorn her into preselection for his old seat of Hold-the-Mayo, following the resignation of British-born section 44 victim Rebekha Sharkie of the Centre Alliance, formerly the Nick  Xenophon Team.   

Georgina will bring fresh ideas to parliament, from her IPA adjunct-fellowship, as well as keeping the family name firmly locked onto the public teat.

She was knocked off by Freedom Boy Wilson as flag-bearer for the Nasty Party in Goldstein, covering Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. Now the Adelaide Hills beckon.

Gadfly had occasion previously to mention her courageous campaign on behalf of citizens who wanted to buy Batgirl T-shirts, bearing a to-do list: “dryclean cape, wash Batmobile, fight crime, save the world”.

Target withdrew the item following complaints, but young Fishnets flew to the rescue and in the process used the phrase “politically correct” six times in 10 paragraphs.

She came up with some exciting new thoughts: “The surge of political correctness undermines our freedoms, including in this case the freedom to raise our children in the way we choose.”

Go Georgie Girl.

Art bankers

New South Wales Minister for the Yarts Don Harwin has announced new nominees for the board of the National Art School, the brilliant little hub of creativity within the old Darlinghurst Gaol.

In recent times property people have been smacking their chops at the development potential of the site, and with the state government really being the poodle of developers it is feared anything is possible.

Don has come up with the traditional assortment of Liberal Party types, money men, a property man, plus a few culture-vultures tossed into the cocktail.

The proposed new chair is Carolyn Fletcher, formerly a big wig in the NSW Liberal Party and the current squeeze of former premier Nick Greiner. Then there’s David Kent, a former chairman of a money outfit called Everest Financial Group and a one-time deputy chairman of the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation.

Earlier this year, Don appointed Nick’s former squeeze, Kathryn Greiner, to the Sydney Opera House Trust.   

Another proposed new addition to the NAS board is Ross McDiven, husband of the former Liberal Party president Christine McDiven. Ross is the former chairman of property development outfit Brookfield Multiplex. Harwin gave Christine a job on the board of the Historic Houses Trust in January.

Corporate lawyer John Mitchell from Arnold Bloch Leibler is also nominated, along with Glenda McLoughlin, an investment banker who is currently on the board and is up for reappointment.

The selection from the world of culture is former Book Show TV presenter Jennifer Byrne; Brooke Horne, a director of the Equality Campaign for same-sex marriage; artist Guy Maestri; and architect Susan Rothwell.

There is to be an NAS shareholders’ meeting on May 28 to formally consider these appointments – the shareholders being the Minister for the Arts and the Minister for Education, Rob Stokes.

The arts scene is stacked with bankers, corporate advisers and pals of the government, bringing to mind Oscar Wilde’s observation that he much prefers the company of bankers because they like to talk about art, whereas artists only want to talk about money.

Murray raver

David Murray’s appointment as chairman of AMP has set the corporate world jumping with excitement. Sour-faced Dave is just the progressive sort of bloke to set the troubled finance house on the right course.

In 2013 he was a leading climate sceptic, saying that “the climate problem is overstated ... there needs to be some consensus” about the science.

He was asked what it would take to convince him that there was a scientific consensus about global warming. “When I see some evidence of integrity amongst the scientists themselves,” he shot back.

In 2016 he wasn’t keen about ASIC’s proposal to hold company directors legally responsible for poor corporate culture.

“To be completely candid, there have been people in the world that have tried to enforce that belief. Adolf Hitler comes to mind. If you want people to be free, you cannot do that.”

ASIC and Adolf. Right on.

Slow news days

There was a packed auditorium at the State Library of NSW on Monday night for the Brian Johns Lecture, delivered by this organ’s proprietor, Morry Schwartz. Needless to say, in attendance were plenty of the media’s reptiles, alongside darlings of the arts community, cabin boys of industry, innovators and disruptors aplenty.

The theme was “Slow News: Thinking in Public”, a reflection of the publications produced on the Schwartz presses: Quarterly Essay, Black Inc Books, The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.

Morry has been a captain of the slow news industry, which he defines as an attempt to “capture the bigger, deeper forces underlying the news”. It does not refer to the speed and means of delivery, rather the time given to its formulation.

Nor, presumably, does it refer to slow journalists, only to slow journalism, although sometimes they are one and the same. This seemed to be the case when Schwartz tagged along with Robert Manne to interview journalists and editor-in-chief Herr Mitchell at The Catholic Boys Daily back in 2011.

Father Kelly was also there in the office to offer grave pronouncements.

“It was a hilarious moment,” said Schwartz, “when the great News Corporation couldn’t get a tape recorder to work. We, the four of us, sat in Mitchell’s office in morose silence, as secretaries scurried to make one work.”

The upshot was Manne’s Quarterly Essay Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation, which was a sensation.

The proprietor cited interesting examples of nourishing slow news, including the digital magazine Aeon produced in Melbourne with a million monthly unique readers, 65 per cent of whom are in North America and 4 per cent in Australia.

Also, there is the Slow Journalism Company in Britain, publisher of the quarterly journal Delayed Gratification, which aims to produce journalism under the slogan “Last to Breaking News”.

Life of Brian

One of the proprietor’s sobering messages is that it is entirely possible that we’ll see quality news being the preserve of the wealthy and that access to news will cause even deeper inequality.

His dystopian scenario is that the super-wealthy will finance valuable news and information, outside the reach of the everyday reader. You can see this now with publications such as Politico in the United States, where subscriptions to insider policy news range between $8000 and $300,000 per annum.

“The rich will get rich news and the rest of us will depend on trashy free news,” Schwartz said.

He also traced the career of the late Brian Johns – journalist, arts administrator, ABC and SBS managing director, publisher at Penguin Books, plus much else besides too ample to mention. He began in the boondocks at The Queanbeyan Age and by 24 was writing for Tom Fitzgerald and George Munster’s Nation.

Johns produced a great two-part investigation of B. A. Santamaria’s movement under the byline Lacondaire and another piece critical of the Knights of the Southern Cross, which resulted in that issue of Nation being delayed and many copies destroyed by Catholic postal workers in Sydney.

It wasn’t long before he wound up as chief political correspondent for Lord Moloch’s new daily, The Australian, then edited by Maxwell Newton. After eight months, Newton was out of there, saying that as editor he was under “complete direction” from Moloch.

He said that it was “impossible to achieve the essential principles, aims and standards of quality which fired the enthusiasm and dedication of a large team of men and women, including myself”. Things appear to be just as impossible today.   

Trumpette #68

Melania Trump, Barking Dog’s Stepford wife, is having a rough time of it, what with her husband’s affairs and flings with porn stars and bunnies being the daily fodder of American political discourse.

The distance is increasing and, according to The Washington Post, the couple are only rarely seen together. They infrequently eat together or travel together. This seems entirely sensible on her part – certainly having him in the same bedroom would be grotesque and unthinkable.

Apparently, she can’t stand the icy and awful Ivanka and that side of the family.

The Post reported an awkward exchange as a result of Trump calling into Fox & Friends last month to announce Melania’s birthday, soon to have the conversation take a dangerous swerve to talking about Stormy.

The Grabber-in-Chief was asked what he had bought Melania for her birthday. Pausing, he said: “Maybe, I didn’t get her so much. I got her a beautiful card ... You know, I’m very busy to be running out looking for presents.”

What a mensch.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 12, 2018 as "Gadfly: Bringing Downer the house". 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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