Diary

Gadfly
Striking a chord

As you would appreciate, Gadfly’s life is a ceaseless whirlwind of frolics and pantomimes. Within the past few days there have been concerts, dinners for worthy causes and art shows.

An intriguing discovery is a website called House Concerts Australia, where people with a spacious living room can book a starving musician, who has registered on the site, to perform in front of friends and neighbours while they guzzle wine and munch cheese and crackers.

Gadfly attended a night in a Kings Cross pad to hear brilliant young guitarist Jordan Brodie. It was crammed with enthusiastic supporters who paid $15 a head and forked out for his CDs.

All funds are going to Jordan, whose next stop after Kings Cross, surely, has to be the Lincoln Center.

Howlin success

Then it’s off to the Saint Cloche gallery in Sydney’s Paddington for ceramist Jan Howlin’s show Loot!

It’s possibly the first time the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s work on weeding out corrupt politicians has been translated to the ceramic art form. The wonderfully executed figures are the looters who have plundered the state – their small heads, bloated torsos and vast backsides embodying their furtiveness and greed.

Howlin was swept with dismay over the daily news reports about ICAC as it stripped away the corrupt deeds of Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. She says the exhibition is entirely fitting as the current royal commission into financial services gives us another look at the fat underbelly of business exploitation.

Howlin could really be part of the school of Subversive Ceramics, explored by the ceramist and writer Claudia Clare in a book that traversed the French artist Honoré Daumier and the enslaved African–American potter David Drake among others such as Lubaina Himid, Virgil Ortiz and Shlomit Bauman.

They addressed ceramically issues such as disputed homelands, identity, race, gender and colonialism.

Who would have thought clay could be so edgy?

Voice of reason

There was a big fundraiser in Sydney last week for the energetic and fearless Human Rights Law Centre, with a recorded keynote address from Kurdish–Iranian prisoner of the Australian people Behrouz Boochani, who has been detained for five years on Manus Island despite the fact he has committed no crime.

His is a voice that had broken through the regime of silence maintained by Benito Dutton and his gang, to keep Australians largely ignorant of the savagery perpetrated in their name.

With quiet dignity, Behrouz held the function centre in a hush: “After all these years, the ongoing pro-refugee campaigns and protests, the movements within civil society, and the work of refugee activists have been incapable of forcing change within Australia’s political system.”

Nonetheless, he feels that, as a result of the refugees’ struggle, there has been success in documenting what is happening and in writing history using their voices.

“But no matter how much emphasis I place on these achievements, ultimately, they mean nothing until the refugees are free.”

The fight has made him tired, but “the refugees have no choice but to persevere. We cannot stop resisting.”

A lot of us were left drained and deflated after he spoke, as though we were maimed by his words.

The fundraising soon got under way. Up for bidding were a holiday at a getaway estate in Pittwater, lunch with former High Court justice Michael Kirby and a copy of the Marriage Equality Bill, signed by Senator Dean Smith and other supportive senators.

Just so we know where we are in the scheme of things, more money was bid for the holiday at Pittwater than for lunch with Kirby or the signed bill.

Malay money bags

Nothing is moving faster than events in Malaysia. The ousted PM Najib Razak has had to appear before the Anti-Corruption Commission while a hoard of trophies, cash and jewellery has been seized by authorities from his acquisitive wife, Rosmah Mansor.

This includes 284 boxes of handbags, a large number of which are of the Hermès Birkin variety. According to the website PurseBlog, Birkin bags can fetch astronomical sums on a secondary market. Last year one fetched $US379,261 at auction, while analysis from Baghunter shows that the Hermès adornment as an investment outperformed both gold and the S&P 500 stock index over the past 35-odd years.

The Straits Times is reporting that the British–Malaysian investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has returned to Kuala Lumpur after years of vilification and excommunication by Najib and his cronies, who were ably assisted by Western PR firms.

Rewcastle Brown waged an investigatory campaign against the country’s leaders and was a principal figure in revealing that nearly $US700 million was funnelled into the former PM’s bank account from the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Her work also focused on the deforestation and the eviction of the native Penan people from traditional lands in Sarawak, where the big logging operator Ta Ann was linked to the local strongman Abdul Taib Mahmud, an ally and associate of Najib Razak.

Ta Ann also has operations in Tasmania, and there’s no more enthusiastic supporter of its activities than Senator Otto Abetz, who was minister for deforestation in the Howard era and did a tour of the company’s Sarawak logging operations.

Otto subsequently touted their activities to the Senate, declaring that the Greens were conducting an “extreme, manic” campaign against Ta Ann and as a result its timber products were banned from use by the London Olympics.

Former senator Bob Brown has been in touch to say that grants from the Australian and Tasmanian governments to Ta Ann total at least $44 million and that he welcomes calls by the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss-based NGO campaigning for the protection of tropical rainforests, for Taib to be included in Malaysia’s anti-corruption investigation.

Otto wields the axe

While in Otto’s extreme and manic world, it’s worth noting his complaints against Justine Keay, the former Labor MP ruled ineligible to hold the federal seat of Braddon because she had not renounced her Britishness.

Abetz has been busy compiling the salary and entitlements Keay received between the time she feared she was constitutionally ineligible to stand for parliament and the moment the High Court in the Gallagher case found she was indeed ineligible.

Otto’s abacus was working overtime and he came up with the figure of $126,227, including her salary of $84,595, $19,166 in electoral allowances, $6624 in travel allowance, $6132 in airline flights, $9166 in car costs and $544 for home phone and internet.

Seems like small beer compared with Tasmania’s grants to the Sarawak logging outfit.

According to Hobart’s Daily Rupert, Otto wants Keay to apologise and “express her regret for this whole saga”.

It’s all Gotto go

Lawsons, the auctioneers, are putting a few trinkets from the estate of Ainsley Gotto up for an online sale.

Included in the offerings are a budget speech by Peter Costello, a painting and a photo of Ms Gotto herself, a mirror, some Aubrey Beardsley prints, a pair of Chinese elm console tables with galleried aprons, a Tibetan red lacquer and gilt helmet with horse hair decoration and a bronze feeding chicken by Henry Moore’s assistant, Jan Brown.

There are also two leather crops on offer, which is not surprising, as she worked for two government whips, William Aston and Dudley Erwin.

Trumpette #70

What a blessed relief that Senator Bob Corker is not taking up the offer from the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief to be the next US ambassador to Australia.

No thanks, said Bob: “I just felt like it wasn’t the right fit.”

Someone with the name Corker in Australia would be as much a scream as sending someone called Joe Hockey to Washington.

Modern dictionaries variously define “corker” as an argument or proposition that will stop any debate on a subject or an excellent or astonishing person. You can imagine how Ambassador Corker would go down here.

And our own “Joe Hockey” brings squeals of laughter to Americans when they see his name in the papers or on the cable news. Little kids are beside themselves and with good reason: “Look, Mom, there’s someone called Joe Hockey.”

But let’s not forget our primary duty as Trumpette correspondent-at-large.

Someone has dug up a marvellous tape of Bill Gates talking to people at a Gates Foundation staff meeting, where he described an encounter with Barking Dog, who talks of himself in the third person:

“When I walked in, his first sentence kind of threw me off,” Gates said. “He said, ‘Trump hears that you don’t like what Trump is doing.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, but you’re Trump!’

“I didn’t know if the third-party form is what was expected – you know, ‘Gates says that Gates knows that you’re not doing things right.’ ”

Trump also made his obligatory inappropriate comments about the appearance of Bill Gates’s daughter and was confused about the difference between HPV and HIV – the former being a common sexually transmitted disease, rarely displaying symptoms, although it can lead to certain forms of cancer, whereas the latter can lead to AIDS and caused the deaths of more than one million people in 2016, according to the United Nations.

So easy for pussy grabbers to get muddled about sex diseases.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 26, 2018 as "Gadfly Striking a chord". Subscribe here.

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