Diary

Gadfly
The cash of civilisations

Little Winston Howard and Ten Flags Tony, guiding lights of the Ramsay Centre, must be livid that the Australian National University has pulled the pin on their sponsored degree in Western civilisation. 

With these former Nasty Party prime ministers at the helm, the ANU is missing out on a doozy of a course, funded by the gushing well that pumps money from the chain of Ramsay private hospitals.

While Winston talks glibly of the grand forces that shaped our Western heritage, such as the Judeo-Christian ethic, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and the Enlightenment, as prime minister he busily set about making Australia as narrow and mean a place as the horizons of his imagination.

A Howard degree in Western civilisation would not be complete without semesters devoted to the Pacific Solution, flogging government assets to corporate benefactors, the brilliance of the monarchy, the perfection of trickle-down economics, how Margaret Thatcher saved the world, the marvels of man–woman marriage, why a banking royal commission is the pathway to “socialism”, how to play the race card and win, putting your lips together for dog-whistling, and why Sir Robert Menzies’ profile should be on all the coins. 

Other universities have also rejected the Ramsay syllabus, which has at its core the notion that Western civilisation reached its zenith in 1953 and that, whatever faults are found by nitpickers, everyone should realise “how lucky they are to live in this country”. 

The Australian Catholic University’s Professor Greg Craven seems to be flapping his hand at the board of the Ramsay Centre while he declares that the ANU’s rejection was “the greatest act of gutlessness since Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to New Zealand”.

No fracking clue

What sort of place will Australia be in the post-Barnaby era? By all accounts, there are some exciting developments ahead, what with crusty fossil from Cockies Corner John Anderson being floated as the man to take New England into a brave new world. Anderson, who had been Joyce’s campaign manager in 2013, has been telling people that Barnaby should retire for the good of his family. The only question is which one. 

If Anderson does return to Canberra, that would ensure the coal-seam gas boys have a voice at the table. He’s also one of those cheerful bumpkins who says he’s not a climate change denier ... but ... please don’t say the drought has anything to do with climate change. 

Droughts come and go and it would be dreadful to “politicise” the big dry by attributing it to global warming. 

Just after he left parliament, Anderson became chairman of Eastern Star Gas, later acquired by Santos, which has a petroleum exploration licence over land owned by Barnaby and Mrs Natalie Joyce in the Pilliga region, between Coonabarabran and Narrabri in north-western New South Wales. 

Later, as resources minister, Barnaby urged within the government that Santos’s Narrabri gas project should proceed. “In the Pilliga they should be getting access to that resource and getting it in so they can secure the jobs of Western Sydney and regional towns in NSW.” 

In 2013 he said that he had “no knowledge at all” that when he bought the land it would be the centre of a gas rush. Because it might be seen as a conflict of interest, he indicated five years ago that he has instructed a local real estate agent to sell his holdings in the region. 

According to the current register of parliamentary interests, he and Natalie still own the land and, according to other reports, no agents in the area said it was listed for sale. 

If he does hang up his hat in New England, a gig with the fracking fraternity would be a natural fit.

Brexit Brandis

Readers are constantly badgering me for details about the activities abroad of our new high commissioner to the Court of St James’s.  Sadly, judging by his Twitter activities, there’s not much going on.

Bookshelves Brandis hasn’t posted anything on the high commissioner’s feed since May 3, when there was something about celebrating the legend of Sir Jack Brabham

However, things are about to get busy, according to the current issue of the English Spectator – not the local version edited by the hilarious Rowan Dean. There is a lovely full-page ad for a conference at Australia House with the title “Anglo-Australian Relations in a Post-Brexit World”. 

Bookshelves is a speaker, along with Tory election spinmeister “Sir” Lynton Crosby, journalist Brillo-Pad Neil, Elizabeth Ames of the Australia–UK Chamber of Commerce and J-S Jacques, chief executive of mining house Rio Tinto, which looks as though it has a big hand in organising or sponsoring the entire chinwag. It’s on June 28, for an action-packed four-and-a-bit hours, including opening remarks from Brillo-Pad, who these days is chairman of the Spectator Magazine Group. Originally Bookshelves was down to speak for an hour and 20 minutes on “What will Brexit mean for Anglo-Australian relations and what can Britain learn from Australia about life and trade outside the EU?” 

Thankfully, a late change to the program has shrunk his oration to half-an-hour. We know that trade has been one of Bookshelves’ abiding fascinations, so this could be one heady conference.

Libs’ shallow pool  

Meanwhile, back in Mayo country, PM Blair Paton-Trumble announced a new swimming pool for Mount Barker, in the expectation that this would get young Georgina Fishnets-Downer over the line. The pool is the main thing going on in the byelection. 

The Liberal candidate sent out a gushing missive, implying that the federal funding announcement had been a result of her online petition. 

This ignored the fact that former Devon lass and s.44 victim Rebekha Sharkie had been working on the funding application with the local council for the past year. 

Actually, when the new swimming pool idea was first floated more than 10 years ago, Fishnets snr was the member and, can you believe it, the federal funding never came through.

Shy warriors

In the Supreme Court of Western Australia the fight goes on over former Liberal MP Dennis Jensen’s book The Sky Warriors.  

He’s suing The Australian and Perth correspondent Andrew Burrell over articles that he says portray him as a “hypocritical purveyor of smut” and that he improperly used his parliamentary stationery to obtain a publishing deal for the book. 

He is also pleading that another article gives rise to the imputation that by leaving the family home to live with his girlfriend he is devoid of family values and the “high moral standard expected of a member of parliament”. 

The “military thriller” contains a scene involving the ripping of clothes from a protesting woman, as well as oral sex. Spicy stuff from the conservative, climate sceptic, Joburg-born Christian who left the Nasties to join Cory Bernardi’s party. 

In the latest court round before Justice Paul Tottle, The Australian and Burrell managed to keep most of their truth defence in place and were given leave to replead a few bits and pieces.

Queer eye for the cake guy

The Colorado baker who speaks through his cakes was bound to strike pay dirt once his nutty case got before the conservative-dominated Supreme Court of the US. 

Every other court or commission that looked at it found that Jack Phillips’ “free speech rights” had not been violated by a state law that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Colorado Court of Appeals said that if sane people looked at the cake they would not think it was speaking in support of same-sex marriage and, anyway, Phillips could still say what he liked about gay marriage. 

But the tension between gay rights and free speech was a bit too much for SCOTUS to take head-on. 

Instead, as The New York Times put it, the majority took the “off ramp”, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, and went down the rabbit hole of how the Colorado Civil Rights Commission handled the complaint and that Phillips did not receive “neutral and respectful consideration”. 

Gadfly’s favourite, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, in the minority, went strait for the jugular: “What prejudice infected the determinations of the adjudicators in the case before and after the commission, the court does not say.” 

We await Fabulous Phil Ruddock’s report on religious freedoms to see if Bible-bashing cake-makers in Australia get a free pass to discriminate.

Trumpette #72

Is anyone surprised to learn that the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief asserts he is above the law, can’t be prosecuted for anything, doesn’t have to obey a subpoena to answer questions from special counsel Robert Mueller and can pardon himself in the event that he has obstructed justice and engaged in corruption?

That’s what his lawyers, Messrs Dowd and Sekulow, have asserted to the Mueller team. The notion is that Trumpy is the law so he can’t be subject to it, and intriguingly the argument goes that he cannot obstruct justice by exercising this authority “no matter his motivation”.

This is the theory drawn from other rule-of-law countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Come back, Nixon – because, on the strength of the Dowd–Sekulow case, he was not guilty of obstructing justice by ordering the FBI to keep out of the Watergate investigation.

We’re in an exciting new era where people are working up briefs along the lines that to terminate an investigation is not to obstruct it.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 9, 2018 as "Gadfly: The cash of civilisations". Subscribe here.

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