Diary

Gadfly
Watch this face

Bookshelves Brandis signed off on his stellar ministerial career with the observation that he was particularly proud of his espionage, secrecy and foreign interference legislation.

Never mind that his original clunky version was significantly reworked and substantially different laws recently passed through the parliament.

So what’s next for a country already weighed down with more overwrought security legislation than comparable Western democracies?

The Identity-matching Services Bill, a Dutton Special, has been introduced into parliament in Canberra. It gives effect to an intergovernmental agreement for Dutton to operate a face recognition regime for purposes of “national security, protective security and identity verification”.

All government-generated photographs of individuals, whether from passports, driver’s licences, or elsewhere, will be connected via an “interoperability hub” so that Benito Dutton, police, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies can identify anyone, anywhere.

Once law, you will soon see cameras on poles sprouting all over the nation, so that if Gadfly pokes his tongue out at Constable Plod or crosses the road against the flashing red man, not only will he be named and nabbed but an electronic message will illuminate all across the city: “Gadfly has been fined $1250”.

Tax and maintenance defaulters can also be tracked and located, while citizens going about their lawful business, such as attending a polo match at Portsea with Julie Bishop, can be identified and have their whereabouts noted.

In the process, the Department of Home Affairs can more effectively control the entire society.

The Chinese authorities love this totalitarian tool. Recent reports reveal that by 2020 there will be 300 million cameras installed across the country. In some Chinese cities they are unnecessary, as the police have special camera-equipped glasses connected to handheld face databases.

It is good to see that while we are resisting Chinese efforts at infiltration, we’re adopting their authoritarian state-surveillance strategy.

Data with destiny

For the next instalment of “keeping Australians safe” keep your eyes peeled for encryption legislation, probably modelled on the British Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

The aim here is to get encrypted data from tech companies plus more, such as having them include surveillance codes in mobile devices.

This is being organised by one of Benito’s willing elves, the minister for cybersecurity, Angus Taylor. The minister says it’s all about targeting criminals and terrorists, but watch how the net spread in Britain to nailing journalists’ sources.

Taylor is blitheringly tongue-tied when it comes to explaining what he has in mind, even in general terms. The reality is that most tech companies, when asked by the coppers and spooks to hand over encrypted information, voluntarily do so, without the need for legislation.

Taylor has been busy pressing the flesh in the United States with PayPal, Twitter, Apple and Google, in an effort to let him into either their front or back doors.

Forget “unauthorised” boat arrivals, the new frontier is “protection of our digital borders”.

Siege mentality

The third leg of the new security trifecta comes in the form of the Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill.

This legislation was flagged as a post-Lindt cafe siege necessity, so that Defence Minister Marise Payne can lead the troops up Martin Place seizing buildings and newspaper kiosks. In reality, it goes a lot further than that.

Basically, the proposed measures allow the defence forces to be called out anywhere in Australia, or overseas, for any purpose, at a moment’s notice, and there’s no need for consultations with state or territory officials. The callout power has been specifically extended to the minister for home affairs.

If military personnel act with a “reasonable belief” before they start shooting people or blowing things up, then that’s okay. Dutton, or the relevant minister, can direct the chief of the Defence Force on how to deploy the troops. Further, the military will have an expanded power to question people.

Parliament is expected to sit within six days in certain circumstances after the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate received a statement that a callout order has been made in an offshore area, but if parliament does consider it, then the order is not invalid.

There are some nice definitional flourishes, such as “substantial criminal law means law (including unwritten law)”.

These are the sort of measures you get before Benito Dutton starts embedding chips in our brains, or other body parts.

Evan’s place on earth

The death of journalist Evan Whitton has been widely reported along with his investigatory work on justice and injustice.

He was a big presence in the field of reporting and an inspiration to many cubs, including Gadfly.

One of the aspects of his career less noted in the encomiums was his campaign to replace the entire adversarial system of litigation with the inquisitorial (Napoleonic–Germanic) system of justice.

In other words, courts would turn into mini royal commissions of inquiry, pressing for the truth with minimal interference from the rules of evidence.

Judges would be specifically schooled and not necessarily drawn from the ranks of long-winded barristers. They would sit on the bench alongside lay jurors.

No doubt these ideas started percolating during the long, dry days he sat as a reporter in the Toowoomba courthouse. He tirelessly peddled his inquisitorial approach in the law journal Justinian and elsewhere. It was so shocking that the rank and file of the legal profession became incandescent with this attack on the perfection of the “Rolls-Royce” justice system.

He also gave some of the human rights lawyers a swipe when he wrote: “The adversary system is solid for human rights; its firm position is that criminals have a human right not to be convicted, and that their victims have a human right to like it or lump it.”

It’s not often that the death of a journalist leaves an empty space in human affairs. Whitton’s death creates such a void.

London’s calling

Word is sweeping the Strand in London that HE Bookshelves Brandis is keen to appoint another cultural attaché to the team at Australia House.

The name uppermost on many lips for a prospective engagement in London is Michael Napthali, who will be familiar to many in the arts community. He was a policy adviser in Bookshelves’ office when he was attorney-general and minister for the yarts and was one of the brains behind the scheme to strip $105 million from the Australia Council and give it to a Brandis slush fund called the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.

This enabled the minister to decide on a more political basis which arts bodies to prop up. Napthali went on to Prime Minister Trumble’s office as an adviser on “arts, communications and intellectual property”. He is currently listed on LinkedIn as an “adviser” to David Gonski, AC, and the director of business affairs at Eddie Wong Films.

Something went wrong following an evening at the National Gallery of Australia in December 2015 when the PM attended a function to mark a major retrospective exhibition. At the event a rare coin and a handwritten note was donated to the prime minister’s office by Lisa Roberts, great-granddaughter of the famous artist Tom Roberts.

The gift from the Roberts family collection was handed to Napthali for safekeeping but somewhere, somehow it was misplaced. It was not until February 22, 2016 that Lisa Roberts was told the artefact had gone AWOL. No inferences of suspicion should be drawn here, at all.

Spreading Australian culture to the poor, backward Poms is a challenging but rewarding task. Let’s hope Napthali is up for it.

Trumpette #78

Unlike our high commissioner to the court of St James’s, Donald Trump has been slow off the mark when it comes to recognising the contribution of artists and the arts.

The US papers report that the president has not got around to awarding anyone either the National Medal of Arts or the National Humanities Medal.

These are two prestigious awards in the US and since he took office, the Great Orange Traitor has not bestowed either of them on anyone. The New York Times put it politely, saying that this “draws attention to the president’s often awkward relationship with the arts”.

The deadline for the nomination of the 2016 arts medals was February 2017, and still everyone is waiting.

There are other delays. The president has not awarded the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation – neither of which has been bestowed since 2016.

President Droomp wanted to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He scrapped the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities after members resigned in protest over his response to the white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Droomp (Palatinate dialect) and his Stepford Wife did not take part in the annual Kennedy Center Honors program, which celebrates contributions to art, music, dance, film, TV and culture.

It is now almost two years since any recognition of the arts at the White House. It’s a bit surprising, since Droomp himself is not without a considerable body of literary works, most ghostwritten. But still he gave his hoodwinked nation Great Again, The Art of the Deal, How to Get Rich, Think Like a Billionaire, Time to Get Tough, The Art of the Comeback, Surviving at the Top et cetera.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 21, 2018 as "Gadfly: Watch this face". Subscribe here.

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