Diary

Gadfly
Homilies of scale

The new new thing is “scale”. We’ve been missing the importance of “scale” for so long, particularly when it relates to such things as the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine Entertainment, two more culturally antithetical outfits being hard to imagine.

Percy Marks jewellery progeny and Nine boss Hugh Marks said “bigger scale” is good because it produces more revenue. Greg Plywood at Fairfax thinks that the fused company’s scale is the way to confront giants such as Google and Facebook. No wonder he’s sold his Maserati if he thinks like that.

Prime Minister Trumble and his sidekick, the Smiling Toilet Brush, are also big-scale men. The floor polish and soap powder salespeople are also aping the mantra. Everything can be saved if it has scale.

Of course, it’s a pile of bollocks. Think HIH, Kodak, Lehman Brothers and the Dutch East India Company, for starters. Scale will not save anyone if people don’t want to buy the product, or if it’s madly managed.

Lisa Davies, the well-regarded editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, did her best to spruik the changes in a message to subscribers: “… it is a reasonably straightforward ownership change of the company, designed to allow greater investment in journalism, greater scale to appeal to advertisers and increased opportunities for growth”.

Good luck with that. No one, surely, believes Channel Nine’s diet of fast food, power tools, and meat-tray advertisements will cross over to Fairfax readers. Nor will Fairfax’s “10 delicious things you can do with quinoa and kale” go down well with Nine’s programmers.

In any event, it looks as though the takeover has lost its market gloss as major shareholders watch the premium disappear down Mitch Fifield’s toilet.

Boarder protection

Serco is Benito Dutton’s favourite onshore immigration detention provider. You’ll recall Gadfly’s controlled outburst about the drug tests at the Serco-run Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, where well-meaning citizens who want to visit the minister’s prisoners are given an uncomfortable time and, in some instances, turned away by the uniformed officials.

Liberty Victoria took up the protest and wrote to Serco. Jessie Taylor, the president of the human rights organisation, received a reply from Tim Redhead, privacy officer, Serco Asia Pacific, who makes it clear we should all relax – refugees and asylum seekers are not prisoners, they’re simply boarding with us.

Tim says: “We refer to your correspondence of 6th July 2018. Serco are [sic] a contracted service provider under a Commonwealth Contract as defined under section 6 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), managing the Immigration Detention Facilities and Detainee Services Contract through the Department of Immigration and Boarder [sic] Protection. As such we take the view your correspondence has been inappropriately directed and we would refer you to the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.”

Doubling Downer

Mayo is in for another Downer as Georgina is set to be re-endorsed as the Nasty Party candidate for the forthcoming federal election, after losing in the seat last weekend.

Nasty preselectors sure have their heads screwed on in a funny way if they think that is a good idea. All sorts of people from the hill tribes were interviewed by the news website, one of whom said: “I don’t think Georgina will ever win the seat – and someone needs to sit her down and tell her that her name is disastrously working against her.”

Another unnamed source said that Father Fishnets Downer “should have kept right out of it”. This all suggests the allure of the Downer blood may be about 200 years past its use-by date.

The Nasty Party nominations for seats in South Australia close on Wednesday. Until the next election it’s anticipated that Georgina will return to her groundbreaking research work for the Institute of Paid Advocacy along with her scintillating appearances on the ABC’s The Drum.

It’s all a bit trying because it means she’ll have to reconfigure her views on issues such as the ABC and carbon emissions to fit the dark money mould of the institute, before she re-moderates them again for the Mayo electorate.

Nation building is such a tortuous business.

The money or The Drum

Speaking of The Drum, as of Tuesday, the ABC TV show is to “review the effectiveness of our requirements for disclosure of conflicts of interest for our panellists, think tanks, lobby groups … and will report back”.

Only three days earlier presenter Julia Baird wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that even though “think” tanks won’t reveal their paymasters, The Drum nonetheless asks guests to disclose conflicts of interest.

“This includes associations with political parties, unions, lobby groups, industry associations or any other group associated with campaigning on contentious issues that may be discussed on the program…”

Clearly, a review of the “effectiveness” of this request for transparency means that it has not been very effective at all.

The simple solution, and one that has been pressed upon the heroes who run our Aunty, is not to invite guests on chat shows who refuse to reveal their secret paymasters. It seems incredibly elementary to know if the money is talking or if this is the unfettered Chuckles Henderson, Simon Brainey, Baby Fishnets Downer etc.

And if this rule were in place, we might be spared hours of gibberish.

Brett’s reduction

On renominations, Gadfly hears that Brett Whiteley, failed Liberal candidate for Braddon and favourite customer of the Burnie pie shops, has not ruled out seeking another tilt at the seat.

Brett is an acolyte of Tasmanian strong man Otto Abetz, although the trouble is that Otto’s strength is dribbling away.

During the byelection Abetz attempted a smear job on popular independent, Craig Garland, whose preferences helped Labor’s Justine Keay across the line. Otto raked back 24 years to find an old police matter filed against the fisherman. The attack backfired, resulting in a surge of sympathy for Garland. Smart move, Otto.

You can also see the fumbled hand of the ageing Tasmanian Gauleiter in the elevation of small-l Liberal Sue Hickey to the state speaker’s chair, after the Otto faction opposed her for a ministerial position. Otto was plumping for his factional ally Rene Hidding to get the speaker’s job, but Labor and the Greens did a swifty and nominated Hickey for the post. She accepted, and the Libs have been incandescent ever since. Rene is now languishing on the backbench.

After the byelection Hickey complained about the influence of the right wing of the party in Tasmania and the negative effects it was having.

Hobart election watcher Kevin Bonham, in his analysis of the disastrous 2016 federal election results for the Liberals in the island state, said: “Abetz polarises opinion and was the candidate most frequently placed last on Senate ballots … There is no evidence in historic results that having Abetz on the top of the ticket is an asset to the party’s fortunes”.

The evangelical Whiteley has lost three elections in Braddon: in the state parliament to Liberal rival Adam Brooks, as one of the “three amigos” in 2016, and now again in 2018.

Let’s hope he runs again.

Hunt and blather

Jeremy Hunt got off to a flying start on his first trip to China as the new British foreign secretary. He told his hosts that his Chinese wife, Lucia Guo, was Japanese.

Hunt was supposed to be fostering deeper, closer, more meaningful Sino–British relations but anxious officials from the foreign office didn’t think his blunder was all that helpful, what with the Chinese having long-held animosities towards the Japanese.

By contrast to his predecessor, though, it’s a relatively good start for Jeremy, who still has a fair way to go to reach the buffoonish-heights conquered by Boris Johnson.

Among Boris’s triumphs were his observations on Hillary Clinton (“like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”); Barack Obama (“part-Kenyan”); ping-pong (he told the Chinese the game was “invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and called wiff-waff”); the Commonwealth (“supplies [the Queen] with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies” ); the European Union (“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried to unify Europe, and it ends tragically”); the president of Turkey (in a limerick: “There was a young fellow from Ankara/ Who was a terrific wankerer/ Till he sowed his wild oats/ With the help of a goat/ But he didn’t even stop to thankera”) et cetera, et cetera.

Trumpette #80

Where do we start with the Orange Bampot, who had such a terrific week of threats, lies and braggadocios?

One of Gadfly’s research assistants has been working his way through the Oxford English Dictionary and struck upon the entry for “trumpery”.

The meaning of the word has evolved, much like the Bampot himself, but even so it has stayed close to giving us a proper definition of the fleshy, orange-coloured leader of the “free” world. As early as circa 1485 it meant “deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery”. There was an early Scottish reference: “They concordat alltogither in trumpery and fallsit.”

By 1531 it also applied to objects and things: “A heap of trumpery fit to furnish out the shop of a Westminster pawnbroker.”

It extended to abstractions, beliefs and religious ceremonies. For example, “I’d put an end to free-masonry and all such trumpery.”

In the 17th century it was being used in relation to worthless finery, even to weeds and refuse and earlier to things of “little or no value, trifling, paltry, insignificant, rubbishy, trashy”.

Shakespeare in The Tempest (1616) had: “The trumpery in my house, goe bring it hither For stale to catch these theeues.”

Of course, it came from the French, but it is the Brits who are nothing if not thorough in exploring their words. Here we find all the ancient meanings and uses hurtling into the present day with great precision and clarity.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 4, 2018 as "Gadfly: Homilies of scale". 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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