Diary

Gadfly
One for the ageds

If ever there were a business riddled with log-rollers with access to the top levels of government, it is the aged “care” industry. And what fabulous credentials are on offer. 

Take The Guild, a name straight out of the Middle Ages, which represents eight of the biggest for-profit providers. The chief executive is Matthew Richter, who describes himself on LinkedIn as, “a dynamic results-oriented strategist … I present a broad, yet sharp skill set and rare experience base. I operate not only as a leader, but also as an agent of change. I motivate and inspires [sic] a sense of purpose in those around me …” 

No wonder the inmates at the member facilities are beside themselves with pleasure. 

Then there’s Sean Rooney, the chief executive of Leading Age Services Australia, the man at the centre of the train-wreck interview with Four CornersAnne Connolly

Sean wasn’t fussed about the figure of $6 a day per detainee for food. “These meals are being prepared for people that have a low nutrition requirement. This is not people that are eating four-course meals,” he told the shell-shocked TV viewers. According to his bio, Sean is an “experienced senior executive with a strong and demonstrated track record of achievement in management and leadership roles ...” 

Nor was he impressed by the notion of staff-to-resident ratios, describing them as a “blunt instrument”, and he knew nothing about the rationing of incontinence pads. 

Then there’s another outfit called Aged and Community Services Australia, also representing non-profit aged-care operators. Its chief executive is Pat Sparrow, who at one point worked for the human toilet brush, Mitch Fifield – but at least she has a long track record in ageing and community services. 

With top lobbyists such as these, it’s little wonder it has been up to the secret cameras to let us know what is really going on.

Mike drop

Mike Carlton’s enormous doorstopper of an autobiography, fresh from the printer, thumped down on Gadfly’s desk, and it turns out to contain an amazing collection of rollicking yarns. 

Carlton’s career as a journalist spanned print, radio and the telly, with stints corresponding from Vietnam and Indonesia. He has met and known most of the luminaries of our aeon, experiencing his share of exciting moments, such as being slapped on the bottom by fellow broadcaster Alan Jones. 

Famously, he was sued by Neville Wran over broadcasts that suggested the New South Wales premier was corrupt. The trial was packed to the gills as Carlton gave as good as he got from Frosty Tom Hughes, Wran’s brief. 

Despite Frosty’s flourishes from Shakespeare, about the poor plaintiff being “filched” of his good name, the jury came back without a verdict. One of the jurors confided in Carlton that they were with him seven to four (one had dropped out). 

David Hill, Wran’s former adviser and then head of the state railways, tried to effect a reconciliation between the broadcaster and the premier. He gathered Carlton up after a boozy lunch and, armed with bottles of Château State Rail and buckets of daffodils, headed out to Casa Wran in Woollahra. 

They buzzed on the intercom, which was answered by the familiar raspy voice. 

“We’ve dropped by for a drink,” Hill announced. “Can we come in?” 

“Who’s with you?” 

“Mike Carlton.” 

The premier paused: “You can come in. But tell Carlton to fuck off.” 

Neville had that special brand of political sentimentality, best enjoyed ice cold.

Clerical error

More notes from yesteryear. Ladies in Black, currently playing at a cinema near you, is about the soignée women who inhabited what we assume to be the great David Jones department store in Sydney in the late 1950s. 

It’s described as a “tender-hearted comedy” and historian Humphrey McQueen reminded Gadfly that indeed some of the ladies in black did experience tender-hearted moments. 

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney at the time, Hugh Rowlands Gough, suddenly resigned from his post, citing ill health and disappearing over the horizon on the Oronsay. A medical specialist in London said the archbishop was suffering from “very low blood pressure”, but McQueen points out that lower down His Grace’s anatomy the blood pressure had been too high. 

Gough was an evangelical cleric who previously had been Bishop of Barking in East London and he held that sexual immorality was connected to Communism. However, Mrs Gough had a lighter touch, installing a cocktail bar near the entrance to the chapel at Bishopscourt in Darling Point. 

By the 1980s word had well and truly spread around town that the archbishop was romancing a particular charming and attractive married woman. Indeed they were seen holding hands at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, which had never otherwise witnessed anything more startling than a hole in one. 

High churchman and Tory radical Francis James was gossiping about these goings-on to anyone who would listen. In those days, married women who had affairs risked ridicule and access to their children.  

Later, after the liaison was over, the lover returned to Sydney and became a Lady in Black behind a counter at David Jones. In a learned paper on this episode, called “Primates are Human”, McQueen wrote that Gough was appointed rector of St Peter’s in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, with the rectory comfortably renovated by Mrs Gough. He also took over the adjoining parish, appropriately named Limpley Stoke.

Tasmanian rubbish

The column wouldn’t be complete without mention of Tasmanian legend Senator Otto Abetz

A kindly field agent has forwarded a copy of the Kingborough News, from September 1968. It carries a snap of four youngsters from the Blackmans Bay state school cleaning up “dangerous beach litter”. 

In charge of operations is “Erich Abetz, junior warden”, peering anxiously at the photographer as though he might be a Communist from the ABC. 

Who would have guessed that this junior beach rubbish warden with lashings of blond hair would grow into the leader of Tasmania’s feared Schutzstaffel?

Larry losers

Gadfly gathers there is much off-screen drama at Your ABC. The Larry Cards – one of Michelle Guthrie’s initiatives, whereby staff thanked each other for terrific work by sending cards featuring an infantile character named Larry – have stopped flowing. 

There were “People Focused Larry Cards”, “Open & Transparent Larry Cards”, a “Straight Talking Larry Card” and an “Accountable Larry Card”. 

This came on top of Michelle’s “ABC Principles”, which included “We think whole of ABC” and “When we fail, we stop, assess, learn and move on”. Too right we do. Prizes for Larry winners included a set of Google headphones. 

Trumble’s handpicked enforcer, Justin Milne, has been defenestrated after trying to micromanage program-makers and implement the party line.

It brings back memories of Team Packer trying to take a stake in Fairfax, when young Malcolm was Kerry’s fixer and had a list in his hip pocket of the newspaper hacks he wanted chopped. An independent media has never been his strongest point.

Actually, the late Brian Johns, himself a former managing director of the ABC, said quite openly that the PM of the day always decided who got the MD’s job at the national broadcaster. The board would meekly send along a shortlist and the PM would put his thumbprint next to the name most in step with party thinking.

Wholly Moses

President of the NSW Bar’n’Grill, Arthur Moses, SC, has had to write to his 2410 members, 77 per cent of whom are of the male persuasion, with some timely warnings about interacting on social media and behaviour at bar functions. 

“A number of recent incidents have prompted me to write to remind members that electronic communication – including email and the use of all forms of social media – requires the same level of courtesy and professionalism as the more traditional means of communication.” 

There is a provision in the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015 that says a barrister must not engage in conduct that is “discreditable” or likely to “diminish public confidence in the legal profession”. So, manners, please.

Further, with an eye on the #NotHimToo movement, he mentioned rule 123 of the barristers’ rules, which provides that a brief must not in the course of practice engage in discrimination, sexual harassment or workplace bullying. 

What unfortunate episodes have prompted this ukase are unclear. We do know of an attempted throttling event at the yearly Banco Chambers drinks party, but that involved solicitors, so nothing to worry about there.

Trumpette #88

Toadstool Trump obviously has a lot on his plate. What with troubled efforts to get his favourite sexual predator and partisan judge onto the United States Supreme Court, it’s understandable that one can become distracted at the White House. 

It is traditional for those who achieve the status of Eagle Scout to be sent congratulatory letters from the president. Parents or troop leaders can request that these warm-hearted letters be sent. 

One young Eagle from Northville, Michigan, was hoping to receive a congratulatory missive about his scouting achievements from the greatest president on the planet and this is what arrived: “Melania and I join the Nation in celebrating the life of Barbara Bush. As a wife, mother, grandmother, military spouse and former First Lady, Mrs Bush was an advocate of the American family ... Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mrs Bush.” 

There followed the famous signature of the Toadstool, like an out-of-control heart monitor.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 29, 2018 as "Gadfly: One for the ageds". Subscribe here.

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