Diary

Gadfly
Counting the cursed

It’s wonderful to see British high commissioner Bookshelves Brandis back in business, making policy announcements in London on behalf of the government in Canberra. 

It looks like he was first out of the blocks with the proclamation that refugee children on the gulag of Nauru will be moved out of detention and to Australia by the end of the year. 

In a wireless interview from London he said: “There are hardly any children on Nauru and in New Guinea ...”

His idea that 40 or so children on Nauru amounts to “hardly any” is a reminder that Bookshelves was attorney-general in the era of the raw-onion-munching Abbott government, with “Christian values” SloMo as immigration minister. 

This was the same government that kept children in offshore detention despite knowing they were being assaulted and reports from the Human Rights Commission in 2004 and 2015 detailing the harrowing conditions under which they were being kept. 

Three years ago there were about 95 children on Nauru and now there are 40 – not the fastest humanitarian mission you’ve ever seen.

Cheers, guv

Bookshelves’ Twitter account since his taking up of the arduous duties as high commissioner has recorded absolutely no activity since June 30, where he was pictured with Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil of The Spectator discussing “free trade”. 

Over at the High Commission’s own Twitter account things are more active, with the latest news that the governor of Queensland, Daphnis “Two Wigs” de Jersey, has fetched up at the marble pile on The Strand to observe commemorations marking the end of the First World War. 

He also met with Bookshelves to discuss “bilateral relations between Australia and the UK”. Exhausting stuff. 

Of course, bilateral relations between Bookshelves and Daphnis are pretty good because when the current governor of the banana-bending paradise was chief justice he wrote Brandis’s name onto the list of successful Queensland silk applicants, after the politician-barrister had been knocked back by his peers at the local bar’n’grill.

Sheikh Downer

Which gets us to the latest column in The Australian Financial Review by Brandis’s predecessor at the Court of St James’s, Bunter Downer

You’ll be relieved to know that Australia’s greatest-ever foreign affairs minister thinks that murdering people is unacceptable and that raping someone is a serious matter. 

But, for goodness sake, let’s not get too carried away with indignation about the Saudis chopping up Jamal Khashoggi

Downer has had a thing or two to do with the Saudis and he has experienced firsthand their feudal ways. Why, as foreign affairs minister he expelled a senior Saudi diplomat for “allegedly imprisoning and raping his Filipina maid”. 

On his next visit to Riyadh, the minister was kept in his hotel room for hours, waiting for meetings that never happened. Maybe the feudal lords had learnt of his penchant for ladies’ hosiery. 

But if the Great Bunter is about one thing, it’s strategy – and in this respect he’s on the same page as the Darth Vader of diplomacy, Henry Kissinger

According to Downer, Khashoggi was a “player” so we shouldn’t let his mishap with a consular bone-saw get in the way of the strategic importance of the Saudis confronting Iran, bombing Yemen to smithereens and playing tootsies with Trump. 

The world seemed a much more wonderful place when Bunter, the bugbear of East Timor and friend of the AWB, held principles in checkmate with strategy. 

Luck and key 

In other political news, according to the AusTender website, the Office of National Assessments, an intelligence analysis agency within the Prime Minister’s Department, has signed a contract with a company called Fileguard Co. 

The arrangement is that Fileguard will supply filing storage containers to the ONA for a total of $107,940.80. After priceless government documents held in old locked cabinets obtained from a second-hand shop in Canberra ended up in the clutches of the ABC, it appears no effort will be spared by the SloMo government to keep secrets safe.

Letters of the law

And in Aunty Gladys Berejiklian’s parish of New South Wales things remain delightfully skew-whiff. 

Amendments to the Government Information (Public Access) Act are expected to be debated next week in Macquarie Street’s Chamber of Horrors. The act is the somewhat more elaborate title for what everyone else calls Freedom of Information. 

One of the charming last-century qualities of the current legislation is that all applications have to be made by snail mail or hand delivered on paper, unless an agency has the approval of the information commissioner to accept electronic applications. 

A delayed statutory review into the legislation was tabled in July last year, with the recommendation that agencies should no longer need the imprimatur of the information commissioner if they want to receive applications for information via newfangled computer. 

Yet the proposed amendments don’t provide for that. Applications must be in writing, posted to or lodged with an office of the agency from which information is requested. 

The old requirement that the information commission has the final say over other forms of communication stays put: carrier pigeon... notes cast adrift in bottles... skywriting...  

The fear rippling through the corridors of government was that if people could ask by means of online applications then there would be too many requests and too much information would fall into the hands of the unwashed. 

As the statutory review notes: “... the object of the GIPA Act is to encourage open government information; greater numbers of access applications from members of the public would, in fact, further that object”.

Prayer fellow, my country

The auditorium at the Institute of Architects in bobo Potts Point was brimming with possibility as Richard Fidler and David Marr settled onto the stage. 

The event, organised by the terrific Potts Point Bookshop, saw people travel from as far away as Elizabeth Bay to hear a sparkling discussion about Marr’s new book, modestly titled My Country. It’s only 561 pages long and Gadfly was hoping for some real insights into the man – favourite recipes or bush songs from the upper North Shore of Sydney – but no, this is a big story embracing 45 years of journalism and many more of life.  

Fidler is a great interlocutor and revelations emerged. Marr was actually drawn to the church when he was 15 and thought Christ could cure his troubled thoughts about being gay. Presumably that was before Lyle Shelton and the Christian lobby were invented. 

He also had a varied pre-journalistic career as a ditch digger in Pymble, a fruit picker, a waiter at 21st birthday parties on the North Shore and briefly at a ski hotel in Austria run by Joachim von Ribbentrop’s private secretary. 

Marr dropped acid on his wedding day, which brought special clarity to the moment. Importantly, he admitted he didn’t attend the very first Mardi Gras parade, but this didn’t stop him “writing beautifully about it”. 

Afterwards, 300 of his closest friends repaired to the local fish shop to celebrate. Mary Valentine, Marr’s literary executor, said she would pay for the dinner out of the author’s residuals. 

The author and the book are now on a national tour.

Trumpette #94

Forget the midterms, the end to one-party government and the sacking of poor little Jeff Sessions. The real development that has Washington abuzz is the appointment of Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr as the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief’s ambassador to the Court at Yarralumla. 

It took two years to find Arthur, after the administration scoured the highways and byways of rusticated Republican retainers. 

Arthur, who looks a little bit like Alfred P. Doolittle from My Fair Lady, has had a stellar career and at one stage was White House counsel to Ronald Reagan with sleeves rolled up and arms plunged into the dirty dishwater that was the Iran–Contra affair. 

These were the sunny days of happy memory when the US was busily selling arms to Iran, with the funds going to support the Contras – anti-Sandinista rebels fighting the socialist government of Nicaragua. 

Of course, Reagan contended until he was blue in the face that he knew nothing about such a scheme, hatched by swivel-eyed nutters in the National Security Council, even though there were little radioactive droplets of evidence leading right into the Oval Office. 

Arthur B. Doolittle’s job was to help oversee evidence to be given to congressional inquiries by former security wallahs such as John Poindexter and Ollie North, none of which put the president’s fingerprints near the guilty stuff.  Arthur was later given the job of preparing due-diligence reports on vice-presidential candidates, efforts that projected onto the world stage Sarah Palin and full-time prayer-breakfaster Mike Pence.  

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 10, 2018 as "Gadfly: Counting the cursed". Subscribe here.

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