Diary

Gadfly
Nine circles of Herald

Will the newspapers from Nine Entertainment Co (NEC) become more entertaining or are they going to continually drown us in scoops about Chinese infiltrators, corrupt local government councillors and crowded railway platforms? 

Can we look forward to a bit more of Tracy Grimshaw’s comments on the ozone layer or Eddie McGuire, from Millionaire Hot Seat, on the Productivity Commission’s horizontal fiscal equalisation inquiry?  

Inevitably there will be a happy blend of entertaining news and views. We’ll see more of Peter Hartcher on Love Island and Ross Gittins on The Block, and this cross-pollination will be made much easier once the old Fairfax operation has bedded down with Nine at the new high-rise digs in glorious North Sydney.  

Nine is negotiating more space to accommodate the newspaper hacks in the same building. At least, that is the plan. 

Then and there the future of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as printed newspapers will be nutted out by engagement ring heir Hugh Marks and the one-time greatest living treasure and treasurer Peter Costello.  

One issue on the table will likely be the Monday-to-Friday print editions of the Fairfax metro papers. Hitherto, the difficulty in shutting down the weekday Age and The Sydney Morning Herald had been the fact management wanted to keep printing The Australian Financial Review, but that only worked economically because it was put on the trucks with the metropolitan newspapers each day.  

Without The SMH and The Age, The AFR print edition would be more expensive to deliver. However, with a joint Fairfax-News Corp printing and distribution arrangement, The AFR can go out on lorries with The Daily Telegraph, the Hun et cetera, driven by Lord Moloch himself, if he still has a truck licence. 

What Gadfly is trying to say is, should Greg Plywood want to, he would be able to shut the weekday metro papers and still keep delivering a printed Fin Review through the week. If any of this does happen, you read it here first.

Merivale go round

Still on the media beat, there was a frosty response to the story by Paul Farrell and Alex McDonald on the ABC’s 7.30 the other week. They had investigated the Merivale group’s workplace arrangements that allegedly see some employees without weekend penalty rates. 

The program reported that two unhappy staffers of Justin Hemmes’ sprawling food and booze empire are in the Fair Work Commission trying to disentangle employees from a 2007 agreement that they claim leaves them worse off than if they were covered by the current hospitality award. 

Not everyone thought this was a splendid piece of reportage, and there were preemptive shots on behalf of Hemmes from flack merchant Ross Coulthart of Cato & Clegg, the PR factory. He has worked before as part of a tag team with solicitor Mark O’Brien

Coulthart is also handling the PR for Ben Roberts-Smith, who is another O’Brien client in the courts, suing Fairfax over stories about his conduct in Afghanistan. The Roberts-Smith litigation is apparently being funded by his employer, Kerry Stokes, who is a big admirer of war medals. 

Coulthart has been peddling pro Roberts-Smith stories to the hacks at The Australian while at the same time Cato & Clegg collect the Fairfax shilling for doing Greg Plywood’s corporate PR. It seems like a complex series of associations, but Gadfly knows next to nothing about the ethical boundaries of spin doctoring. 

Coulthart was one of the world’s leading investigative reporters when he worked for Nine Entertainment’s 60 Junkets. There’s nothing quite like a superannuated investigative reporter earning a living undermining the work of investigative reporters.

Dempster diving

Recently, Gadfly was beckoned to Tetsuya’s eatery in Sydney by former ABC staff-elected director and journalist of distinction Quentin Dempster

He and his wife, Beth, had successfully bid at a charity auction for a night with Radio National’s breakfast hostess Fran Kelly, and columnist Peter van Onselen, who also has a weekly spot on Fran’s show. So it turned out to be a night with Quentin, Beth, Peter and Fran, Gadfly and Mrs Gadfly, plus ABC executive John Lyons and his wife, documentary-maker Sylvie Le Clezio

Just to be clear, the night was confined to Tetsuya’s restaurant, where many of the problems of the world and the public broadcaster were solved over seven courses, including roasted scampi tail with vanilla, confit of ocean trout, tiger abalone, short rib with heirloom carrots, yuzu posset et cetera. 

There are so many accompanying wines that Gadfly can’t remember the details of what was actually discussed. 

Importantly, it is recalled that Dempster, after four years at the head of the Walkley Foundation and many more years involvement, is standing down as chair of the outfit that promotes press freedom and hands out the yearly prizes to the fairest and brightest reporters, photographers, video and radio journalists, headline writers, innovators and scoop merchants. 

He’ll be replaced by another great journalist, Kerry O’Brien, which is just as well – good journalism needs all the inspiration it can muster.

Culture warriors

One of Gadfly’s field agents touring Germany and Denmark brings back reports of Australia’s global connections. 

She visited an exhibition of the works of Max Beckmann at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Mainly drawings, they had been collected by Barbara Göpel who, before she was married to Herr Göpel, was known as Barbara Sperling. 

In 1941, Barbara worked as a stenographer at the German embassy in Paris, where the German ambassador was Otto Abetz, great-uncle of our own beloved Tasmanian senator Otto “Erich” Abetz

The information that was provided by the gallery is instructive. The ambassador “used his residence near the Louvre, the Palais Beauharnais, as a warehouse and transfer site for art treasures stolen from Jewish owners. Here for the first time, Barbara Sperling met Erhard Göpel as well as a number of the latter’s supervisors who were involved in the art theft initiated by Adolf Hitler for the Führermuseum in Linz”. 

What a fascinating discovery, but it doesn’t end there. Our field agent travels on to Denmark for another helping of culture at that country’s national gallery, which she finds is happily located on Georg Brandes Plads. 

Georg was born Morris Cohen and was the theorist behind the “Modern Breakthrough” of Scandinavian culture. With his brother, he started the newspaper Politiken, whose motto is “the paper of greater enlightenment”. Obviously, Morris chose his new name knowing that one day it would have global significance.

It’s exciting to discover so many Australian connections in the cultural centres of Europe. 

And there’s a further discovery – Fishnets Downer, George Brandis’s predecessor as high commissioner to the United Kingdom, has landed a job as the executive chair of a new international school for government at King’s College London. 

The school’s ethos puts “citizens at the heart of policy and the political process”. Who better for that mission than Fishnets?

Vale Spinak 

It’s Sunday morning and the day starts with a trip to the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra for the funeral service of a young mensch. 

Jeremy Spinak died last week from a rare cancer. He was 36 and with his wife, Rhiannon, had infant twins, Grace and Michael

Only a few months before his death he had stepped down as president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies. Gadfly knew him when he was at the forefront of the campaign against the defenestration of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Uniquely, he brought the Jewish and Muslim communities together in a joint enterprise to prevent the politically divisive efforts to undermine protections against race discrimination. 

The synagogue was packed, replete with politicians and community leaders of all stripes. Luke Foley was there, in an early outing since his hurried departure as leader of the NSW opposition. So, too, his replacement, Michael Daley, with government minister Gabrielle Upton, Justice Stephen Rothman, former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, federal Liberal MP Julian Leeser and member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps

Jeremy was an acute observer of American politics and history, and a guest of Bob Carr’s at meetings of the Chester A. Arthur Society at the United States embassy in Canberra. Not long before he died he said that his 13-month-old twins would be all right because the greatest of US presidents never knew their own fathers.

He was a man who packed so much into life and did a tremendous amount of good in the process. Next to the bema was a single wreath of white roses from the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW.  Simple, solemn and incredibly moving. 

Trumpette #96

Lisa Lerer, who has been writing a politics guide for The New York Times, this week published some timely warnings about families getting together for Thanksgiving on Thursday. 

She reported that a study in June found celebrations for the holiday were about 30 to 50 minutes shorter for Americans who “crossed partisan lines”. Families were being torn apart with blazing rows about the Pussy Grabber, the Tiny Toadstool, the Snarling-Twitterer-in-Chief. 

The study showed, apparently, that the family divisions were worse in battleground states and that for every 1000 political advertisements broadcast in an area, it took 2.6 minutes off the length of a Thanksgiving dinner. 

After analysis of location information from more than 10 million smartphones, it was found that the intensity of TV and radio political broadcasts added up to 34 million hours of lost discourse at Thanksgiving dinners in 2016.  

And the Republicans are the party of family values. 

It will be interesting to see what this year’s figures produce, what with so many fresh divisive issues: Ivanka’s official emails on a non-government server and whether they were different to the sort of emails sent by Hillary, who should be locked up; whether the forest floor was swept properly in California; why James Comey wasn’t prosecuted for some unspecific crimes; that crazy Mueller guy et cetera.   

Maybe the lesson is to try to have dinner without mentioning Trump. Apparently that’s what the judges of the deeply divided US Supreme Court do. The justices get together for elaborate birthday lunches, dinners for retiring members of the court and “weekend bagel spreads”. 

“We can’t talk about cases,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “That’s our absolute rule.”

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 24, 2018 as "Gadfly: Nine circles of Herald". Subscribe here.

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