Diary

Gadfly
Otto asphyxiation

The theme for this week is “Fear”. Let’s start on Monday night when Tasmanian senator Otto Abetz appeared in the lounge rooms of the nation on the ABC’s Q&A show.

Otto invariably looks and sounds as if he’s eaten a live animal and there he was crunching on a mouthful of bones as he addressed the terrifying issues of the day: Muslims, terrorism, Safe Schools, Peter Dutton and Liberal Party leadership spillages.  It was too much for your correspondent, leaving no option but to turn off the telly and settle down with the biography of Billy McMahon, Tiberius with a Telephone.

Scary ministers and security creeps

The Minister for Carbon, Angus Taylor, is going hammer and tongs to put the fear of God into us with messages about Labor’s “Carbon Tax”. He must be talking about Labor’s version of the NEG, which is borrowed from Trumble’s ill-fated notional energy guarantee – the “carbon tax” that momentarily, at least, was Nasty Party policy.

If you’re not gripped with fear about that, Freedom Boy Wilson, as chair of the house of representatives standing committee on economics, foreshadowed a meeting on Friday at the Oaks Room of the Dee Why RSL to explore how to frighten “senior Australians” about Labor’s policy of removing refundable franking credits. Then, of course, your house price is going to collapse because dreadful Bill Shorten is tinkering with negative gearing. Never mind that prices will drop even further under SloMo’s go-slow on immigration.

Then there’s the blistering urgency for parliament to pass the counter-encryption bill, so that Benito Dutton can get his sticky fingers all over every secret communication imaginable, just in case a lone-wolf terrorist sends himself an encrypted message.

McKell in a handbasket

Back to Patrick Mullins’ spellbinding Tiberius with a Telephone, which sets the scene in the wake of the 1949 election that swept Pig Iron Bob Menzies to power. The opening of parliament was a fabulous affair with ministers in morning dress and a speech from the senate throne by the governor-general, Boilermaker Bill McKell, replete with all the fear-mongering of the day.

There was a big emphasis on national security with the government legislating to “protect the community against the activities of subversive organisations and individuals”, notably the Communist Party. At that stage there wasn’t enough room under the beds of the nation for Muslims.

The new government would impede official intrusion into industry and invest in infrastructure. There were also measures to alter the governance of Commonwealth Bank. It was ever thus.

Hickey stick

Otto has enough on his hands trying to get his Tasmanian Liberals to heel. Premier Willy Hodgman wanted to relegate new MP and former Hobart mayor Sue Hickey to the backbench, a move that didn’t please her so she supported a Labor–Greens move for her elevation to the speakership of the house of assembly.

With the house evenly divided the speaker’s casting vote is everything, and from this perch she has been sniping away at Otto’s vice-like clench on the Tasmanian branch of the Nasty Party. To send the local Gauleiter into a brutal bout of bone-crunching, Hickey was the deciding vote for the passage of legislation to allow transgender people to change their gender identity on birth certificates.

As if this were not diabolical enough, Hickey has now called for the government to make abortions in the Apple Isle free, on a means-tested basis.

Otto was visibly upset and told a commercial wireless program: “I am waiting for Ms Hickey to say something positive about the Liberal Party.”

In further complications, Sarah Courtney has departed from the portfolios of primary industries, water and racing after it emerged she was playing hide-the-sausage with her departmental head, Dr John Whittington.

If you think the wheels are coming off SloMo’s Canberra bus, it’s even worse for Otto’s clapped-out panzer division in Van Diemen’s Land.

Do the Strand

News from the Old Dart, where Bookshelves Brandis has been hosting rollicking celebrations to mark the centenary of Australia House on the Strand.

The Prince of Wales did the honours with a heartfelt speech amid the hand-cut Bohemian crystal chandeliers: “Australia House was opened by my great-grandfather, King George V, in what were the grimmest of times ... When my great-grandfather arrived at Australia House, to be met by Australian prime minister Billy Hughes, he was greeted by rousing and affectionate cheers of ‘cooee’ from Australian diggers in their slouch hats gathered outside.”

Bookshelves, proud monarchist that he is, was flushed with pride.

Another Australia House cocktail regular, “Sir” Lynton Crosby, is also back in the news. The latest issue of Private Eye reports that Sir Lynton’s firm CTF Partners is doling out loot to those opposed to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

CTF gave £753 for Chequers protester David Davis to fly to Munich to give a speech to a right-wing “think” tank, the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

Another £26,000 was doled out to Tory MP Ben Bradley, who is defending his seat on a slim margin – not helped by his old blog posts advocating vasectomies for the unemployed. He voted Remain but since then flipped to hard-Brexit/anti-Chequers.

The firm was also working with professional poodle-faker Boris Johnson and now another Brexit outfit named ERG. At least the prime minister’s supporters are comforted by Sir Lynton’s recent track record: his disastrous 2017 campaign that landed Mrs May’s Tories in a minority government and Zac Goldsmith’s catastrophic 2016 tilt at the London mayoralty.

Gail force

Among the departees from the once mighty House of Fairfax is group general counsel and company secretary Gail Hambly.

She’s been in the saddle there for 25 years and was the motivating presence behind many of the great court cases the company fought to defend its journalism.

She will stay on as a leading hand at Australia’s Right to Know, a conglomerate of media interests pressing the case for defamation laws that actually allow serious investigations to be published without spending millions of dollars on punishing courtroom stoushes.

There are many who agree that Ms Hambly, with her depth of corporate, media, legal and artistic (Belvoir) experience, would make a first-rate managing director of the ABC, should she feel inclined to put her head into a lion’s mouth.

At least Fairfax had a former journalist in the form of Greg Plywood at the helm. The board of Nine, the entertainment company that now controls the Fairfax mastheads, contains no one with any newspaper experience.

The chairman is Liberal Party faithful and former treasurer Peter Costello. He, of course, has experience in the defamation field as a plaintiff in the case against Random House and Bob Ellis over a spicy passage in the book Goodbye Jerusalem.

Dummy Foley

Relief all round that former New South Wales Opposition leader Luke Foley has given up the idea that he might sue the ABC and/or Ashleigh Raper over allegations of inappropriate touching at a booze-fuelled 2016 Christmas party.

It’s all lies, the politician said. That was after Ms Raper, in a statement released by the ABC, described the sudden and unwanted arrival of Mr Foley’s fingers, late at night, inside her underwear.

According to the journalist’s statement, Foley, in a later phone conversation with her, promised to resign. Then, after “legal advice”, he withdrew his promise. Raper said Foley had expressed remorse and explained: “I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk idiot.”

I’ll resign ... I won’t resign ... I’m a drunk idiot ... I didn’t do it. This doesn’t sound like the best recipe for a successful defamation action.

The announcement on Wednesday that there would be no litigation was dressed up as the need to “draw a line under the sand” before the NSW election in March.

Trumpette #97

The Pussy-grabbing Toadstool was in a fact-based mood when he sat down with The Washington Post on Tuesday for an interview.

On the big climate report that warned about the intensifying economic damage, Trump knew what he knew: “One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean ... As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.”

He then moved onto the Federal Reserve, to which he attributed the volatility of the sharemarket and problems at General Motors: “I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed ... They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

The week would not be complete without those tiny presidential fingers jabbing out a volley of tweets about the Mueller inquiry. Sure enough, as soon as it emerged that the special counsel had indicated that Paul Manafort had broken his undertakings and lied to the Russia investigation there they were: “Phony Witch Hunt” that’s doing “TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System”.

Mueller was “only looking at one side and not the other”. The investigation is “ruining lives for them refusing to lie ... Heroes will come of this,” Trump wrote hopefully.

One of his heroes could be acting attorney general, the bullet-headed Matthew Whitaker, who now has charge of Mueller’s investigation at the Justice Department. Handily, he believes in absolute presidential power without any hindrance from pesky institutions such as the Supreme Court.

God bless.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 1, 2018 as "Gadfly: Otto asphyxiation". Subscribe here.

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