Diary

Gadfly
Joyful, strained

Australia Day comes but once a year and so soon after Christmas that it seems all our heavens arrive at once. This year, we might take flatheads and fakes as our theme for the day. 

SloMo brought the humble flathead centrestage when he made the announcement to Lord Moloch’s tabloid consumers that he likes nothing more than hanging around the Shoalhaven Heads Hotel with Jen and the girls, “enjoying flathead and chips like everyone else”. 

Can this cloying folksiness be any more unconvincing than his policies on energy, climate, anti-discrimination, anti-corruption and refugees both offshore and onshore? 

All children were supposed to be off Nauru by Christmas – never mind the languishing adults. The attorney-general’s integrity commission is designed like a camel, with strategic advice from a leading anti-ICAC advocate. The government is underwriting new coal-fired power stations amid a planetary climate crisis. There’s tinkering to find religious freedoms that ensure bigotry and discrimination are guaranteed by law. Distortions and misinformation are being peddled about the importance of negative gearing and the right to have a third or fourth home. And national security hovers like a purple cloud. 

Earlier this month SloMo suggested he was fathering new legislation to protect native species and that this was among the government’s top priorities for the year. There must be some confusion, because what he’s found in the bottom drawer is a bill to regulate cosmetic testing on animals, whether they are native species or not. 

Fake policies from a bunch of flatheads. We’re off to a flying start.

Beached weal

Gadfly, of course, spent the holidays in thongs and Stubbies immersed in cultural pursuits – art galleries, films and books. All this while Yarts Minister, the human toilet brush, put in valuable time doing noddies while SloMo announced a re-enactment of the Endeavour’s voyage around Australia – a trip Lieutenant Cook never made.

The David Goldblatt black-and-white photos of apartheid-era South Africa at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art are a sensation. In the faces of those bitter, dead-eyed leaders of that dead-end segregationist regime you could see the shadow of our own Peter Dutton

There’s also Hoda Afshar’s two-channel videos of refugees banged up on Manus Island, capturing the daily tedium of their lives in a beautiful tropical hell. 

Over to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is packed with Brett Whiteley drawings and works by Tony Tuckson and William Kentridge, including the latter’s magic series designed for Shostakovich’s opera The Nose

There was lots of beach, probably the greatest thing of free and open natural beauty Australia has to offer before it is blighted by an overly hot globe. 

And keeping Gadfly company was writer Ben Macintyre’s masterly work on the spy Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky, a senior man in the KGB who spied for Britain – a sort of Russian version of Kim Philby

Needless to say, he was betrayed by the CIA, but miraculously managed to survive thanks to MI6.

Taking a troll  

ABC staff are bracing themselves for another year of management emails. It kicked off with a happy new year message from Gaven Morris, director of news, analysis and investigations, with an attachment on editorial guidance and moderation for Australia Day. 

The editorial policy people say that the aim is to be “inclusive” as long as the discussion is “respectful”, although it can also be “robust”. The aim is to go beyond political statements to “focus on personal stories and experiences”. 

Line-by-line balance within stories is not necessary, it’s the rich variety of personal tales that is the thing. 

When it comes to audience participation, there’s a warning that discussions around Australia Day “run a high risk of attracting offensive and abusive callers, comments and trolls”. To handle bad comments on social media staff should “refer up to the line manager”. In some cases if there is persistent abuse or repetitiveness, users can be banned from access to ABC accounts “for life”. 

Acting managing director and mail-room refugee David Anderson followed up a few days later with an email welcoming staff to 2019 and with more about the Australia Day coverage and the exploration of “diverse perspectives”. 

Importantly, he advised that the “People & Culture” team was hard at work trying to unravel underpayments to “flat rate” casual employees. That’s more like it.

Henderson huffs

Every year in The Catholic Boys Daily, Old Chuckles Henderson dusts off his favourite gripes about numerous ideological foes, giving them a clip over the ear for their hyperbole and prophecies. It includes tit-for-tat payback for those who have given Chuckles a clip for his lapses and the spreading of his unique brand of glumness. 

Of course, he doesn’t critique the overblown commentary and journalistic distortions littered throughout the Daily

A look back at a range of Chuckles’ own work throughout the year reveals a dogged obsessiveness, where favourite topics never tire of reputation – the ABC has no conservatives on the payroll, we don’t need an anti-corruption watchdog, people are picking on the Catholic Church, what a wretch Turnbull is and was, leftists, greenies and other deplorables. 

In one column he claimed that when he worked in and for government he never noticed any corruption and that we don’t need a code of conduct for politicians because there are enough legal sanctions in place: “After all, the commonwealth has been in operation since 1901 and Australia is one of the most successful democracies in the world.” QED, no integrity commission required. 

This observation would also be worthy of an entry in Chuckles’ own annual round-up: “Unlike his predecessor, Morrison has been a Liberal Party operative for most of his adult life. Moreover, he is a social conservative. Morrison will not attract the attention of a Turnbull. He has sound judgement and is capable – with the assistance of his deputy, Josh Frydenberg – of reuniting a divided party...” 

Elsewhere, Henderson complained that New Zealand, which has offered to take 150 of our offshore refugees, is not as generous as Australia in accepting displaced people so we should not be lectured to by the adorable Jacinda Ardern. He failed to mention NZ doesn’t torture refugees indefinitely on miserable island outcrops. 

Another entry in the hyperbole stakes would surely be his thoughts about Craig Kelly. He thinks it would be a big mistake if Kelly was de-selected from his seat of Hughes. Chuckles is almost rapturous: “Kelly is a politician who proudly wears the label of authenticity. Due to appearances on Sky News, the ABC and 2GB he has attained a high profile for a backbencher.” 

This is the same Kelly described by Liberal Party machine insider Sally Betts as “a thug, a bully and a disgrace”. 

Of course, wading through numerous of this commentator’s offerings is akin to sticking forks in your eyes. Not to be recommended.

Twaddlin’ town

Senator David Bushby (Lib, Tas) is the latest entrant in the snout-in-trough stakes. After 11 years in the senate the government has anointed him to be the consul in Chicago. 

Great work if you can get it. 

While everyone was trying to remember what this senator did of any national importance, the usual mouthpieces were busy lavishing dollops of praise. Otto Abetz described Bushby as someone akin to a Tasmanian Cicero, who can “reflect fondly on an incredible period of service to our nation and he will be sorely missed”. Well, he might say that, as Bushby was on Otto’s ticket when it came to signing the petition to topple Trumble. 

It’s not surprising that Liberal members and senators are heading for the hills, but what is intriguing is that Field Marshal Andrija Nikolić, who misplaced his seat of Bass in 2016, is being suggested as a suitable senate replacement for the freshly appointed consul. Bushby’s sister, Wendy Summers, has also been mentioned, in the fine Tasmanian tradition of keeping everything in the family. Since he lost his lower house seat, Nikolić has been serving the nation as a full-time senior member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, courtesy of George Brandis

Tasmanian Liberals must be green with envy that Bushby is off to Chicago while they have to languish  in the company of Otto. 

As Frank Sinatra put it, “I saw a man, he danced with his wife in Chicago ... Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago.”

Trumpette #100

Silvio Berlusconi has been an inspiration for Trump. Both are showbiz hucksters with tortured hair who trade in favours, threats and bluster.  

The film Loro is a graphic depiction of how Berlusconi brought his special blend of sex, sleaze and corruption to the centre of Italian politics. 

The inspiration would be too great to resist for the pussy-grabber in the US. Venality infests Trump’s businesses, his foundation, his family and his cabinet. He surrounds himself with graspers and merchants of dross, so it’s little wonder that the wheels of his administration are falling off. Yet he carries on, as re-election is his best hope of avoiding indictment. 

Roger Fitch, a lawyer in Washington who is on the lookout for all things Trump, tells your correspondent that like Al Capone, Trump could wind up in the clink for tax evasion. The Trump Organization chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has received immunity from special counsel Robert Mueller, while the New York attorney general’s fraud case against the Trump Foundation is moving forward. 

Everything bearing the Trump brand is being investigated and Fitch thinks some of his property could qualify for forfeiture under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. 

And then there are those distracting women. In Loro, in the afterglow of a bunga bunga party at his Sardinian estate, Berlusconi, who at that stage is over 70, makes a move on a 20-year-old woman. She rejects him, explaining that his breath smells the same as her grandfather’s.

As if that’s the only problem.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 26, 2019 as "Gadfly: Joyful, strained". Subscribe here.

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