Diary

Gadfly
Ministry of silly dorks

Schmo has unveiled his ministry littered with any number of stale and pale third-raters. In particular, we’ll have to keep our eye on Stuart “Train Crash” Robert and Fantastic Angus Taylor.

Gus is already out of the box with a cry that he has a “clear mandate” to do nothing much about carbon emissions. It seems we’re still stuck with the Abbott-era strategy of no carbon price and a few trees as a way of meeting the 2030 target of a 26 per cent greenhouse gas reduction.

Gus doesn’t like the national energy guarantee. He prefers to pay taxpayers’ money through the emissions reduction fund, a mechanism that is meant to prevent businesses polluting above an agreed “baseline” – except that the scheme is voluntary, and baselines keep expanding, giving companies more leeway to pollute.

This is the minister for emissions reduction who wants more taxpayer-subsidised coal-fired power stations, up to 10 of them, in what amounts to a fantastic turkey of a climate “policy”.

Then there’s the minister for government and Pentecostal services, Stuart Robert, whose record of loving government services is second to none. He charged taxpayers more than $90 a day for his home internet connection and spent five times the amount a typical MP would on personalised stationery – about $17,000 during the final weeks of last financial year.

To avoid excessive upset on a Saturday morning, we won’t mention the ASIC investigation into his business interests or the fact he joined the board of a company founded by a convicted rapist. He left that company, a cryotherapy business, after two-and-a-half weeks.

Otto binned

After flagging his desire to return to cabinet, Otto Abetz must feel highly miffed he still finds himself on the outskirts.

Richard Colbeck was one of the two Tasmanian Liberals who got elected to the senate on May 18 and he goes to the frontbench as the minister for old and young people. He had been dumped down the ticket in 2016 to an unwinnable fifth spot in order to make way for one of Otto’s favourites, Jonathon Duniam. Young Duniam is now the assistant minister for forests, so god help the poor trees.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens at the next senate election for Tasmanian Nasties. Three will be up for re-election: Otto, Duniam and Wendy Askew. You may never have heard of Ms Askew, but if Duniam is a minister then it would look odd for a backbencher such as Otto to rank above him on the ticket.

Will Abetz get the message and strümpfe hochziehen?

Making Monk calls

This inevitably gets us to the topic of what to do about the Mad Monk. So many prospects are in the mix, including an ambassadorial position at Lord Moloch’s court and/or ambassador to the Unholy See.

The Monk has previously said he feels discomfort in the presence of homosexuals, so the Vatican may not be a perfect solution, if Frédéric Martel’s new book, In the Closet of the Vatican, is to be believed. Some 80 per cent of the Vatican staff are gay, according to the Pope’s former Latinist-in-chief.

Another sensible suggestion is that Abbott return to his priestly studies, which were interrupted by his political ambitions. Years ago, the Monk’s family had ambitions for young Tony to be both prime minister and Pope.

Now enrolments are down and the church is in desperate need of new priests. The former member for Warringah and God’s climate emissary should not need much encouragement to head out to the Seminary of the Good Shepherd at Homebush and wrap up his qualification for holy orders.

Schnapps decisions

Hats off to the legal profession – leaders in the testing business of having fun at taxpayers’ expense. The latest contribution to the art form is the joint conference of the Australian and New Zealand bar associations in the snowfields of Queenstown.

This knees-up is billed as “Antipodean Advocacy: Trans-Tasman Perspectives” with the not-too-subtle message: “We look forward to seeing you on the slopes.”

Apart from the mountaintop gala dinner, “catered sailing or snow golfing experiences” and a selection of “fabulous hotels”, there are also a few “session highlights”, including one called “Americas Cup: action on the water and in the courts”. Plus, our very own Arthur Moses, SC, expounding on “The Rights, Responsibilities and Role of Media in Criminal Justice”.

There will be networking drinks, rest periods and something called a “night at leisure”. It’s a two-day event, with only half a day burdened with any discussion of trans-Tasman advocacy perspectives. Snow complications.

Quantum leaks

Julian Assange failed this week in his bid to delay a June 3 hearing over rape allegations made against him in Sweden in 2010.

The allegations might have been resolved years ago, had the WikiLeaks founder stayed in Sweden and been tested for STDs – as the two women who unwillingly had unprotected sex with him had asked.

In April, we had Rod Tiffen’s wonderful Inside Story article about Assange and WikiLeaks, which laid bare the anomalies of the man now in London’s Belmarsh prison for skipping bail.

After spending seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy near Harrods, Assange seems to be no better off – still subject to the extradition proceedings that he tried diplomatically to avoid. Both the Swedes and the Americans want him, the Swedes on the rape allegations and the Septics on accusations of espionage and violating national security.

As former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote: “Of all of Julian Assange’s undoubted talents, maybe his greatest gift is the ability to make enemies. He trusts, likes and respects almost no one.”

People in the news business have been hostile to Assange, who has been prone to threatening journalists and editors with defamation if they disagree with his sweeping assertions – something that sits awkwardly for a free-speech campaigner.

WikiLeaks’ unredacted dumping of documents has threatened the privacy of individuals and exposed them to danger. Assange’s response is that privacy is dead. He has denied receiving and distributing material from the Russians to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The Washington Post awarded him Three Pinocchios for his denial but, as Assange says, “If it’s true information, we don’t care where it comes from.”

Another disturbing allegation mentioned by Tiffen comes from Sue Halpern, a contributor to The New York Review of Books, who claims Assange collaborated with Israel Shamir, an “unapologetic anti-Semite and Putin ally”. In 2010, the WikiLeaks man gave Shamir all state department cables from the Chelsea Manning leak relating to eastern Europe and Israel. They were then shared with others, including the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, “who used them to imprison and torture dissidents”.

Secrets admirers

Now that Assange has been indicted under America’s Espionage Act the journalistic tide is turning, if we accept reports from Consortium News in the United States. If Assange is extradited at some point, this will be a case where the first amendment runs headlong into national security.

Journalists are feeling the rub, because the criminal activity alleged against Assange is actually what journalists routinely do – press sources into giving them secret and sensitive information that might then be published.

Media outlets that had not been fans of Assange have begun to change their tune. The New York Times said the indictment “could have a chilling effect on American journalism … It is aimed straight at the heart of the first amendment.”

Alan Rusbridger agreed, as did The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Nick Miller in The Sydney Morning Herald, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Senator Rex Patrick from the Australian senate crossbench, Bob Carr and others.

One string to the indictment bow is that Assange tried to persuade a source, Manning, to disclose secret information – a wretched business but a common journalistic practice that keeps the wheels of the information business in motion.

A disturbing element for Assange is that the US Supreme Court is not what it was in 1971 – when it upheld the constitutional freedom of the press to publish the classified Pentagon Papers. Nowadays the press is the enemy of the people and the Supreme Court is stacked with Republican boosters.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 1, 2019 as "Gadfly: Ministry of silly dorks". Subscribe here.

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