Diary

Gadfly
Grassy-eyed Gus

Things have got to a pretty rancid state if Pauline Hanson has to ride to your rescue. And rancid they are with #Grassgate.

Fantastic Gussy Taylor, the squillionaire MP whose family is under investigation for allegedly squirting pesticide on endangered grasses, is significantly off the hook, thanks to Hanson.

Gus insists everything is above board. A meeting with an environmental compliance officer wasn’t an arm-twisting exercise – he was just concerned about farmers and the grass in another electorate.

All he could come up with in his own electorate of Hume was an unnamed cocky he met in Yass who wanted to know more about grass policy – it’s absolutely nothing to do with self-interest.

It’s a puzzle then why the minister is so desperate to avoid a senate investigation. Pauline Hanson believes him, just as she believes the Port Arthur massacre is a conspiracy.

For the past couple of weeks, Taylor tried his best to look convincing at the despatch box, his eyes bulging, face frozen in a ghastly kabuki mask, mouth sagging under the weight of elaborate explanations, while next to him Schmo unhappily sat, arms crossed.

Retired senator John Williams, from Cockies Corner, also came to the Taylors’ rescue, saying they were only spraying “serrated tussock and African lovegrass”. We all thought the issue was about the Taylors obliterating kangaroo or red anther wallaby grasses and an associated threatened ecological community.

The funny thing is that the Taylors mostly farm an enormous number of sheep. And sheep don’t much like kangaroo grasses.

Geoff Robertson, the president of Friends of Grasslands, told Gadfly the critically endangered ecological environment from Canberra to the Victorian border is now down to 5 per cent of what it once was. Some say just 1 per cent.

You wouldn’t want to let pesticide-happy farmers within cooee of austral toadflax, button wrinklewort, the Yass daisy or the leek orchid, all of which are at risk – let alone the associated endangered or vulnerable creatures, such as the Perunga grasshopper, golden sun moth, or the pink-tailed worm lizard.

What is a grass to some is a weed to others.

Confound interest

It’s apparent that Gerard (Chuckles) Henderson is a chap with so much on his plate that he can’t get a grasp on significant details.

Starring on last Sunday’s Insiders with Karen Middleton and David Marr, Chuckles launched into a full-throated defence of Farmer
Gus Taylor and his fight against feral grasses.

This is a “trivial affair”, he told viewers. He’s a “very good minister and a good person ... there’s nothing in this. It’s going nowhere.”

For good measure he claimed to have “better insight” into this than Marr, so there.

What he failed to mention was that Taylor’s wife, Ms Louise Clegg, is a director of Henderson’s employer, The Sydney Institute.

Chuckles followed Taylor’s precedent on transparency and didn’t make a full disclosure to Insiders’ audience.

The ABC felt sufficiently embarrassed about this lapse that it posted a statement on the show’s website. Since the program went to air it has “come to our attention that Mr Taylor’s wife, Louise Clegg, is a board member of The Sydney Institute. Gerard Henderson is the institute’s executive director. Mr Henderson accepts that he should have declared this association during the program.”

Chuckles’ lame excuse was that he was “unaware of Ms Clegg’s indirect interest in the company at the time of the broadcast”.

Agony of Aunty

The drama of the wallopers rummaging through Aunty ABC’s secret files and dustbins has died down somewhat and now managing director David N. Anderson can let the troops know about an “exciting new initiative”.

It’s called Australia Talks and it’s designed to get us to understand “what it’s like to live in modern Australia”.

Dave says this is an “all-of-ABC project”, the centrepiece of which is a digital application providing insights on what Australians care about, their happiness and their identity. All this information will then appear across Aunty’s networks, “including a live factual entertainment program on ABC TV”.

Australia Talks used to be called How’s It Going Australia? but that sounded a bit too much like “How Good Is Australia?” or “We’re on Your Side, Australia” – hence the revamp.

This new show has the distinct flavour of Kindergarten of the Air fused with Guthrie-era lifestyle flatulence.

If only we could get something called Australia Shuts Up.

Compare the despair

Lines of empty shops like gaping teeth, for-lease signs, businesses folding like tenpins, people being laid off in droves. Everything in Gadfly’s orbit seems to be in a state of despair.

Interest rates are microscopic, blocks of apartments are collapsing, rivers are running dry and leading politicians can’t make ends meet.

What’s going on? Schmo and his sidekick, the potentially foreign treasurer Josh Frydenberg, say everything is fine, things are going gangbusters, so this visual evidence to the contrary is obviously fake.

Tonight, Gadfly will be slaughtering a sheep for his dinner.

A Cunneen plan

A persistent rumour around town is that Attorney-General The Rev Christian Porter has been sounding out the prospect of appointing former crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen as a judge of the Federal Court.

There’s been no word from Porter about this, but others say where there’s smoke, there’s an inflammable outbreak. It’s been accompanied by much rolling of eyes from the court’s judges.

Margaret had a collision in 2014 with the New South Wales anti-corruption body, which ultimately resulted in an injunction against the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigating her for allegedly perverting the course of justice.

Already the former prosecutor has been a revolving star in the attorney-general’s orbit, having been appointed to advise on his Commonwealth Integrity Commission, designed to keep the worst sorts of political corruption safely under wraps.

Cunneen has previous declared that ICAC should be “completely destroyed”. Ever since she’s been the darling of the Alan Jones, Fred Nile, Tony Abbott, Andrew Bolt and News Corp entourage and associated camp followers.

The possibility of such an appointment has legs when you consider the Federal Court is being beefed up to handle corporate racketeering cases, the fallout of the post-Hayne era.

Alternatively, the AG may be designing his “integrity” commission to have someone with judicial status as its chief commissioner.

If this appointment doesn’t happen, you heard it here first.

Jolly Hockey sticks

Goosebumps Cater, finally, has arrived at a blinding realisation. In last weekend’s edition of his regular watercooler newsletter from the Menzies Research Centre he said: “Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are demagogues feeling popular anger but leaders who take popular opinion more seriously ...” blah, blah, blah.

Demagogues. That’s it, from the horse’s mouth. As if we needed more confirmation of Trump’s seriousness, we turn to The Weekend Australian Magazine’s piece on Joe Hockey, with the jaw-dropping front-page claim of “how our man in Washington rewrote the rules of diplomacy”.

The profile slathered on the brown-nose treatment with a trowel, replete with Hockey’s trademark clichés: “This job is never predictable and it’s never boring.” And the cracker line: “The President has got nothing to fear from [Australia].”

As if to prove the point, at a chinwag with a gathering of Australian company executives in Denver, Colorado, our ambassador talked up some of Trump’s more appalling “achievements”. He reduced taxes for the wealthy, he appointed conservatives to the Supreme Court, he’s boosted military spending, he pulled out of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear treaty, and he moved the United States embassy to Jerusalem.

Our man in Washington seemed to think these are positives that will get Trump re-elected.

Back home, on the lower north shore of Sydney, the Hockey family’s real estate business is getting on with the demanding business of trying to flog home units to customers.

Sun smart

We have to read The Baltimore Sun to get a fairer picture of President Bone Spurs, who of late has been making racist slurs, including against members of Congress. In a recent editorial, the newspaper put it like this:

“Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner ... we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

A bit different to the lickspittle dross coming from the man who “rewrote the rules of diplomacy”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 3, 2019 as "Gadfly: Grassy-eyed Gus". Subscribe here.

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