Raising the steaks

Well, that was a fine start to the post-Hayne banking royal commission litigation. The regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, went down in a heap in its action against Westpac, where it alleged the bank was in breach of responsible lending laws in relation to more than 260,000 home loan applicants.

ASIC claimed the lending formula applied by the bank meant borrowers could be led into hardship because their ability to service the loan was insufficiently appraised.

Not at all, said Justice Nye Perram in the Federal Court. Borrowers could simply refine their spending habits when times got tough, citing a money-saving move away from wagyu and shiraz to something more affordable – Spam and rice, perhaps.

“The fact that the consumer spends $100 per month on caviar throws no light on whether a given loan will put the consumer into circumstances of substantial hardship,” the judge said.

At paragraph 27, Justice Perram observed that lest his preliminary determination “prove frangible on appeal”, it was necessary to consider the balance of ASIC’s case about declared living expenses.

“Frangible” has been lurking far too long in the depths of the judicial lexicography, so it is great that it’s making a long-overdue move to the surface. However, it is not so great if this case proves to be the pattern of post-Hayne decision-making by the courts. Particularly when Attorney-General The Rev Christian Porter is beating his chest about providing more judges and more money for the court so corporate malefactors can be dragged into the stocks.

The Federal Court is keeping up a fine tradition. It is not infrequently seen as a guardian of corporate interests against the do-goodery of ASIC and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In an unrelated case last month, concerned with a disability support pension, Justice Perram apologised to a litigant. As he explained in his judgement: “... in the usual back and forth of emails between myself, my staff and the registry I was provided with several of the applicant’s emails. One of these I forwarded to my associate with only this remark: ‘*sigh*’. Unfortunately, this email was sent through my own error to the applicant.”

Disclosure exposure

And did you see Chuckles Henderson’s letter in last week’s edition of The Saturday Paper? Honestly, the old codger needs to get a grip of himself.

In the public interest, Gadfly had earlier mentioned that Henderson appeared on the ABC’s Insiders and gallantly defended Grassgate Gus against allegations that he was trying to get the compliance people to back off after 40 hectares of endangered grasses on a family spread were laid to waste.

It’s a “trivial affair ... he’s a very good minister and a good person”, Chuckles pontificated on the show. In his excitement he forgot to mention that Grassy Gus’s wife, Ms Louise Clegg, is a director of the organisation that employs him, The Sydney Institute.

He would have none of it, coming up with a bizarre notion that if “full disclosure” were required, then journalists should have to declare their associations with politicians who were leaking to them.

Try to get your head around that tortured thinking. His fallback position is that he did not know his board director has a financial interest in the grasslands. This is weird because it had been reported in the media and, as we know, Chuckles devours every square inch of information that is published.

In any event, it is irrelevant if he knew or didn’t know about her financial stake. The old nitpicker would be down like a ton of blancmange on a hack who made a similar omission. It is simply an indication of his wider well-worn policy of non-disclosure in conflicted situations.

What a wrong ’un

It was lovely to see David Runciman in London Review of Books apply himself to Shane Warne’s most recent autobiography – the bowler’s third. This one is called No Spin and the review is headlined “Fat Bastard”.

Warnie thinks it’s all a case of ball tampering, schmall tampering. Steve Smith and David Warner’s year-long bans were grossly excessive, particularly as everyone does it, according to the spinner. They said they were sorry, so wot’s the fuss?

Runciman says that while Warne’s appetite for sex is seemingly endless, he is much more ambivalent about food. Says the Sheikh of Tweak: “I reckon sitting in a restaurant is a waste of time, the same as cooking … Food gets in the way of a good time. Eat, go, party. I’m all about atmosphere and vibe ...”

On the sex front, there’s the story that while in the middle of a match when Warne is playing for Hampshire, he gets a text message from a woman friend accompanied by a picture of her kissing another girl. He jumps in his car and drives to London, where the women are waiting for him. “Two drinks and two girls later” he’s driving back to Southampton, arriving at 2.30am. He sleeps in his car, has a shower and a cigarette and then takes seven wickets.

That evening he gets a phone call from Andy Coulson, then editor of Moloch’s News of the Screws. Coulson says he has a picture of Warnie in his underpants cavorting with two women. “Mate, plenty of people pretend they’re me. Fuck off,” Warne tells the tabloid hack and future jailbird.

But it is him – he’s been set up. “I just don’t get it,” Shane writes, “never have. I know, it’s naive of me, but my inclination is to give people the benefit of the doubt.”

As Runciman observes: “It turns out that if you’re Shane Warne, there’s probably no such thing as a free threesome.”

Reefed from reality

I don’t know how Graham Lloyd does it. He’s described by The Catholic Boys Daily as the paper’s “fearless reporter of all sides of the environment debate”. This suggests that even though on many topics the science is clear and settled, for Lord Moloch’s national daily, it is still a “debate”.

Last weekend, Graham found a resort developer, former motocross rider Peter Gash, swimming with turtles in a lagoon near Lady Elliot Island, where the Great Barrier Reef “is pristine and brimming with life”.

Things couldn’t be peachier. For a moment, you might forget that only 7 per cent of the reef corals have completely avoided bleaching.

Graham goes on to say that Mr Gash is a “balanced” conservationist sharing concerns with farmers and others “who feel threatened by the rush to protect the reef and comments about its dire health”.

Apparently, the Queensland government is introducing legislation to regulate agriculture so as to improve the reef’s water quality – a necessary step as Australia struggles to meet its world heritage commitments to UNESCO.

This has produced a chorus of whingeing cockies. For the next few days the reef protection stories in the paper were complemented by quotes from cane growers and others about how all this reef greenie stuff will make life difficult for them.

Fortunately, unlawfully sacked university scientist Peter Ridd is on a “lecture tour” of the region, questioning the science that says the reef is in a catastrophic state. He believes the whole thing is a scare campaign, and in his corner is noted believer in nature’s mysterious ways, the buffoon-like George Christensen, MP, who wants a body of carefully selected LNP-approved apparatchiks to check what the scientists are up to.

Poor old Lloydy. It must be torture to be constantly straddling the pre- Copernican notions of Lord Moloch’s enforcers with what is really happening to the environment.

Statue limitations

Behrouz Boochani has spent six years imprisoned on Manus Island, courtesy of our government, and this week received another literary prize for his autobiography, No Friend But the Mountains – this one the National Biography Award.

At last tally, the book has collected a total of $160,000 in prize money. Not that Boochani has been able to receive any of it, or collect the awards in person. The book was written from Manus one text message at a time and translated from Farsi by Omid Tofighian.

Unfortunately, a proposal from veteran refugee campaigner Stephen Langford that the City of Sydney commission a statue of Boochani for a public space in the CBD has been knocked on the head.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore replies that this is not possible because “the city doesn’t typically commission memorials to individuals”. All those hulking bronzed versions of George V, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Captain James Cook, Sir John Robertson, Governor Lachlan Macquarie et cetera, must have been commissioned under a different policy.

There would be no more effective reminder of our failed regime of offshore incarceration than a statue of a refugee of Boochani’s standing placed slap-bang outside the Commonwealth parliamentary offices at 1 Bligh Street.   

Conspiracy bleary

By now it’s pretty certain that Pussy Grabber Trump, colluding with HRH Phil the Greek, Duke of Edinburgh, is part of a conspiracy that resulted in the death of Jeffrey Epstein by strangulation.

Many other shifty-looking sleaze merchants could also have their fingerprints on this crime. A lot of people had a lot to lose if Jeffrey started squawking.

Phil the Greek, we know, has form with this sort of stuff. According to the old Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed, HRH had a hand in the car crash that killed Princess Di and his son Dodi.

What with Prince Randy Andy, an entirely useless carbuncle on the rear end of the royal family, about to be dragged through the mud, again, nothing is too much for the House of Battenberg. The story would have made an exciting additional chapter in Heathcote Williams’ book Royal Babylon: The Case Against the Monarchy.

When it comes to Trump, you’ve got to remember Epstein had 14 of his phone numbers in his little black book, he’d paid visits to the vulgarian’s delight at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and Trump called him a “terrific guy”.

Can you imagine that the Pussy Grabber would not have grabbed at any of Jeffrey’s harem as soon as they came into his orbit?

As no less a font of wisdom than The New York Times puts it, some conspiracies point towards the truth.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 17, 2019 as "Gadfly: Raising the steaks".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor.