Diary

Gadfly
Ramsay tweak

The University of Queensland and the Ramsayites, after a lot of fumbling and frottage, finally got into bed together. UQ joins the University of Wollongong in producing scholars honed and buffed in the ways of Western “civilisation”.

Some learned person writing for Stephen Matchett’s newsletter, Campus Morning Mail, does a nice compare and contrast job on the way the two universities are offering the Howard–Abbott-inspired degree.

Queensland students will be eligible for a small number of core units and a large number of electives. The cores are: the classical world; the Judaeo-Christian tradition; European Enlightenment; the modern and its discontents; situating Australia; and creating the West.

Forget the Reformation and the Renaissance. Chronologically, the program jumps from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. “Whig history jumped over the Middle Ages as it held its nose,” said the anonymous learned reviewer. Fortunately, the “dark side of the Enlightenment” is examined in the shape of the Marquis de Sade. Overall, and unsurprisingly, the texts are weighted towards the Anglo tradition – after all, Winston and The Monk are bootstrapped to Britain.

At Wollongong, there is more emphasis on philosophy, and the course is not divided into core and electives. The writer observed: “The real problem with this degree is that it is less a degree in Western civilisation than a degree based on a particular vision of ‘Western philosophy’.”

Poetry, historical writing, drama, music and much of the religious tradition only get a fleeting look-in. There’s no mention in Wollongong of the “dark side” of Western civilisation.

The whole enterprise sounds more like a study in Spaghetti Western Civilisation.

Travails with Aunty

It’s pay rise time at Aunty ABC, or more accurately, interminable negotiations for an enterprise agreement.

Times are tough and over the next three years there’s an $84 million hole in the budget courtesy of the Morrison government. Even so, 67 per cent of the voters opposed the offer of a 1.7 per cent increase.

What seems to have distracted the troops is that the executives got a 2 per cent pay hike. It would take another $1.3 million to give the rank-and-file the same increase – money that would be better spent topping up management bonuses.

The plebs were told that even if they voted no to the 1.7 per cent offer it would have no effect on the executive bonuses.

From the internal correspondence, we discover a few curious wrinkles. For instance, 60 senior execs attract something called “at-risk payments”, totalling $1.5 million. If they meet all their KPIs, executives receive their full pay packets. If they don’t, a portion of their “at-risk” money is docked.

As an inspiration to staff, the ABC’s MD, David Anderson, declined his offer of a 2 per cent pay rise. It turns out the managing director is not actually employed by the ABC but by the Commonwealth government, and his pay is determined separately.

The ABC is independent, but its top executive works for the government. Amazements never cease.

Getting the picture

There was Gadfly in the gods at the City Recital Hall in Sydney’s Angel Place, swept away by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bill Henson’s photography and the voice of singer-songwriter Lior Attar, all combined for an evening titled Luminous.

It might just as well have been called Rapture, something with which Schmo Morrison could identify. It’s hardly credible to remember that 11 years ago the wallopers raided the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and closed down an exhibition of Henson’s snaps of darkly lit young nudes.

Celebrity art critics, including Kevin Rudd and Miranda Devine, didn’t much like his pictures. Kev said they were “absolutely revolting ... I have a very deep view of this. For God’s sake, let’s just allow kids to be kids.”

This sentiment was echoed years later by Schmo, who said: “We do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools. Let kids be kids.”

Rudd and other taste tsars have not offered any philistine complaints about Luminous, but it’s doubtful whether the former and current PM would recognise a work of art if they fell over it. Barry Humphries crisply summed up the controversy about Henson’s work: “If the prime minister detests it, I want to see it.”

Ballet contretemps

Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Rudolf Nureyev has a revealing little passage about Rudy and Dame Margot Fonteyn touring Australia.

Rudy was inclined to play the diva and change the repertory on a whim. Robert Helpmann, who himself had partnered Fonteyn, was more than capable of standing up to the great Russian, who on this occasion insisted on dancing Le Corsaire.

“No, it’s Swan Lake tonight,” Helpmann told him.

“No, tonight Corsaire.”

Helpmann shot back: “Dance what you like, Ducky. The orchestra will be playing Swan Lake.”

Deep See Fischer

A grief-stricken nation mourned the passing of Tim Fischer, the former leader of Cockies Corner and deputy PM to Little Winston.

Yet, not all citizens were lachrymose at his shuffle off the mortal coil. Indigenous Australians might recall his vehement campaign against the High Court’s Mabo and Wik decisions, which ended the fiction of terra nullius. He wanted the appointment of a “capital-C Conservative” on the High Court to counter what he saw as dangerous judicial tendency. In fact, he got his capital-C person in the form of Ian “Tubby” Callinan.

Following the High Court’s Wik decision, which held that pastoral grants did not necessarily extinguish native title rights, Fischer was incandescent. He pushed for legislation to, as former PM Paul Keating put it, “turn pastoral leases into quasi-freehold titles at the expense of Aboriginal people”.

Fischer boasted that under a Howard government there would be no shortage of measures to extinguish native title on leasehold spreads. Of course, Two Minute Tim was an ardent Catholic, so he must have had divine guidance in this mission.

Vale.

Defame game

Drinks and nibbles accompanied the launch in town of Landmark Cases in Defamation Law, edited by Sydney University’s Prof David Rolph. It’s a book with a terrific cover, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Susanna and the Elders. The soirée was held in the same building where ICAC used to put various shonky characters on the rack, some of whom had the temerity to sue for defamation.

Former High Court justice Michael McHugh, QC, did the honours with a speech that carefully dissected all the cases reviewed in the book. In particular, he landed on an essay by an American law academic, David F. Partlett, who examined the famous 1964 US Supreme Court free speech case of The New York Times v Sullivan, which made it almost impossible for “public figures” to refurbish their homes by hauling bags of loot from media defendants.

The US Supremes got so enthusiastic about the First Amendment they even said corporations need free speech to give wads of money to Republican politicians.

Partlett says The NYT v Sullivan sat at the centre of the notion about “the marketplace of ideas”. This is the belief, and we’ve heard it ad nauseam from the dingbats at the Institute of Paid Advocacy, that from robust debate the truth will emerge. Thus the shackles should be taken off the race discrimination legislation, et cetera. If people were free to say nasty and despicable things, there would somehow be a corresponding alternative view from which citizens can derive the light.

Professor Partlett skewers this idea rather delightfully, saying it presents a “quaint version of the world set in aspic”. The marketplace of ideas is not entirely composed of rational beings – it’s full of hate merchants, conspiracy theorists, trolls, rabid ranters and fake-news merchants, who drown out other voices.

“The cacophony of voices in the public marketplace will not tack public debate toward truth,” he wrote.

Gadfly couldn’t have put it better himself.

Mischievous Kissa

One of our field agents mischievously responded to an online “survey” organised by the Pussy Grabber’s re-election people. Using the name “Mr Kissa Myass”, he told Team Trump, in response to a variety of seriously tilted questions, that he thought the mainstream media was doing a fabulous job exposing the administration for the fraud it is.

Back came the reply from Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, showing what happens when a computer does the writing:

“Kissa – Thank you for joining my team! I am counting on my loyal supporters like you to carry us to victory again in 2020.

“We are up against an unhinged left-wing mob, a Democratic party that has embraced radical socialism, and the FAKE NEWS media that will NEVER tell the truth about all our accomplishments. Make America Great Again”, blah, blah.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 31, 2019 as "Gadfly: Ramsay tweak". Subscribe here.

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