Diary

Gadfly
Removing the Downer cover

#Thighgate and #Arcurigate have gripped the Sceptred Isle, while at the same moment Washington is flooded with subpoenas issued to President Bone Spurs’ posse of hit men, and Hong Kong celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party with its own special fireworks.

It’s not as though our politics remains in its normal stupefied trance. We’ve been excited by news that Trump wants Fishnets (Bunter) Downer investigated for spying.

Gadfly has long had suspicions that Bunter is a disruptive influence and that his flannel-voiced Tory carry-on is a carapace to hide his addiction to the agenda of Leon Trotsky and, even more unsettling, Hillary Clinton.

At first there was a thought that the Americans wanted our former foreign minister for spying on Timor-Leste, but no – we should have woken up to the idea that it was Bunter who inspired the corrupt Mueller investigation. Prime Minister Schmo Morrison has been invited onboard to assist with shaking down the truth, overseen by the United States attorney-general, William Barr.

Choking back tears of mirth, Ambassador Hockey Sticks and Schmo pledged to give every assistance in order “to shed light” on the mystery. Maybe it’s time they handed over to Billy Barr the secret file on Billy Bunter, who, as our ambassador thoughtfully pointed out to the US AG, “is no longer employed by the government”.

Meanwhile, it is evident that Barr is more a presidential fixer than an attorney-general, who is supposed to uphold the rule of law and the independence of the Department of Justice. He’s up to his eyebrows in the Ukraine impeachment showdown as his departmental people initially suppressed the whistleblower complaint and, when a criminal referral was made, the DoJ failed to investigate it.

The New York Times was forced to put the question, “Just how corrupt is Bill Barr?”

There’s a lot more fun to be had with the Bolivian marching powder before this party is over.

First Porter of call

By comparison Australia’s attorney-general, the Reverend Christian Porter, is a paragon of virtue. Nobly, he has stepped in to rescue journalists from the cruel maw of the Australian Federal Police – directing the Commonwealth director of public prosecutions to seek his approval prior to reptiles of the media being charged with national security offences, such as reporting the news. He sees this as a “safeguard” to “a principle of democracy”.

It’s puzzling, because the DPP already is required under relevant bits of legislation to get the AG’s signature before launching into journalists for dealing with a foreign principal under the espionage laws, and for Criminal Code breaches related to passing and receiving classified government information.

So what’s he on about? Maybe attention has been drawn to Nationwide News’ constitutional challenge to the AFP warrants to search Annika Smethurst’s premises and computer – submitting to the High Court that not enough care and thought went into the warrant and its underlying rationale.

The Law Council doesn’t think Porter’s directive is such a great idea, saying it undermines the independence of the DPP. The Law Council’s grand fromage, Arthur Moses, SC, said: “... it puts the attorney-general – a politician – in the position of authorising prosecutions of journalists in situations where they may have written stories critical of his government”.

It may even create an “apprehension” on the part of press reptiles that they need to curry favour with the government.

It’s not as though Reverend Porter has a spotless record when it comes to safeguarding democratic principles and the public’s right to know. After all, he did approve the DPP’s prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery over revelations about Australia spying in Timor-Leste – a prosecution that more than anything else is an embarrassment to and perversion of the rule of law and the administration of justice.

Hearing impaired

It’s as good a moment as any to ask what is happening with the glacial court process in which K and Collaery are snared by Porter and the Commonwealth DPP.

The charges were laid against K and Collaery in May-June 2018 – conspiring to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act in 2012 – in other words blowing the whistle on a Winston–Bunter-era illegality and abuse of power.

It is alleged that K communicated intelligence to Bernard Collaery, who had acted for him as his lawyer, and that Collaery conveyed the information to journalists.

The prosecution appears to be run more by counsel for the attorney-general than the Commonwealth DPP.

Sister Susan Connelly, a Josephite, is one of the leading figures on the battlements who keeps track of movements in the two cases. She says since the charges were laid there have been 14 scheduled hearings. Three of them are yet to happen. Of the other 11, three were postponed or adjourned, one was held in secret, another was not listed by the ACT Magistrates Court, and two others were incompletely notified on the court’s website.

It’s well beyond time that this abusive prosecution against two courageous citizens disappeared entirely from court lists.

Houston, we have a problem

What’s the story with happy-clapper Hillsong man and prime ministerial pal Brian Houston? The Wall Street Journal claimed he was blackballed by the Septics from Schmo’s guest list for the Rose Garden beanfest.

Schmo says it’s “gossip”, which apparently answers the question. According to a Gadfly field agent who has insight into how these things work, the backstory is a bit more interesting.

Morrison’s proposed list of invitees to Bone Spurs’ state banquet would have been sent to the White House, who then sent it to US security and intelligence agencies, who in turn asked Australian intelligence people their thoughts about Schmo’s friends.

Following the Wall Street Journal revelations, Pastor Houston issued threats to the hacks that they had better be careful of his defamation lawyers.

Kelly stays dim as BHP, Rio shine light

It’s all very well for “quiet Australians” to keep quiet as long as the shills can keep shilling.

Take advocacy of issues such as the climate crisis or the treatment of Indigenous Australians. Some leading Australian corporates are at the forefront of incorporating into their businesses gender issues, reduction of emissions and advancement of Indigenous causes through the Uluru statement – giants such as BHP and Rio Tinto among them.

Yet we’ve had a couple of the more porcine members of the Nasty Party sounding off about this. Craig Kelly said BHP was drinking climate change “Kool-Aid” in an attempt to keep in with lefty activists. Someone named Ben Morton, a manservant to PM Morrison, said companies were being seduced by “self-appointed moral guardians” and they should just stick to their knitting – such as making money for shareholders and obeying government edicts.

This seems to ignore the reality of the marketplace, where most of the largest superannuation funds that dominate the share registries of public companies are required to invest in accordance with requirements that address environmental, social and governance issues.

More than 500 institutional investors who manage $US35 trillion in funds have signed up to a United Nations climate action commitment with the aim of phasing out coal-fired power and placing a price on carbon.

The Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority have said that addressing global warming and delivering value for shareholders are not mutually exclusive.

The people who are the least quiet about this – the Murdoch hacks, lobbyists, “think” tanks and bloated politicians – are the ones who have never run a public company in their lives and are unlikely to have the capacity to do so.

They have yet to appreciate what captains of industry know: that doing something about an unpredictable future is more pressing than blind faith in a flawed ideology.

Bitter tweet ending

Remember Bridie Nolan, who in a parody of self-promotion describes herself as a “devastatingly experienced barrister and arbitrator … with exceptional legal skills”?

Bridie blundered into the federal election campaign with some injudicious tweets about Zali Steggall, the independent candidate for Warringah who successfully unseated the Mad Monk Tony Abbott.

Nolan’s current husband had previously been married to Zali, which flavoured the tweeting with dollops of personal spite as they climbed into the candidate for linking her condolences for the Christchurch mosque victims with the hashtags #warringahvotes #auspol.

Former hubby David Cameron reached out and called Zali an “idiot”, while Bridie said she should withdraw from the election campaign “before you embarrass your family further”.

Of course, there were regrets. The devastatingly experienced barrister told The Australian Financial Review: “We don’t resile from the fact we were appalled but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not in any way a reflection of how we feel about anything. It’s just a tweet.”

Happily, events have moved on and now Ms Nolan is a finalist for Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards as “barrister of the year”.

And why not? As she says herself, she has “outstanding all-round legal skills ... able to carry matters from inception to completion, regardless of the direction the matter takes”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 5, 2019 as "Gadfly: Removing the Downer cover". Subscribe here.

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