Diary

Gadfly
Points scoring

The talking points from the PM’s office that this week plopped accidentally into the inboxes of “undisclosed recipients” are designed so that a chorus of government parrots can squawk in the same tune.

Bubble people in Canberra shrug off these revelations as uninteresting fare – yet for non-bubble citizens they provide a depressing insight into the contrived nature of our politics, the thin veneer of what passes for policies and the mind-numbing banalities deployed to prop them up.

If the talking points are emitted frequently enough, voters might come to believe they live in a boundless paradise managed by sagacious statesmen.

For instance: the Paris emissions target will be met (not if you believe credible climate scientists, the Grattan Institute and the International Monetary Fund); the religious discrimination bill protects against age, sex, race and disability discrimination (unless of course it’s “faith-based” bigotry certified by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney); we’re building a stronger economy with lower taxes (the economy is sliding backwards with greater income disparity); for drought areas there’ll be a cut in red tape and more funding (Alan Jones, normally the No. 1 parrot, doesn’t agree); we’ll build more dams (that’ll fix the drought); Gladys Liu has it all sorted (no mention of her amazing fundraising abilities and Chinese Communist Party associations); energy prices are going down (don’t forget to thank renewables).

You’ll need thigh-high waders to get through page after page of fudge, if not downright fibs. Noticeably absent is any mention of the well-overdue and desperately needed integrity commission. It’s never been a favourite of this regime, which gives a higher priority to prayers at bedtime than stamping out obnoxious odours from within.

Grass warfare

It’s pleasing to see Guardian Australia sticking with the Grassgate Gussy story and the mysterious poisoning of swaths of endangered grass on land in which the minister for increased emissions has a financial interest.

FOI documents have turned up details that reveal cracks in the carefully crafted story from Gussy and Josh Frydenberg, then minister for the environment.

The official version was that Taylor sought a briefing on endangered grassland listing after he had a chat on February 21, 2017, with a concerned cockie in Yass. It was nothing to do with the mysteriously disappeared 30 hectares of natural temperate grass from Gussy’s spread.

However, the FOI’d emails show Frydenberg was calling for more departmental information on compliance related to the grasslands regulations almost a week before the chinwag in the main street of Yass. Further, Frydenberg’s office told the department it needed “urgent talking points” because the case had been raised in parliament.

No one can find that it was a parliamentary issue at that point – in either chamber. The penalties for illegally clearing endangered grasses are high, up to $900,000 for an individual and $9 million for a company. The departmental grassgate investigation is trundling along and has been for three years. No pressure, no stress.

Questions linger: why were Frydenberg’s office boys getting details on an active departmental compliance case that affected a parliamentary colleague prior to the time it had been raised with Gussy by a constituent, and why was he telling his department to get cracking on the “talking points” because it had been raised in parliament – when it hadn’t?

A Snowy job

Today Cooma rolls out its finery to celebrate the 70th birthday of the Snowy Hydro scheme.

It was seven decades ago – October 1949 – that the ceremonial blast at Adaminaby got the whole project under way. So Cooma, at the foothills of the Snowy, will be a centre of unrivalled merriment with a Red Energy jumping castle, a machinery display, a marquee and entertainment from local performers.

You’ll likely find Grassgate Gussy there, bringing his unique brand of excitement to the hoopla. His grandpa, Sir William Hudson, was the New Zealand-born civil engineer in charge of the Snowy – so it’s very much Gus’s big day on the jumping castle.

The higher emissions minister will also be basking in the glory of the project’s next stage, Snowy 2.0, which he says will “create thousands of jobs and make electricity more affordable and reliable for Australian families”.

Unfortunately, the National Parks Association of New South Wales has come up with some findings to spoil the fun. It says that if 2.0 goes ahead, the unique Kosciuszko National Park will be buggered for all time – what with a 10-kilometre-long and 120-metre-wide easement swath through the park for transmission lines. Not to mention the 14 million cubic metres of excavated rock, containing naturally occurring asbestos, that’s to be dumped in protected areas and reservoirs.

Further, someone hasn’t done the sums properly, which is not unusual for a Trumble-era wet dream. According to the NPA, the cost of Snowy 2.0 is likely to be five times higher than the original estimate of $2 billion, the scheme cannot cover the interest on its debt, it will never make a profit and there is no evidence it will make electricity “more affordable” – all with a taxpayer subsidy of $1.38 billion.

And God knows the damage to native grasses.

Ross gibber fever

In news from the Old Dart, further details have freshly emerged about how Scotland Yard mishandled Operation Midland, the VIP paedophile allegations that ensnared former prime minister Edward (Grocer) Heath, the ex-home secretary Leon Brittan, former Tory MP Harvey Proctor and Field Marshal Edwin Bramall – all falsely accused of abuse by a nurse named Carl Beech.

The police investigation collapsed in March 2016. Now more information has emerged from the previously redacted judicial report, including that the coppers put their heads together and insisted to the media that Beech, who is now doing 18 years’ porridge for perverting the course of justice, was kosher and not a fantasist.

Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Sir Stephen House issued a grovel: “I am deeply, deeply sorry for the mistakes that were made and the ongoing pain these have caused.”

But what of our 60 Junkets investigative reporter sans pareil, Ross Coulthart? In 2015, he presented an elaborate beat-up about the British paedophile story: “Without question, the biggest political scandal Britain has ever faced will be exposed tonight…”

Without question, his story was based on flawed witnesses and thin air. No grovel from Channel Nine or former “leading investigative journalist” Coulthart, who these days is seeking to shaft the work of investigative journalists at the old Fairfax titles: his recent employment includes a role as PR spinner for VC man Ben Roberts-Smith.

Sweet Succession

Gadfly has just got to the end of season two of HBO’s Succession and is now unutterably shattered.

As most know, this is the series about a powerful American media dynasty producing trashy far-right tabloids and junk TV news outlets. There are four children, three of whom are perpetually double-crossing each other to succeed the tyrannical founder of the business, Logan Roy.

It’s hard to get the parallel of the Murdochs out of mind, particularly when the business, Waystar Royco, is described as “an empire of shit”.

The series is so devastating you will probably start bleeding through your eyes and ears. That now-rusticated wet-smack James Murdoch says he doesn’t watch the show. How could he? He’d be lying frozen, in the foetal position on the carpet.

Following leaders

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was in town last week talking at the Lowy Institute. No welcoming bunches of tulips from noted scholar Dr Andreas Blot and not much media coverage.

Rutte is the sort of political leader who effortlessly makes Schmo Morrison look like an oaf. He spoke with crisp logic and, as a field agent told me, none of that sense of hidden agendas or sponsored interests.

In a quiet swipe at our Supreme Leader, Rutte said that “middle powers” such as his and ours need the post-World War II framework of global institutions, and should work on reforming them, rather than escaping them.

On Brexit, Rutte was scathing. It was terrible whichever way you looked at it. He blamed European Union people who cooked up the notion of “ever closer union”. The souls of Limeys would always belong to Blighty, not to a Europe of 28.

Former president of Chile Michelle Bachelet was also visiting – giving media interviews, delivering the Whitlam Oration and a keynote speech for the Australian Human Rights Commission.

She was exiled from her homeland during the presidency of Augusto Pinochet and came to Sydney as a refugee. She’s now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and is sad about Australia’s change of direction after the country had given her, along with her mother, such a warm welcome.

How come Freedom Boy Wilson missed out on the UN human rights gig after marching in support of the Hong Kong protesters? Even more upsetting, all the work he did in inflating the cause of angst-ridden retirees about their franking credits wasn’t rewarded with a plum seat on the frontbench.

We know Schmo doesn’t approve of gay marriage, but this is cruel and unusual punishment for the MP.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 19, 2019 as "Gadfly: Points scoring". Subscribe here.

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