Diary

Gadfly
Protesters push their lock

It feels as though Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen is back in town, what with new anti-protest laws aimed at locking up Queenslanders who disturb the peace for decent Banana Benders.

The Queensland Labor regime has thrown in its lot with the hewers of coal and burners of fossils – with climate taking the hindmost.

Apparently the state is in the grip of unrivalled disruption, with people chaining themselves to marble statues of Russ Hinze and Sir Terry Lewis. The new law will give power to Queensland coppers, the same tribe that spawned Benito Dutton, to search and seize anyone they “reasonably suspect” of carrying a “locking device”.

The climate protester who slung himself under a bridge in a hammock may be in a grey zone, because it’s uncertain whether a hammock is a locking device. Whatever, the mining industry is tossing into party coffers of all stripes, in effect paying to shut down protesters. Cash for no comment.

In New South Wales, Aunty Gladys’s regime has come up with a farm trespass bill that sends vegans and animal protesters who enter “enclosed lands” to jail for three years or fines them up to $22,000. Amazingly, the bill also says people cannot sue farmers for nuisance. Cockies must think all their Christmas puddings have come at once.

Cruel and unusual

Very soon, with Commonwealth and state legislation, animal rights people who film footage of animal cruelty at abattoirs will be in the soup, if the Reverend Christian Porter or Aunty Gladys catches them.

The terrible images of the mistreatment of retired racehorses was captured by activists and provided to the ABC. The power of the image, as well as its potential to change entrenched practices, is only possible because someone with a camera is snooping in the interests of animal welfare and public exposure.

While governments make purring noises about a free press being the cornerstone of democracy, they are also merrily criminalising protest and activism.

With some of this police state overreach you’d hope the High Court might come to the rescue, as it did in Bob Brown’s case against Tasmania’s Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act.

Provisions of the act were challenged on the basis of the implied constitutional power to protect political communication. The court found the relevant bits of the law that intruded on Bob’s democratic rights were an unreasonable burden on the implied freedom and so should be struck down.

Bravo, Bob.

Shelf respect

In Queensland the neo-Bjelkeist regime has quietly extinguished native title over the Adani mine site. The upshot is that the Supreme Court has issued an interim injunction preventing an Aboriginal elder, Adrian Burragubba, and his son, Coedy McAvoy, from returning to their traditional land that is now occupied and controlled by the Adani mining people.

Justice Glenn Martin made an order that Burragubba, McAvoy and other Wangan and Jagalingou people not enter or interfere with the mine site land “without the prior written consent” of Adani.

In these circumstances, if they return to their traditional land, they face jail time. Already Burragubba has been bankrupted by Adani and the company’s lawyers over his unsuccessful struggle to save his Country.

An Indigenous Land Use Agreement was approved by a majority of W&J people, and unsuccessfully challenged in the Federal Court by Burragubba and his supporters.

An Adani spokeswoman said the company “respect[s] the traditions and culture of Aboriginal people, in particular those of the Wangan and Jagalingou people”. But they respect the extraction and monetising of coal even more.

Otto empire to fall?

It’s the rise of the master’s apprentice. Alarming developments in Van Diemen’s Land mean Jonathon Duniam is edging towards toppling Otto Abetz for the Nasty Party’s No. 1 senate spot. Given that it’s likely only two Nasties from the island could be elected to the senate, there is more than a frisson of anxiety in the air.

Young Duniam had been one of Otto’s bag carriers and went on to hold the powerful position of assistant minister for trees and fish in Schmo Morrison’s regime, while Otto goes mouldy on the backbench.

Still, 25 years in parliament is not long enough and Otto wants another term at the 2022 half-senate election, which would give him 33 years of unparalleled public service to a grateful nation. There have been some unkind observations that the only reason Abetz gets elected is because he’s at the top of the ticket.

The other contender in the mix is Senator Wendy Askew and party machine people are anxious that giving the difficult third spot to a woman may not be culturally appropriate. Askew got her backside on the senate leather when her brother, David Bushby, resigned to take up the challenging post of Australian consul-general in Chicago.

All very Tasmanian.

Pray of the day

Malcolm Cowan, one of Gadfly’s field agents, has developed a Miracle Index. It’s called SPAM – Scott’s Prayers Achievement Measure.

Rain, famine, pestilence, human happiness, plastic recycling and the “great global environmental challenges” can all be managed by bedside offerings to the Almighty.

But what confidence does God actually have in Schmo’s prayers? The results will be measured on the SPAM index and closely monitored in the wild hope that prayer can supplant policy.

Titles plight

The rampant agenda to flog off state-owned silverware to privateers invariably has consequences.

Take the 35-year $2.6 billion lease of the public NSW Land Titles Office, now called Land Registry Services and owned by an assortment of profit-seekers: First State Super, The Infrastructure Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland Pension Fund and the Utilities Trust of Australia.

Shortly after they got their hands on this proud state instrumentality that secures the registration of property titles, the new proprietors worked out a way to surreptitiously increase lodging fees.

The manner in which it was calculated meant some charges increased by 1900 per cent. That was until the registrar-general stepped in and said “hold on”, price rises are supposed to be pegged to the consumer price index.

Then staff were told by management that the business was not taking in enough revenue from lodgements of private caveats, priority notices and powers of attorney. Get cracking, they were told, which came as a puzzle because LRS people never imagined they would have to get on the blower to drum up lodgements.

Because conveyancing is increasingly digitised with less human oversight, titles are regarded as more vulnerable, so old hands are suggesting it might be safer to keep discharged mortgages registered as an encumbrance on titles, only to be taken off when the time comes to sell.

Thanks, Gladys, for making the whole process trickier, more expensive and less secure.

Gala dinner offers side of fireworks

The LAWASIA people have carefully organised to hold their November 2019 conference and a gala dinner in Hong Kong. What could possibly go wrong?

For up to $2490 a ticket, the “Harmonisation through Synergy” jamboree will test the very fibre of the lawyer delegates. There’ll be speeches from the Hong Kong chief justice, the secretary for justice and the head of the local law society, as well as panel discussions – all accompanied by volleys of tear gas, truncheons, rubber bullets and flying placards.

There’s to be a plenary session on “the rule of law in challenging times”, then it’s off to the Happy Valley Racecourse for the LAWASIA Cup.

The founding father of LAWASIA was our own Jolly John Kerr, who, it may be remembered, could barely stay upright the last time he attended a racecourse.

Press into action

There’s a lot to be said for the Right to Know campaign conducted by a mighty coalition of media outfits. A maze of overlapping laws effectively block access to public-interest information, criminalise those who deal with and publish that information, and give the state the power to track and monitor the work and private lives of journalists.

It’s nasty, chilling and Orwellian.

There are six things for which the media coalition is pressing: the right to contest the application for search and seizure warrants that at the moment are doled out to the wallopers by lowly court officials in the boondocks; journalist exemptions from the laws that put people in jail for handling classified information; curtailing the tendency for every piece of government paper to be stamped “secret”; an effective freedom of information regime; the decriminalisation of whistleblowing; and reform of the free-kick-for-plaintiffs defamation laws.

Great stuff, but it also assumes that some of the media has a right to tell to the public a lot of half-baked distortions and rubbish, quite apart from routinely depriving readers of relevant information.

What would also be nice for the public to know is how stories are selected, what’s the agenda, what is left out, what the wizened offshore proprietor thinks and the extent to which advertising dollars corrupt the news.

The government seems quite uninterested in changing anything. Why should it? It gives no responses to questions with which it is not comfortable and, in any event, it has the largest private media outfit in the country largely performing as a tame monkey on all the vital issues of the day – climate, refugees and how good is Australia.

Conceivably, what could address the media’s concerns is a comprehensive Human Rights Act – yet this is something that inexplicably turns Lord Moloch’s hacks and spruikers incandescent.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 26, 2019 as "Gadfly: Protesters push their lock".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

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

Our journalism is founded on trust and independence

Register your email for free access or log in if you already subscribe

      Keep Reading                 Subscribe