Diary

Gadfly
Lowering the Barr

The United States Department of Justice is set to launch a criminal investigation into itself and the events that precipitated the Mueller investigation into pro-Trump Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election.

This inquiry has been ordered by Billy Barr-Barr, the attorney-general and flunkey-in-chief to ol’ Bone Spurs. It’s such a screwy time in Washington.

Barr has been scuttling around the globe as fast as his dimensions will allow. He’s been in touch with departmental people in Australia and Britain and visited Italy twice in the hope of digging up a conspiracy that will assist his putrid pal in the White House.

Still, the investigation should not be dismissed. In fact, it is an excellent idea because, as we know, Fishnets (Bunter) Downer, after the tipoff about the Russian hack of Hillary’s emails, is at the heart of the Mueller inquiry, at the very biological root cause of the affair, the founding father of the seed that fertilised the egg of the inquiry into Trump’s campaign.

People find it incredible that Bunter had the skills to do this all by himself.

Bunter was introduced to Trump election aide George Papadopoulos by Erika Thompson, a political counsellor at the Australian High Commission in London.

Her boyfriend, Christian Cantor, worked at the Israeli embassy and knew Trump’s Greek sidekick, and it was Thompson who suggested the rendezvous at the Kensington Wine Rooms.

Papadopoulos is now saying he was trapped by a couple of spies – perhaps not such a stretch, what with Bunter’s record of getting spies to work in Timor-Leste. The questions that Barr-Barr needs to get answered include these: Why wasn’t Israel’s man Cantor invited to the drinks? Why gin and tonic when 150 varieties of wine were on offer? What else was on the three-page memo sent to Canberra, how many drinks did they have and should Australian taxpayers have paid for the libations?

Get cracking, Barr-Barr.

Spy floaters

In other alleged spying developments, former Office of National Assessments analyst Roger Uren has been charged with smuggling secret documents home and keeping them in the attic.

Uren was an aspiring spy novelist and the papers were thought to be useful research material for possible books.

The Rev Christian Porter had to sign off on the 30 charges, 29 of which concern alleged offences under the Intelligence Services Act, which came into force on October 29, 2001. It was introduced to parliament by then foreign minister Fishnets (Bunter) Downer. Uren left government employment on September 12, 2001, before the act became law. But there is another charge under some earlier security legislation.

After the ONA, Roger went on to work for Phoenix TV in Hong Kong, where there were doubtless a few Commie connections, yet for a long time Uncle Rupe was a shareholder in Phoenix through Star and Fox.

Roger’s wife, Sheri Yan, did a plea deal over a case concerning the bribery of John Ashe, an Antiguan diplomat who became the president of the United Nations General Assembly. The bribes from Chinese businessmen were alleged to have been filtered through Sheri, who was chief executive of the Global Sustainability Foundation. She argued that the money sent to Ashe was for a speaking fee at a tycoon’s bash.

She did a year or so of porridge in a New York prison. The curious aspect is that once again we see inordinate delays in the cruel machinery of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.

The documents were seized at Uren’s home by the wallopers in 2015, yet here we are at the end of 2019 with Porter signing off on the charges. Likewise, the raids on Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery and his client Witness K took place in 2013, but there were no Porter-endorsed charges until June 2018.

In all these cases, the attorney-general has pitifully appealed for everyone to keep shtum because the process is “before the courts”. Fat chance.

Civility engineering

Uglification knows no limits when it comes to civic enhancements. The bulldozers and excavators are at historic Windsor on the Hawkesbury River – the third-oldest place of British settlement in the wide brown land – previously occupied by the Darug people.

A bunch of citizens are up in arms as the New South Wales Department of Roads and Maritime Services sets about dismantling the historic Windsor Bridge and creating a multi-lane roadway, which, according to locals, removes 300 square metres of Thompson Square – a convict-era government domain, the military precinct of the Hawkesbury settlement and one of colonial Australia’s oldest public squares.

But protesters are warned to be respectful to Roads and Maritime Services, whose motto is “Every journey matters”. Members of the community action group have received letters from the RMS, saying that their protests are to be restricted because their behaviour is unreasonable and too much information is being requested. In some instances, staff have complained about being treated impolitely.

From now on, campaigners are confined to emailing the RMS project team once a month. The email must be “limited to one A4 page” and cannot raise more than three new issues. Responses are at the discretion of the project people within 10 business days.

If heritage campaigners don’t comply with these terms, written communications will be filed without acknowledgement, telephone calls will be “terminated immediately” and no meetings will be granted.

These restrictions could be waived in instances of “any new community consultation” but “process” must be followed.

These edicts have been issued by the assistant principal manager of “customer and corporate communications and engagement”.

Facebook frenemies

There was the jaw-dropping sight of Rupe’s right-hand man, Robert Thomson, sitting with Mark Zuckerberg at the Paley Centre in New York, talking up the new wonderful, gee-whiz Facebook “news tab” that will be home to 200 publishers.

Disturbingly, Thommo looks more and more like his ancient boss, Lord Moloch, but it was unmistakeably him at the love-in with his former arch enemy. Emily Bell, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, reminds us of some of Robert’s earlier Facebook barbs: “The bot-infested badlands are hardly a safe space for advertisers.” But now, as Bell said, “the air was filled with the ambrosial aroma of cash-infused amity”.

Facebook is believed to be paying $US3 million a year for each News Corp title to be in the tab. The full list of media publishers isn’t known, but it does include The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, BuzzFeed and that reliable source of inspiration Breitbart.

All the stories will be curated by Facebook people, hence in the trial runs we see gripping tales such as “How the Scariest Movie Of the ’90s Made Us Believe It Was Real” (from BuzzFeed), “Shampoo Giants Go Head to Head” (courtesy of The Wall Street Journal) and “The Vatican created a $110 wearable eRosary to help get young Catholics to pray” (Business Insider).

Thommo described it as a “new dawn” for journalism.

Inaction pact

Freedom Boy Wilson, MP, has joined the Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action, along with other Liberal luminaries such as Dave Sharma, Jason Falinski, Katie Allen, Angie Bell and Trent Zimmerman.

What does that mean? Nothing much, judging by Freedom Boy’s correspondence with a concerned citizen.

“We do not need to declare a climate emergency,” declares the Boy, even though the British parliament has approved such an emergency. “We haven’t in the past. We don’t now. We don’t need to in the future ...”

He dives deeper into Institute of Public Affairs mode: “Declaring a climate emergency is actually dishonest ... To do so I would need to immediately destroy Australia’s electricity grid and introduce a carbon tax ... This is foolish and unsustainable.”

The Goldstein MP must have thought he was joining the Parliamentary Friends of Climate Inaction.

Estate of the art

Lawsons, the auction house, has just unloaded a pile of leftover decorative bits and pieces from the estate of deceased NSW judge Roderick Pitt Meagher.

It includes a work “after Georges Rouault” appropriately titled Lonely Sojourner in this Life of Pitfalls and Malice, which fetched $900, and a Simon Fieldhouse drawing of the judge himself, which collected a handsome $650.

Also under the online hammer was a poster from The Weekend Australian with the headline “ARE JUDGES OUT OF TOUCH?” (sold for $180); statues of two boys in prayer, one with a crack (what can we say?); a still life with pears, artist unknown (it could have been painted by Roddy and it went for $90, an absolute song); and a real surprise – a 45 rpm Beatles record.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 2, 2019 as "Gadfly: Lowering the Barr". Subscribe here.

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