Diary

Gadfly
Nationals’ treasures

Some people have been unkind enough to criticise former New Zealander, man of weatherboard and iron, drought envoy and one-time deputy prime minister the Honourable Barnaby Joyce, MP, after he claimed Green voters not only caused the catastrophic fires this week but also made the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs.

Did he go too far, you ask? Not at all. In the scheme of utterances from Cockies Corner, this is sensible stuff and goes down a treat. Don’t forget it was only a little while ago that Joyce told us we are on the cusp of another Ice Age and anyway there’s nothing we can do about it. Thoughts and prayers.

Michael McCormack has also made an original contribution to the fire and climate debate. Yet we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves, because the sole purpose of having McCormack as the current deputy prime minister is to make Barnaby look moderately sane.

In his role as a newspaper man in the town of Wagga Wagga, McCormack’s editorials were positively sulphuric and his comments since then are no less so.

“Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay,” he told readers of The Daily Advertiser. It was not a climate emergency that threatened the species, according to McCormack’s theorem at the time – it was gay men.

Politics must have softened him because he has gone on to say he has “no view one way or another” on gay conversion therapy. As for “global heating”, he’s convinced the evidence is far from clear because old weather records may be inaccurate.

And for goodness sake don’t blame cotton farmers and irrigators for mass fish deaths – it’s unfair that they’ve been “copping unfortunate memes” from inner-city latte sippers who don’t understand quaint country ways. Pacific Islanders shouldn’t be concerned about rising seawater either as generous Australian farmers will give them jobs as slave labour fruit pickers.

McCormack’s drought-affected electorate of Riverina was only a blurry memory as he tucked into the five-hour Melbourne Cup lunch hosted by the Australian Hotels Association in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens and then another lap of tinctures at the Tabcorp marquee.

Where do the Nationals find these great “retail politicians”, and how did they get so far up the greasy pole?

Speech bubbles

There they were – hundreds of wide-beamed Nasty Party grandees, flunkeys, barrow-pushers and time-servers, pouring into a cavernous reception centre to “celebrate” the contribution of the old onion muncher and leading climate denier Tony Abbott.

It was as clear a declaration of the state of politics and governance as you’re likely to find. To cap it off, Goosebumps Cater at the Menzies “Research” Centre has come up with a great idea for your Christmas stocking – a book titled Abbott – As Delivered: The Defining Speeches.

Imagine the delight of dipping into the Monk’s remaindered thoughts on everything from free trade to terrorism, religion, families, red tape and taxation. For an entirely comatose experience, it would be holiday reading on a par with the collected columns of Chuckles Henderson. Abbott – As Delivered has a riveting introduction from ousted Canadian PM Stephen Harper.

Goosebumps retails the tome for $64.95, while right-wing publishing house Connor Court already has it knocked down to $39.95. Hold on a bit longer while the price looks for a market.

Incredible Mandy

One could also almost feel sorry for Jason Falinski, MP (Lib. Mackellar), as he floundered away on the ABC’s Q&A show, trying to toe the party line on climate and coal, while grasping for something vaguely credible.

Afterwards he would have fled to the Cabbage Tree Club at Palm Beach for a triple Pimm’s. When it comes to former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone, now reinvented “for balance” as a newspaper and radio opinion-monger, there is rarely if ever any pretence at credibility.

Her latest offering in the Nine organs went like this: “It’s a sick personality type that wants to convince Australians that they are cruel, mean and heartless to refugees when in fact we are one of the most generous countries in the world for permanent resettlement. Why in those circumstances does anyone imagine that running us down is a good message, especially for children?”

The message she delivers has a Duttonesque quality. Tautology aside, it is quite all right to be cruel, mean and heartless because we are also generous. It’s a thought for the week.

Odd (and even) system

Ratepayers in Mudgee are getting to grips with the Mid-Western Regional Council level 2 water restrictions moving into an odds-and-evens system.

Normally, this would mean properties with even street numbers could water their zinnias on even days of the calendar month and residents in odd-numbered addresses could water the ranunculus on odd days.

However, for the council that simple scheme needed refinement. It has divided the days of the week into odd and even, so if the street number of a property is odd, residents are permitted to water on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. These are described by the council as ODD days, while Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are EVEN days.

Civic order is a little uncertain as ratepayers try to remember which weekdays are odd or even, made trickier because Monday is both odd and even. There’s a helpful explanation on the council’s website:

“For example, if your property is 214 Gladstone Street you can water on EVEN days in accordance with water restrictions. If your property is 2/15 Brown Street you can water on ODD days in accordance with water restrictions.”

O’Dea of reckoning

The Honourable Jonathan O’Dea, MP, speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, has told members about the health and safety concerns of the Hansard staff. It’s all getting too much and the transcription tribe will have to down pens as exhaustion sets in trying to keep up with the orations of the honey-tongued parliamentary Ciceros and Demostheneses.

They have tried to get on top of the work with additional staff, but as that has proved costly there is the next best thing – suspension of services for “non-critical transcripts”, which will now have to be done on non-sitting days.

Government business will be transcribed at night, but for now private members’ statements and community recognition statements will be deferred. And this is in the age of Right to Know.

O’Dea says there’s a move to automation software, to reduce the number of actual people producing Hansard – so stand by for some machine-driven language entanglements.

Shady hacks now face Sun exposure

Unsavoury developments never cease. From the Old Dart comes fresh news that more of Lord Moloch’s hacks are in the frame for hacking. Twelve editors at The Sun stable have been accused in court of illegally getting into people’s phones and commissioning shady private investigators.

The most senior of the Dirty Dozen is Victoria Newton, the current editor of The Sun on Sunday. Also named are executive editor Dan Wootton, deputy news editor John Sturgis, managing editor Graham Dudman, plus his deputy Richard Barun, along with seven former senior editors who held positions on The Sun going back in some cases 20 years.

All have worked under Rupe’s favoured flame-haired siren, Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of The Sun and now chief executive of News UK. A spokesmodel for Murdoch’s company does not admit any liability. As Mandy Rice-Davies put it so succinctly: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

The latest names were read out during a case brought by 49 people suing News Group Newspapers for hacking and invasions of privacy. The costs of this hackarama are by now enormous. For The Mirror and the Murdoch rags, the settlements and legal bills earlier this year had reached £500 million.

There are hundreds more claims already filed in court and Hacked Off, which is representing the victims, expects hundreds and possibly thousands more to arise.

The newspapers are desperate to settle at any cost to avoid revelations of their corporate sleaze being aired in court. Nathan Sparkes of Hacked Off told the BBC the expenditure of all the publishers involved in this criminal enterprise could exceed £1 billion.

More humbling days ahead for Moloch – yet, oddly, executives who have presided over this criminality remain unaccountable.

What with losses in the News Corp newspaper business and the dire performance of Fox Corp shares, things are looking the way they look at the jaded end of a worn-out empire. Our hearts bleed.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 16, 2019 as "Gadfly: Nationals’ treasures". Subscribe here.

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