Diary

Gadfly
That Cory old chestnut

Just as a grateful nation thought Cory Bernardi, the former pub keeper, former Liberal and former Australian Conservative, had stumbled off into that special pantheon reserved for “unrepresentative swill”, we find he’s back, looking to put his hand in your pocket.

Yes. Cory Bernardi Confidential has been launched – a special website with intriguing gems behind a paywall, including “Who’s been swimming naked?” and “Is this the new normal?”

It will operate alongside his email missive, Weekly Dose of Common Sense, and will be a storehouse of old newsletters and other stuff for $8 a month or $72 a year for lots of “private content”, including “step by step plans to improve your health, your wealth and your self”.

The weekly email costs a motza, because: “We choose to use the best service providers because only they can handle the millions of emails we send out every year. But the best comes at a hefty price.”

To keep on top of the grind he needs to employ someone. Not even the lavish parliamentary pension can cover costs, so for god’s sake chip in and get a subscription to Cory’s Confidential and, please, let Gadfly know who’s been swimming naked.

A turn for the letters

Really, you have to wonder why the blindingly obvious didn’t occur to various judicial types and the people at the National Archives years ago.

Historian Jenny Hocking has had to wade through the bog of legal obstruction for four years to get to the point where the High Court last week decided the 211 billets-doux back and forth between then governor-general Jolly John Kerr and Betty Battenberg were not private documents.

After all, he was wising up the old monarch on his gin-soaked views about the perils of the Whitlam government, the Australian constitution and his “reserve powers”.

This all pointed to his thinking about dismissing Gough Whitlam and installing Malcolm Fraser and his reasons for doing so. Plotting to dismiss an elected government is hardly a matter that should be a secret from the sovereign people – except that the people at Buck Palace think they are sovereign and the people are subjects.

There are a few lovely wrinkles in this epic tale, including the role of David Szmitkowski, nowadays known as Sir David Smith, the devoted official secretary to Jolly John.

Smith had control of the correspondence, which he deposited with the archives on the condition they be kept out of sight for 60 years.

There was a side agreement with the Queen’s chief flunkey, Sir Martin Charteris, that Buckingham Palace would have a veto over their release even after the 60 years had elapsed.

Later, Her Maj graciously decided to reduce the period for which the letters were sealed to 50 years. It’s enough to make a colonial cringe with delight.

The fact that Smith’s office was within the “official establishment” of the governor-general and that he controlled the flowery scratchings was as firm an indication as any that the letters were the property of the Commonwealth.

Well done, Szmito.

For some strange reason, devoted monarchist David Flint still thinks the 50-year rule applies to the Kerr–Betty letters and they are out of reach till December 8, 2027. Er, no.

Putting on the Ridd

The High Court’s decision was a triumph for Bret Walker, SC, and Tom Brennan.

More recently, Bret has been in the full Federal Court seeking to overturn the Federal Circuit Court finding in April last year that James Cook University had been wrong to sack Peter Ridd, an academic who has been telling us the Great Barrier Reef is in rude good health.

He was sacked over his remarks rubbishing the credentials of another academic and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Judge Salvatore Vasta said the university had breached its enterprise agreement, which was more important than its code of conduct. He awarded Ridd $1.2 million to help him on his way.

Vasta is a judicial figure of some notoriety. He had to be “mentored” after many of his decisions were overturned, with proceedings having to start all over again before a fresh judge. There have also been instances of unattractive bullying, shouting at litigants and sending one of them to prison in what the Family Court called a “gross miscarriage of justice”.

The Australian Financial Review, last year, when discussing Vasta asked, “Is this the worst judge in Australia?”

We’ll soon know if the Ridd case joins Vasta’s trophy shelf. Justices John Griffiths, Darryl Rangiah and Sarah Derrington reserved their decision on May 27.

Needless to say, some oily muppets from the Institute of Paid Advocacy have been yabbering online about Ridd’s “freedom of speech” and condemning JCU for exercising its legal right to appeal.

It’s time for the university to accept Vasta’s decision and “move on”, declared Gina Rinehart’s pet policy poodle.

Curiously, during the hearing before Judge Vasta, Ridd said the IPA wasn’t much help in sustaining his ongoing reputation:

“No, quite the opposite. In terms of the companies that want to hire scientists, all the fame and being on The Australian or on the IPA doesn’t help one iota. I think it’s bad.”

Agency denied

Last month the full Federal Court showed a ripe burst of judicial humanity in overturning a decision of the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Justices Geoffrey Flick, Debbie Mortimer and Katrina Banks-Smith said the agency had been wrong not to provide a woman in her 40s, who has multiple sclerosis, with the services of a sex therapist.

As the court put it: “... it is abundantly clear ... that the respondent was not seeking services that might be sought by a non-disabled person for transactional sexual activity or release (however described)”.

Rather, she wanted assistance to engage “in loving and intimate relationships” and her medical condition prevented her “obtaining sexual release in any unassisted manner”.

This is a breakthrough as the agency had expressly excluded these sorts of services being funded. It’s just the sort of court decision Moloch’s fish-wraps might have jumped on and bellowed scornfully – maybe one of them has, somewhere in his miserable, crumbling newspaper empire.

For good measure the full court gave the NDIA a swift kick up the backside: “Many of the submissions advanced by the agency before this court, moreover ... [were] impermissibly pedantic.”

A Filthy look

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, the four-part documentary on Netflix, is an eye-popping experience, exposing the industrial scale of this sleaze merchant’s proclivity for underage girls and his sex trafficking to celebrities and powerful people he sought to compromise.

We know that Epstein was a convicted child abuser and that one of the people trafficked is Virginia Giuffre, who alleges that she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew, lawyer Alan Dershowitz and others.

Giuffre was 17 at the time. Dershowitz denies the allegations and says Giuffre “conspired with her lawyers to publish her false and defamatory claims” about him, while the Queen’s second son says he has no memory of Virginia, certainly wouldn’t have had sex with her and can’t explain the photo of him with his arm around her.

She accused – he denied. But now the documentary gives us a new witness who appears credible and sure.

Steve Scully was employed by Epstein at his Caribbean getaway, Little St James, aka Paedophile Island. In the documentary, he says he saw Andy and Virginia Roberts, as she then was named, “engaged in foreplay” at the pool.

Little wonder that in the interests of not having another train-wreck interview, this worse-than-useless Windsor has refused to assist police with their inquiries.

Pottering Porter

A missive arrived from Max Costello, a former prosecuting solicitor with WorkSafe Victoria and an inveterate campaigner for enforcement of the Commonwealth’s Work Health and Safety Act.

That act provides serious penalties for those who unreasonably expose people, to whom duties are owed, to the risk of death, serious injury or illness.

For years he has maintained that the WHS regulator, Comcare, should be requiring the Department of Home Affairs to comply with the act in its treatment of asylum seekers held in detention – more so now the Covid menace presents special dangers for detainees crammed into two Brisbane and Melbourne hotels.

In May he wrote to the attorney-general, the Very Reverend Christian Porter, on behalf of the Refugee Action Collective in Victoria, pointing out that Home Affairs’ Border Force branch was apparently in breach of the WHS act by exposing vulnerable people to Covid risks.

Back came a reply from Porter’s people, claiming their man had no responsibility for the WHS act and Comcare and informing Max that his letter had been forwarded to Home Affairs.

It’s a puzzle. The administrative arrangements order says that Porter is the relevant minister, so to shove it off like this to be handled by the very subject of the complaint is, um, entirely unsatisfactory.

No doubt the ghost of Franz Kafka will sort this out.

Another aspect of Porter’s responsibilities also comes to mind. There have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 royal commission. Readers might wonder how many police and wardens were prosecuted by Porter during his time as a prosecutor in Western Australia, or when he was overseeing the state’s laws as WA attorney-general.

Now he is the Commonwealth AG, what is he doing about the unapplied recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody?

We’re just asking out of interest.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 6, 2020 as "Gadfly: That Cory old chestnut".

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

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