Diary

Gadfly
A sorry slate of affairs

Like flies they drop, as quickly as their pants.

In recent days, it has been Hugh (Percy) Marks, the Nine Entertainment panjandrum, and Carl Lentz. Yes, Lentz, the “celebrity pastor” dishing out blessings for Brian Houston at the New York branch of the Hillsong business.

Carl, who strayed from the paths of righteousness with someone other than Mrs Lentz, has been defrocked by Brian. For good measure, Mrs Lentz’s pastoral duties at the New York office were also terminated.

Houston is Schmo’s spiritual linchpin, so much so the PM unsuccessfully tried to get the gospel adviser into the White House for last year’s Trump–Morrison schmooze fest.

Lentz, who had been helping Justin Bieber to read the Bible, was described by a parishioner as “a total used-car salesman type of guy”. Lentz cleansed himself with an admission: “I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life, and held accountable for that.”

Following the Lentz lapse, Brian now wants to steam clean his New York business operations with an “in-depth review and investigation into all concerns and any wider cultural issues”.

“We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning. The best is yet to come.”

Other issues are also overdue for an in-depth review, such as Brian’s father, Frank, and the hush-hush from Hillsong about Houston snr’s abuse of minors.

In the meantime, Brian says, “God will use Carl in another way outside of Hillsong church.”

Over at Nine, everyone knew Marks was in trouble the moment this PR headline appeared last Saturday in The Sydney Morning Herald: “Marks hits sweet spot in professional and private lives”.

Meanwhile, God has told Schmo to give immunity to The Christian Porter and The Tudge for their wickedness. As the playwright David Hare put it, “Disgrace is no longer a real thing for politicians; they just brazen everything out.”

Hare’s breadth

David Hare comes to mind because the ABC is showing Roadkill – his four-part political drama/thriller/satire/horror-story.

The star is the libertarian Conservative Party secretary of state for Justice, Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), and the series’ opening rings a familiar note – a politician lying his way through a libel case against a newspaper.

The minister’s “professional and private” life is by degrees unravelling, or so it seems. It’s only his chutzpah, audacity and overweening sense of self that keep him plugging ahead.

As a crisp review in the New Statesman puts it: “Laurence himself has no values other than money, sex and the private sector.”

We know the type.

There are a few memorable lines that struck home for Gadfly. Laurence gives his senior adviser a politician’s view of fairness, rights and freedoms: “Justice is not a notion ... it’s a department of state, and a badly run one at that.”

When it comes to internal Conservative Party plots to unstitch the prime minister, played by Helen McCrory, and with Laurence’s own eye on No. 10, he’s advised by the chairman of the party, “All prime ministers are stopgaps.”

Something prime ministers should keep in mind.

Courting trouble

The Brits woke up on Monday to a plan by the psychiatrically troubled edge of the Tory Party to eviscerate the country’s Supreme Court.

The court was accused by Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the house of commons, of staging a “constitutional coup” when it ruled that the government could not prorogue parliament to prevent it from having a debate on Brexit.

Accusations of “judicial activism” rang through the halls of Westminster. What is now proposed is that “specialist judges” be hand-selected by Boris and co to sit on sensitive cases. It would be a kind of “upper court of appeal” for what was supposed to be the final court of appeal. In other words, find the judges who will give the government the decisions it wants.

The idea was first floated by the Policy Exchange – London’s version of our own Institute for Paid Advocacy – which is chaired by The Knee, aka Fishnets (Bunter) Downer.

The Mad Monk and Bookshelves Brandis are among the adornments who have delivered orations to the PE.

The exchange and the Tories must have looked further east, to Poland, for inspiration on how to defenestrate the judiciary. On home turf, the IPA is pushing for an uber-right selection committee to fine-tune federal judicial appointments.

Where’s The Tamil’s Rule of Law club when we need it?

You’d have thought the Tories and their fellow travellers would have enjoyed the courts dishing out lashings of constitutional rectitude – something like getting a good spanking from Nanny.

Paper trails

The 7.30 show on the ABC put together a snappy piece for Tuesday night about Lord Moloch and the call for a royal commission into the ancient mogul’s love of power and money.

It starred Kevin Rudd and his beard, along with Malcolm Trumble, former New South Wales politician Pru Goward and Kimbo Williams, a former Murdoch satrap.

By the way, Lucie Morris-Marr in her book Fallen reminds us that Rupert in 1998 got a knighthood from Pope John Paul II – a gong only awarded to those with an “unblemished character”.

Rudd, who these days bears a disturbing resemblance to a garden gnome, and Trumble were calling for a royal commission to “ensure the strength and diversity of Australian news media”. Instead we’ve ended up with the senate committee on environment and communications holding the baby and the bathwater.

Goward said a few weird things, including that looking at media diversity was a “pretty secondary issue” and the problem with the Smellograph was not so much its “philosophy” but its reach.

The increasingly owlish Williams was not much more on point, saying that a royal commission that suggests governments “guide editorial outcomes” would be “absurd”.

Kimbo and others can relax. The senate committee is not looking at guiding editorial outcomes. The terms of reference say it is to inquire into the accessibility of reliable and independent news, the effect of media concentration on democracy, changes to media business models, the impact of Google, Facebook and Twitter, the role of the Australian Associated Press and government support. All the usual stuff.

It will probably include the role of Sky News, which is Uncle Rupe’s Down Under version of Fox News, christened by Elizabeth Warren as “the hate-for-profit machine”.

Williams, the former chief executive of News Corp, ended on a calming note:

“I find it always difficult when people want to reduce these arguments to being about individuals as if these individuals have an entire workforce who are marionettes in their hands. Patently, that’s a ridiculously extravagant kind of notion of the way in which the media operates.”

That’s comforting to know.

Gas trick pains

Tony Wood and Guy Dundas, two of the country’s top energy boffins, have laid out their sobering thoughts about gas in a new report from the Grattan Institute, “Flame out: the future of natural gas”.

After urging from Nev Power, Andrew Liveris and the brains trust at the National Covid-19 Commission, natural gas was leapt upon by Schmo and Grassgate Gussy Taylor as their get-out-of-coal card.

Except that natural gas is a fossil fuel and won’t do anything to help us with our emissions, the reduction of which has gone from a canter to a limp.

In what must be disagreeable news for Schmo and co, Wood and Dundas say that gas doesn’t have a future, or if it does it is an entirely limited one.

Again, a combination of economics and environmental imperatives lies behind its inexorable decline.

In the east of Australia, most of the low-cost gas already has been burned. So, contrary to what Gassy Taylor says, we won’t be seeing low energy prices from that source. In fact, it will become more expensive.

The blindingly logical way ahead is with renewables-based electricity and renewables-based hydrogen.

Except that furniture salesman Craig Kelly, MP, who does most of the government’s important thinking, won’t have a bar of it. This is so, even as disturbing rumours swirl that the locals are rallying to toss the hydroxychloroquine enthusiast from his padded seat and send him back to selling filing cabinets.

There is possibly a limited role for gas when the sun is not blowing, and the wind is not shining, and the batteries have gone flat.

Wood and Dundas also contend that gas does not stack up as a “transition fuel” – another of Grassgate’s pet lines. It would be more expensive to replace retiring coal-fired power stations with gas, and if Craig and his pals in the Nasty Party took us down that path the taxpayer subsidies would be eye-watering.

Will this cause the minister for Energy to have doubts about his misleading emissions? Probably not. After all, he’s the man who knew immediately that information peddled by his office to the Smellograph about the City of Sydney Council’s travel expenditure was incorrect, misleading and spurious.

Yet it was not until Lord Mayor Clover Moore wrote a formal letter of complaint a month later that Taylor mustered all his courage and corrected the record.

Brilliant. Fantastic. Great move. Well done, Angus. 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2020 as "Gadfly: A sorry slate of affairs".

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