Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Think of the children

It is so unlike Melbourne blogger Andrew Bolt to rush in and make ill-informed comments before he knows the facts.

So you can imagine my surprise last week to receive an email from the great southern sage blasting your Gadfly before he knew what was to be published on Saturday.

In checking our story about the arrival of young James Bolt at the Institute of Paid Advocacy, we had put a penetrating question to the IPA’s director of development and communications, James “No Comment” Paterson: “Is James Bolt the son of Andrew Bolt?”

“No comment,” said Patso. We explained that we were not looking for a comment, just a yes or no to the question.

The IPA is as cagey about the sources of its staff as it is about the sources of its revenue.

Anyway, Andrew, always keen to please, rushed in with the answer after Patso tipped him off that we were checking facts. “So this is how low you and The Saturday Paper have fallen – to hunt through Melbourne for my son because you want to hurt his father. You really are beneath contempt.”

It wasn’t much of a hunt through Melbourne, when young James has his photo – looking every inch a baby Bolt – job description and recent article all clearly ensconced on the IPA’s glittering website. 

Sally Morrell (aka Mrs Bolt) also came out of the blue with an email to proprietor Morry Schwartz, asking: “Could you please ask your colleague not to drag my son into the public spotlight?” Young James is 20, she argued. “He is sensitive and does not deserve the kind of vicious attacks that are sure to follow such a public outing.”

When Schwartz replied that he left the content of the paper to the editor, he got a good ticking-off from Ms Morrell: “I will consider you personally responsible for the consequences that will inevitably result from the publication of my son’s name and employment.”

Maybe she had forgotten that it was the transparency devotees at the IPA who had flagged James’s arrival at the “think” tank. What we did in last week’s column was to point out what was already on the record. Silly us. We should have known that it was off limits to mention where Bolt offspring have secured employment.

I mean, how on earth could we compete with the sort of fetid smears that Bolt has dished out to people, such as writer and poet Alison Croggon, for having the temerity to be awarded grants from the Australia Council. In the process, he made a passing swipe at her visual artist daughter Zoe, who was also the recipient of an OzCo grant.

As Ms Morrell thoughtfully pointed out in her email to the proprietor of this newspaper: “Surely children should be off limits.” (Except those with Australia Council grants.)

1 . Circus Oz

Citizens are hoarse after lining the streets and cheering the limos carting News Corp hacks and other claqueurs to the giant feast celebrating the 50th birthday of The Australian.

The build-up to this mega event had been excitement itself, with the newspaper carrying interviews with the proprietor extolling the virtues of his dutiful mouthpiece; stories about Dick Smith climbing a rock in the year the paper was first published; and a couple who were born on that memorable day reunited at Uluru.

There was even a feature about the chefs preparing the banquet: native marron, coastal greens, takuan pickles, seaweed; roast lamb; and quince, truffled honey and gold-leaf macadamias.

The speeches were plentiful and some of the well-lubed hacks appeared glazed by the time the quinces arrived. ABC News 24 saw it as its mission to broadcast some of the speeches to a spellbound audience, and the populace nodded in agreement as they heard Tony Abbott insist that News Corp papers were not “ciphers for Rupert Murdoch”.

Proud editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell gleamed like a burst sav.

Those who didn’t make the cut to the Hordern Pavilion have to wait until July 26 for a “finger food celebration” at Paddington Town Hall.

Gadfly always hangs on every word uttered by the wizened Sun King when he opines on global affairs, climate change, competitiveness, Australia’s place in the world and windmills.

His remark that Australia could become “the vegetable garden for Asia” struck a note with everyone.

I’m reminded of his fearless hope that the invasion of Iraq would see the price of oil tumble to “$20 a barrel”. Today, it’s sitting about $100 a barrel. Invade again.

2 . Barry Harrumphries

It was the late Max Harris who not even half-jokingly referred to Adelaide as “Florence on the Torrens”. They were the Belle Epoque days of the 1970s for the Croweaters, with Premier Don Dunstan reciting Latin poetry and man-of-letters Geoffrey Dutton shocking the good burghers of the Adelaide Club with his republican ruminations.

Now Yarts Minister Sir Les Patterson’s alter ego, Barry Humphries, has banned the f-word from the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, where he is incoming director.

“I have found, without wanting to sound prudish, that too many young comedians – many of great brilliance – still resort to the f-word to get a laugh,” Humphries told Rupe’s local tissue, the Adelaide Advertiser.

Enterprising hacks down at the ’Tiser assembled a laundry list of rarely sighted comedians to bleat about Bazza’s f-ban, but his point about cheap, f-bomb-generated laughs has a certain counterintuitive ring to it.

As the late, much lamented, Norm Everage once put it, jokes “should not be too blue on account of the womenfolk”.

Those on a fuck-free crusade should prepare themselves for the cabaret, which kicks off on June 5 next year.

3 . Furnival hangover

I can’t wash Alastair Furnival out of what’s left of my hair.

Mike Seccombe had a piece in The Saturday Paper about his unique contribution to the health of the nation with his insider role in scrapping the online rating system for packaged food.

Furnival had his feet and fingers everywhere – inside the assistant health minister’s office and also as a shareholder in a lobbying business for the obesity sector. One of his businesses had previously done PR for the grog purveyors.

Alastair has now been sent out to graze full-time in lobby-land and it’s been reported that the food ratings website is scheduled to get back up and running.

But what of the funding to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia? In November 2013 members of the ADCA board were told in a meeting with Furnival that funding was to be axed, even though it had been assured through to the end of the 2014-15 financial year.

As council president Mal Washer said, Furnival provided no reason for the funding cut, except for: “We don’t have enough money and have a nice day.”

People have been digging trying to find out more about this unexplained drink- and drug-friendly initiative.

Tony Brown, the lawyer who lobbied to reduce pubs’ trading hours in Newcastle, lodged a freedom-of-information request for information relating to the ADCA wind-up.

He asked for correspondence to the government from the liquor industry, briefing notes, departmental advice, Furnival’s report back to the minister, and so on.

The process identified more than 200 documents of relevance, but Brown was denied access to all but one on the grounds that their release would damage the relationship between the executive and the department of health.

The one redacted document released was worthless.

Furnival’s wife and business partner, Tracey Cain, has posted a rallying cry on her website about this sorry state of affairs: “It would be disappointing if we had reached a point where people were disqualified from public service as a result of expertise that they, or for that matter, their wives, had gained in the private sector.”


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 18, 2014 as "Gadfly: Think of the children".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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