Diary

Gadfly
Greg expectations

The appointment of a new chair for the ABC is in the wind. Names of the contestants have been handed in a sealed envelope to SloMo and the Human Toilet Brush.

The nomination filtering panel comprises former head of the Treasury and Westpac chairman Ted Evans, PR lady and former TV newsreader Anne Fulwood and company director and lawyer from Queensland Sally Pitkin.

Speculation suggests the final three are Fairfax’s beloved Greg Plywood, Danny Gilbert from law shop Gilbert + Tobin and ex-Murdoch man Kimbo Williams.

Plywood, we know, was in tune with Lord Moloch’s playbook – harping about the free digital news content of the ABC stealing the lunch of newspapers and commercial TV networks. This was not the way competition is supposed to work. (Then, in as weird a cultural alignment as imaginable, he upped and sold the whole Fairfax show to Nine Entertainment.)

All the jumping up and down led to an inquiry into the ABC’s competitive neutrality, which found that everything was neutral.

If Plywood is appointed to chair the ABC, the program-makers and internal bureaucrats would be massively cheesed off, which makes him an attractive choice for a government that abhors Aunty.

Thorny Rose

Michael Rose, the former big cheese from Allens’ lawshop, says he is no longer a contestant for chair of the broadcaster, which is a pity.

In the early 1990s, he was one of the Allens’ solicitors acting for Channel Nine, then owned by Alan Bond – so he has plenty of media experience.

During this time, Queensland industrialist, coal exporter and property developer Sir Les Thiess sued Nine for defamation after A Current Affair claimed he was bribing Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to get government contracts. The case ran for weeks; in fact, for the entire length of the first Iraq war. Nine had a witness the lawyers nicknamed The Scud, because, like the missile of the same name, no one was certain where he was going to land.

It soon became apparent The Scud was not being co-operative and Nine moved to declare him a hostile witness.

Ian (The Tub) Callinan, QC, was Nine’s brief and he asked The Scud in the witness box when he had decided not to give evidence for Nine.

The Scud replied: “When those people from Allens called me a silly old cunt.”

There was a hurried and hushed consultation at the bar table between The Tub and Rose. Callinan then said: “I put it to you they were not the precise words that were used.”

The SloMo show

SloMo was in full Willy Loman salesman pitch as he revelled in his government’s achievement of getting the remaining children off Nauru.

Except they were not off Nauru. As the PM put it in that fudgy way of his: “With the last four children booked to leave for the US, every asylum seeker child will now be off Nauru.”

The other problem with that sentence is the children are not asylum seekers – they have refugee status and have never been “illegal”, as Morrison has insisted.

In 2014, to get some pretty vicious amendments to the Migration Act through the senate as immigration minister, Morrison used the promised removal of children detained on Christmas Island as a bargaining chip to secure votes for the legislation that allowed the government to detain asylum seekers at sea, send them back to places they were fleeing and fling the Refugee Convention in the drink. It was cruelty signalling with extra pike.

The Australian Human Rights Commission in the same year reported Australia held about 800 children in mandatory closed immigration detention, and what a fuss SloMo made about the temerity of the commission to even investigate.

The government’s cruelty gene has not suddenly been overcome by a rush of kindness or morality. It’s down to losing cases in the federal courts, where government lawyers have unsuccessfully fought tooth and nail against bringing critically ill children to Australia for treatment; where it looks like losing a bill to handle offshore medical emergencies on the floor of the house of representatives; and where the mood of the electorate has swung against indefinite offshore detention.

There’s nothing quite like seizing a self-basting moment out of a moral morass.

Not an average Joe

Actually, a kind reader has referred us to the Yiddish word “schmo”. It means a “jerk” or a “foolish, boring or stupid person”, as in Joe Schmo.

It’s a pretty good word and may come in handy one day.

Beach wails

The Cole Classic at Manly: another swim and another appearance by The Mad Monk last Sunday – with an overall place of 1028 out of a field of 1161 in the two-kilometre event.

However, the former PM turned the occasion to some sorely needed politicking, announcing in his budgie smugglers that he would be fighting to replace the Portaloos with permanent toilet capacity at Manly Beach.

It’s a major commitment as he takes on the skiing barrister Zali Steggall, and at a time when the people of Warringah increasingly realise they have a schmo for a local member.

It’s also come to hand that there may be a compassionate reason for the Monk coming 1013 out of 1050 at the recent Palm Beach to Whale Beach swim.

Reportedly, the beach’s public address system was tuned into Triple J and just as competitors amassed on the sand, ready to plunge into the briny, an announcement came over the speakers that Steggall was standing as an independent and that Abbott was not someone “representing who we are and what we stand for”.

The poor fellow was completely off his stroke, but his promise of no surrender in the toilet fightback on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets and in the hills, is bravery in his darkest hour.

It’s all academic

The MUP shemozzle, with the resignation of publisher Louise Adler and half the board, is variously attributed to the university chancellor Allan Myers’ displeasure over the publication of a book about Cardinal Pell and/or a change of direction where the presses should be more closely dedicated to academic works.

Take your pick.

What it does do is rekindle an observation of the English classical scholar and translator F. M. Cornford, who said in 1908: “University printing presses exist … for the purpose of producing books which no one can read; and they are true to their high calling. Books are the sources of material for lectures. They should be kept from the young; for to read books and remember what you read, well enough to reproduce it, is called ‘cramming’, and this is destructive of all true education. The best way to protect the young from books is, first, to make sure that they shall be so dry as to offer no temptation; and, second, to store them in such a way that no one can find them without several years’ training.”

Testes times

Richard Beasley, SC, counsel assisting the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission, this week subjected himself to a gruelling interview on Justinian’s couch.

Among the probing questions, he was asked what would be the last meal he might request if he were on death row.

He replied without hesitation: “Barnaby Joyce’s testicles.”

Lightly fried in butter, garlic and parsley, they could be quite tasty, or not.

Trumpette #102

As signs of the Radge Orange Bampot’s narcissistic personality disorder, his greed, his ignorance of constitutional proprieties accumulate day by day, it is comforting to remind ourselves that he
is not the only person with a loose screw to have occupied the White House.

A study by Duke University Medical Centre reviewed biographical sources for the first 37 presidents (1776-1974). Half are thought to have had a mental illness, and nearly a third of those had the illness while in office.

About 24 per cent of presidents met the diagnostic criteria for depression, including James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge.

According to Psychology Today, depression seemed to ease off about a century ago, which is about the time electricity and indoor plumbing took a hold in modern society.

The team from Duke found evidence that Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson suffered anxiety disorders, including social phobia.

Lyndon Johnson and Theodore Roosevelt were thought to have signs of bipolar disorder. Roosevelt going on a two-year expedition into the Amazon, which three members of his group failed to survive, may have been an indication of that.

There was also plenty of alcohol abuse. Franklin Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver. Grant drunkenly fell off his horse, and Richard Nixon was so “loaded” he couldn’t make a phone call to the British PM. And there was Ronnie Reagan with his dementia.

All pretty normal compared to Nero, Caligula, Pol Pot, Adolf, and any number of nutters who wanted to rule the roost. In fact, so horrible is the nature of a top political post that you need a good strong personality disorder to want the job.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 9, 2019 as "Gadfly: Greg expectations". Subscribe here.

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