Diary

Gadfly
Justice married

In a week of political panic stations it was touching to see news of Michael Kirby’s marriage to Johan van Vloten, 50 years after their first meeting on Tuesday, February 11, 1969, at the Bottoms Up Bar of the Rex Hotel in Kings Cross.

Wearing cream corduroy trousers and a thick orange sweater in the height of summer, Kirby mistook Johan for a German, and so began their relationship by asking what the Dutchman thought of the former Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Van Vloten, quite naturally, thought the young man was peculiar. He was no doubt doubly anxious because – in order to engage on the topic of von Ribbentrop – he’d just cut short a conversation with a Qantas pilot and saw the lost prospect of a whole heap of discounted airline tickets.

It’s been onwards ever since, with Kirby’s vaulting career as a lawyer and a judge and Johan moving for a time into the newsagency business. Citizens on the north shore often swore that on Saturday mornings they saw the president of the court of appeal throwing Sydney Morning Heralds onto their front lawns from the back of a Mini Moke.

On AIDS, discrimination, equality and a fair go even if you don’t have a go, Kirby was unbending, which brought him into conflict with some pretty grisly fossils on the bench.

When he was on the High Court he revealed to the law journal Justinian that his greatest fear was retirement. What was his greatest fantasy, he was asked? “A dinner party with Janet Albrechtsen.” For a stimulant he recommended Fox & Friends.

He added that he would like his epitaph to say: “A loving man.”

Wilson fillips

Already you can hear the flotilla of small boats heading our way, packed to the gunwales with refugees. Our borders are vanquished, our constitution in tatters, while dark-skinned people with diseases make off with our women and children.

Stanley Melbourne Morrison, his spats splattered with blood, has brought his argument to the point that it is better for people to die in offshore “processing” centres without proper emergency medical attention, rather than at sea on unsafe boats.

This is an interesting shift in Nasty Party policy, but at least refugees of poor character or criminals, even when wretchedly ill, can’t get here for treatment. Drug tsar Tony Mokbel must be relieved he’s not a refugee on Manus, otherwise he’d be without a blood transfusion and repairs to his knife wounds in a Melbourne hospital.

Meanwhile, the Wilson & Wilson Travelling Circus brings out all the ethical finery for which Schmo and his regime are justly renowned. Wilson MP has the job of assessing franking credit submissions that he helped write. He’s been so busy doing that he forgot to tell people who signed his petition he might be sending their names and details to Money Bags Wilson for marketing fodder.

His circus is adorned by Craig Kelly, sitting there with a face like a dropped pie.

Freedom Boy is stamping the Commonwealth crest on a privately funded “retirement tax” website, in the same manner he’s been badging up the Australian flag with the Liberal Party logo.

Wilson MP is no stranger to conflicts. He was plucked from the cloaca of the Institute for Paid Advocacy by an admiring George Brandis and put on the taxpayers’ teat as the Human Rights Commissioner, where his nethers got painfully chaffed while he advocated for human rights while at the same time opposing key provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Henderson kids

The week also saw some haunting moments of hypocrisy. Citizens must have been smitten by Sarah Henderson (Lib. Vic) on the ABC’s Q&A show where Ellie Shakiba, a refugee held on Nauru, also made an appearance by Skype.

Shakiba said she can’t be happy while “I am watching people who are dying.” Many refugees have been rejected by America so “they have to live with no future and no hope”.

Henderson contributed her fair share of misinformation to the discussion and was adamant there was no need for this medivac legislation.

At least Shakiba has been selected for a new life in the United States, and as Tony Jones thanked her for her contribution Henderson piped up, “Good luck, Ellie, good luck.”

“Good luck” is a bit rich coming from a member of a government who had taken away her luck for five years while she was banged up in a wretched black hole detention camp.

It’s up there with Poodles Pyne’s contribution to this week’s hypocrisy stakes, complaining about “shouty” commentators. On Tuesday, he was in full-on shouty mode and puce in the face about the English Civil War fought to protect the constitution. Was he suggesting a civil war in the wide brown land? Whatever, when the hypocrisy wears thin, throw the switch to hyperbole.

Justifying a spray

Stephen Langford OT (Order of Timor), 60, an untiring refugee rights activist and frequent correspondent to The Saturday Paper letters page, was caught a week or so ago spraying graffiti near Rushcutters Bay, in Sydney’s east.

His message in red paint was “CLOSE THE CAMPS”. He says he’s ashamed of being caught but not much else. He faces court on February 26 and proposes to read to the magistrate the 12 names of people who have died on Manus and Nauru – from Reza Barati to Fariborz Karami.

Outside the court, there will be speeches and political messages. His arrest by the ever-vigilant coppers may result in more of a stir than a modest daubing on a billboard.

In 2016, Langford was charged with a similar offence after he wrote the word “Omid” on the steps of PM Trumble’s electorate office in nearby Edgecliff. It’s still there, on what are now the steps to Kerryn Phelp’s office.

Omid Masoumali was a young asylum seeker detained in Nauru who died after he set himself on fire.

Confidence tricks

While the government had lost the confidence of the house of representatives on substantive legislation, Schmo was having none of it. He still had confidence in himself, which is the main thing.

In 1975 the Whitlam government had the support of the house, but not the support of the Queen’s man, Jolly John Kerr. The Nasty Party thinks it is fine for a government to be sacked when it has the numbers but not sacked when it doesn’t. Where’s the English Civil War when you need it?

If removing the Whitlam government wasn’t constitutionally fraught we now have the Full Federal Court telling us that the billets-doux between Kerr and Betty Battenberg must remain secret, with HM holding an indefinite veto over their release.

It’s none of your business to know the traffic between Yarralumla and Buck House over the plot to sack the government. Two Federal Court judges, chief justice James Allsop and justice Alan Robertson, slaved hard to find reasons why these letters are “private” and not the property of the Commonwealth under the Archives Act, because Kerr was not acting “officially”.

Justice Geoffrey Flick, in the minority, didn’t mince about: “To regard those documents as ‘personal’ property, with great respect to those who hold a contrary view, is a conclusion which cannot be supported.” And here, the judges hadn’t even seen the letters in contention.

This was the appeal brought by historian Jenny Hocking with Bret Walker, SC, acting for her pro bono. In the US courts, President Nixon’s materials and tape-recordings were found to be the property of the people, but the majority of judges here found no comfort in that precedent.

Instead, they grasped the US case that found journals about travels to the Wild West in 1803-05, given to President Jefferson, were actually privately owned by the explorer.

This is a great analogy. Explorers diarising a virgin land in the early 19th century is the support you need to stop the release of correspondence about Australia’s greatest constitutional upset.

Bennett signals right turn for Brexit

Can we sign off this week, not with Trump, but with some enlightenment from the great English writer Alan Bennett, from his diaries published last month in the London Review of Books?

He says Brexit is “nothing to do with economic consequences of the pull-out … but all across Europe the forces of the right are gathering strength. This is so in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Germany and France and even in what one had always thought of as the sensible countries of Europe, Holland and Denmark. They are bringing with them intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, as often as not disguised as common sense.

“With all our shortcomings we are still a liberal society and if there is to be a struggle with the far right our place is alongside the liberal and social democratic parties in Europe. The flight into Brexit is still being presented as courageous. It isn’t. It’s cowardice.”

And there’s plenty of that to be found in our own increasingly illiberal politics.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 16, 2019 as "Gadfly: Justice married". Subscribe here.

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