Diary

Gadfly
The ABC of equality

What is journalism? It’s a question hacks throughout the dry and cracked land ask themselves not infrequently – hoping an answer will arrive.

Fortunately, Gaven Morris, the director of Aunty ABC’s news, analysis and investigations department, gave us a clue in his Tuesday memo to the troops.

“Journalism is fundamentally about describing and explaining our world, and including the broadest range of perspectives and experiences is integral to that.”

No upfront mention of breaking hot stories about government or corporate malfeasance.

Gav goes on to say that younger audiences “consider the diversity of experiences and perspectives as non-negotiable and expect organisations and brands to reflect the reality of the world they inhabit”.

This means there should be gender equality among the people interviewed by journalists. The BBC is doing this with something called the 50:50 challenge and Ita’s media palace should be on track to do the same.

From now on, not only will there have to be a balance of progressive and reactionary views, but also they’ll have to come from a balance of genders.

It might mean less of Gerard Henderson and more of Amanda Vanstone. In which case, it’s a win-lose situation.

Jacko and George

Like Cardinal Pell’s supporters, fans of Michael Jackson are just as angry about a documentary on the paedophile activities of the singer, which premiered at Sundance in January and was broadcast this week in Britain and the United States.

BAFTA-winning filmmaker Dan Reed said: “We tried to make it graphic enough to be eye-opening and for people to be confronted with what it means for a little child to be seduced and raped by an adult paedophile.”

Leaving Neverland deals with the changed testimony of two men who claimed to be victims of Jackson – Wade Robson, when he was between the ages of seven and 14, and James Safechuck, when he was 10 years old.

While Jackson was alive, both denied they had been molested by the strange pop idol. That changed when they had children of their own and began to understand the vulnerability of young people.

Odd as it may seem, Jackson and Pell are in the same line of business – throwing stardust in people’s eyes – and both have a cult-like following among believers, who know by osmosis they are innocent.

In Pell’s case, his cult expresses astonishment at the child sexual assault verdict, doesn’t believe the evidence even though they have no direct knowledge of it, and continue to hold him in the highest regard. In Jackson’s they hurl abuse at his victims.

When other citizens are found guilty by juries the process is generally respected, even though for legal reasons an appeal court may acquit or order a new trial.

Jackson is dead, but for Pell the search goes on until he finds a court that comes to its senses and finds him not guilty.

Men in high places

A Shorten government is going to sift through the lists of people the Coalition has appointed to snout-in-trough jobs.

Ambassadors, high commissioners, consuls and even bloated quasi-judicial appointments will be analysed with a view to seeing who can be prised off the public teat.

Two obvious contenders are the Nasty Party placements in London and Washington.

Gorgeous George Brandis seems to have a relaxed schedule at the high commission judging by his Twitter account. The last time he alerted the world to doing anything was in January when he appeared at the Britain–Australia Society to make a speech about the “extraordinary life of Lord Carrington”.

No doubt there are wreath-laying ceremonies, entertainment for visiting ministers from the Nasty Party and organising birthday celebrations for special young Australians studying in Britain.

Ambassador Joe Hockey has had an equally frantic schedule, which included a trip to Alabama to present a statuette to a local congressman. No doubt much time was spent distancing himself from the suggestion that he was doing favours for a Liberal Party bagman’s travel business in which he is a significant investor.

As we know from his earlier defamation case against Fairfax, Hockey is not for sale.

One of Gadfly’s field agents reports that the Waverley Library at Bondi Junction has put the Hockey biography by Madonna King in the remaindered bin. It can be yours for a gold coin, but so far no one has been tempted.

Stacks from the hill

Government appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal also present a fertile area of shearing and crutching. It is the most shameless political stack in recent memory.

More than 40 per cent of the appointments to the tribunal announced last month by The Christian Porter have direct connections to the Coalition.

Some have little or no administrative experience and no background in the law at all. The selection process, it seems, doesn’t appear to require a committee of experts to review applications. For the privilege they can vacuum up salaries of between $250,000 and $400,000 a year, depending on their place in the pecking order.

Of course, there are no questions about the illustrious John Pascoe, former chief justice of the Family Court. Pascoe joined the ranks of the AAT with a gig as a full-time deputy president, along with some outriders from his days at the Federal Circuit Court.

During his 14 years on the federal bench, Pascoe averaged writing four judgements a year.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Tears throughout the sceptred isle were shed at news of the death of Marcia Williams, aka Lady Falkender, aka Lady Forkbender.

She was Harold Wilson’s political secretary, famous for writing the PM’s notorious resignation honours list, conveniently dubbing with a peerage the fellow who arranged for her sons to attend private schools and a knighthood for the property developer who found her a London mews house.

The list was written on lavender-coloured notepaper and formed the basis of the BBC drama The Lavender List written by Francis Wheen, which resulted in her suing the Beeb and receiving a £75,000 settlement.

Lady Forkbender’s role in compiling the honours list not long before Wilson resigned was confirmed by the PM’s press secretary Joe Haines in his book The Politics of Power. The list included people described as “adventurous business gentlemen”.

The BBC also apologised for the suggestion that Forkbender had an affair with the PM, even though Haines revealed that she had told the PM’s wife, Mary, “I went to bed with your husband six times in 1956 and it wasn’t satisfactory.”

Schmo business

Retirees were unamused to read in this space a fortnight ago how former treasurer Schmo Morrison, in 2015, scrapped the special income discount for superannuated public servants, resulting in a couple of hundred thousand souls losing their Commonwealth pensions.

This doesn’t sit so neatly with the PM’s current campaign to boost his stocks with retirees by persisting with the bottomless pit of franking credits.

Schmo’s sterling achievement as the pensioner’s friend knows no limits. In 2014, as social security minister, he reduced the aged pension assets test, thereby cutting eligibility for 91,000 part-pensioners and reducing the part-pension for another 235,000.

He also increased the threshold for the full pensioners thereby in total wiping $2.4 billion from the pockets of the frail, elderly and retired.

This is not something advertised by the Wilson & Wilson Travelling Circus.

The spies within

Jack Waterford, the former editor of The Canberra Times, has provided useful calculations, estimating there are about 11,000 people who comprise Australia’s “spookdom”.

There are six, maybe seven, agencies that are described as “The Community”: the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Assessments.

Waterford goes on to say that the “community” also informally includes Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC, the National Intelligence Coordination Committee, the National Intelligence Collection Management Committee, the cyber security centre etc.

Much of this is under the tender wing of Minister Benito Dutton.

Then there are other departments that claim to have a role in co-ordinating strategy and policy on national security and terrorism, such as Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence.

“I think there are about 7000 women and men inside the Australian Intelligence Community as narrowly defined,” wrote Waterford last month, “perhaps another 4000 in the wider security community, such as the federal police.”

Then there would be at least another thousand or so in the federal bureaucracy “supping at the national security trough”.

The old editor says the usual cry is who will guard the guardians, but, just as importantly, who will co-ordinate the co-ordinators.

 

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

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