Diary

Gadfly
Howard makes his points

There they were, Little Winston Howard and Fabulous Phil Ruddock, like two grizzled Muppets at the Liberal Party’s party at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth hotel on Saturday night.

Howard has engaged Pig Iron Bob’s personal groomer to try to train his eyebrows to levels of imperial magnificence. On Pig Iron, the tufts looked impressive. On Winston they resemble small furry bush insects that have fallen asleep on his face.

The former PM was doddering around the party clutching a warm glass of wine, back slapping and schmoozing in his awkward way. Howard has developed this strange technique of engaging people by pointing at them with the forefingers of both hands. A twin-pronged hex. He did it to Aunty Gladys at her election campaign launch and there he was again at the victory party with the double-fingered jab-jab. It’s like being hit with the two-holed spider bite.

Moderate losses

The NSW Gladys Coalition lost four seats at the election and the Liberal vote fell nearly 3 per cent. A magnificent victory, as all agree.

Labor picked up two seats while the Nationals lost another two to the Shooters & Rooters, who are plundering the cabbage patches of Cockies Corner with swings of up to 28 per cent.

The Liberal Party lost Coogee, held until now by a moderate sensible Liberal, Bruce Notley-Smith. He was enthusiastically supported in the campaign by ousted prime minister Malcolm Trumble. And they say this is a win for moderate Liberals.

Twenty-five to life

Over in the federal electorate of Warringah, the campaign to oust the sitting member marked a memorable occasion. Twenty-five years ago on Tuesday the Mad Monk entered federal parliament, and ever since he has sought to drag a relatively civilised nation into a carbon-driven furnace, while attacking and defunding institutions that are in any way worthwhile.

His zealotry has been accompanied by dishing out bizarre knighthoods, munching raw onions and infusing everything with the saintly aroma of Cardinal Pell.

To mark the occasion, there was a jolly party on Tuesday outside Abbott’s office in Sydney Road, Manly, accompanied by a giant frosted cake inscribed with “Happy Retirement Tony. 25 years of Wrecking”.

In the state seat of Manly there was an 11.4 per cent swing to the Greens and in neighbouring North Shore the Liberals lost 10 per cent to an independent. Both seats form the heart of the federal electorate of Warringah.

Uncle Rupe’s Manly Daily has been trying hard to muster enough pro-Abbott letters to the editor, such as one earlier this month that told the citizens of Warringah they have a “very good person in the seat already. A good Christian family man, a Rhodes scholar, former prime minister with greater experience, a volunteer firefighter, surf lifesaver ...” etc etc.

Oddly, the Monk’s electorate office is not at street level. It’s safely tucked away several floors up, accessible by a small lift – beyond the reach of the braying masses.

Stinger stung

The Monk, of course, had his fingerprints on an escapade by gun-toting James Ashby back when the young operative was on the staff of Peter Slipper, the former Liberal who became speaker of the house of representatives at the invitation of the minority Labor government.

Ashby accused Slipper of wanting to slip him one. He brought a court case against the speaker and the Commonwealth, while the delightful Mal Brough was in the wings hoping for an outcome that would see him take Slipper’s seat of Fisher.

The case was thrown out in the Federal Court at first instance, with Justice Steven Rares saying it was an abuse of process. The full court reversed that decision but made no findings about the truth of Ashby’s allegations. That was to be determined at a trial, which never went ahead because Ashby withdrew his claim.

Abbott insisted he knew nothing about Ashby’s claim before it was lodged, or of the staffer’s late-night plotting with Poodles Pyne, or the legwork by his favourite newspaper. Abbott sent out a press release calling for Slipper’s resignation the moment a story appeared on the front page of The Daily Smellograph about Ashby’s court case. The synchronicity was impressive.

A couple of years later Ashby told Channel Nine’s 60 Junkets that Poodles was briefed in advance about the Slipper sting and that he promised lawyers and a political job for Ashby.

Now Ashby has been stung by Al Jazeera and TV producer Peter Charley, a man with a nose for a good story.

Someone might one day write a book explaining how flotsam floats to the surface and why the nation is beset by so many horrors from Queensland.

The last of the Lucio long lunchers

On Tuesday a table of superannuated hacks were spotted having a fine old lunch at Italian noshery Lucio’s in Sydney’s Paddington.

Porcine Piers Akerman, John Harto Hartigan, Mark Day and the redoubtable sink-man Col Allan were munching away among paintings by Olsen, Coburn, Storrier, Johnson, Beard, Cress, Zofrea, Sharp, Shead and Lanceley.

It was the desiccated remnants of Rupe’s local Praetorian Guard marking Moloch’s own extraction from the helmsmanship of his vast empire. They huddled together for a long slow afternoon while the rest of the world rushed on.

Akerman waddled out before the bill arrived.

Rush to judgement

Judgement in the Geoffrey Rush defamation case comes down on April 11 in the Federal Court.

He sued over a Daily Smello report that said the Sydney Theatre Company had received a complaint Rush behaved inappropriately during a production of King Lear in 2015-16.

The newspaper pleaded the truth defence. Eryn Jean Norvill emerged as the complainant and she gave evidence that Rush subjected her to lewd gestures, unwanted physical contact, inappropriate comments, bulging of eyes and smacking of lips, provocative text messages and touching her breast – among other things.

Rush’s lawyers contended she was lying, although why she would go to the trouble and immense personal trauma of doing so for the pleasure of being attacked at length in the witness box was never explained.

The trial judge, Justice Michael Wigney, seemed puzzled by aspects of the defence’s case. He thought it “bizarre” Rush would do anything for his sexual gratification that might undermine the emotional intensity of his performance.

After the trial concluded, actor Yael Stone told The New York Times and later the ABC she was subjected to what Rush describes as his “spirited enthusiasm” – dancing naked in front of her “with his penis out”, spying on her in the shower and sending escalating, sexually provocative texts.

Stone had performed as the Finnish maid Tuovi to Rush’s Poprishchin in Nikolai Gogol’s The Diary of a Madman, but by the end of the season she had “never hated acting so much … I couldn’t wait for the show to be over”.

Court watchers are expecting aspects of the judgement on April 11 to be quite surreal.

Raising the Barr

Forty-eight hours after the Mueller report was handed to the Department of Justice, United States attorney-general William Barr was out of the blocks with a “summary” of the findings.

Trump was so delighted with the summary that he declared “... total EXONERATION!” There’s always an exclamation mark when the Pussy Grabber gets excited.

Mueller did not find there was a conspiracy with the Russian government to fix the 2016 election. However, he left open the question of whether the president had obstructed justice.

That was for Attorney-General Barr to decide. It seems as though Trump has the right decider in place – the fat and faithful Republican attorney-general has decided in brisk time the Grabber was not an obstructer.

He claims Trump did not obstruct justice when he fired the FBI director James Comey – yet no one can be sure if this is so without reading the report.

Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal drafted the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed. He says the regulations were written to provide the public with confidence that justice was done, but to do that the public needs to actually see the findings.

In the past, Barr has come up with various bits of law to justify that the president is the law and beyond the law.

Katyal writes: “No one wants a president to be guilty of obstruction of justice. The only thing worse than that is a guilty president who goes without punishment. The Barr letter raises the spectre that we are living in such times.”

It’s a case of Barr-Barr, yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 30, 2019 as "Howard makes his points". Subscribe here.

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