Diary

Gadfly
Not beyond regional doubt

Already the leaflets from people chasing votes are flooding into citizens’ inboxes. Former Labor man Warren Mundine, now the Liberal Party pea for Gilmore, is up and at it. His email to electors claimed: “I’ve spent my entire life in regional Australia, helping to create jobs and build communities. I’ll fight for you and stand up for our region’s needs.”

Former NSW magistrate Chris Bone in Kiama was one of the lucky recipients of Warren’s entreaty and he just happened to have on his bedside table the Liberal candidate’s autobiography, Warren Mundine in Black and White.

He checked and, yes, the book mentions that Warren lived variously at Auburn, Cabramatta, Darling Point, Haberfield and Lidcombe – which presents an interesting new twist on the notion of “regional Australia”.

Darling Point, for instance, is at least four kilometres from Sydney’s CBD. Several possibilities arise: Warren’s email is wrong, his book is wrong, rural and regional Australia is creeping in on the inner city, or the pledge to fight for Gilmore is a joke because the email campaign was sent on April Fools’ Day.

A story to capture

You have to reach for a slender but impressive volume called A Hundred Miles as the Crow Flies to discover one of the remarkable feats of World War II – the biggest mass escape from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp – at Maribor in northern Slovenia.

Among the 100 or so Allied escapees were a bunch of Australians, including Sergeant Ralph Churches, who had been captured during the campaign on mainland Greece.

This was one great boys’ own story as the escapees, assisted by Slovenian partisans in September 1944, trudged and snuck through rugged and mountainous Yugoslav terrain while being chased by 6000 Germans, before arriving at an airfield controlled by some friendly Slovenes, from where they were safely flown to southern Italy.

The escape was more like 170 miles (275 kilometres), but a British debriefing colonel downplayed the achievement by saying it was only “a hundred miles as the crow flies”.

The Slovenian ambassador in Australia, HE Jurij Rifelj, and the remnants of the Churches family have been pressing the people at the Australian War Memorial to mark the intrepid escape in one of its galleries.

AWM director Brendan Nelson, whom we fondly remember as a Liberal politician with a diamond earring, says it’s all too much. There are space limitations, he explains, even though acres of extra room for war remembrance in a $500 million splurge will eventually be available.

Nothing, it seems, is going to disturb the AWM from its full-on commitment to the tears and misery of the Japanese captives. The triumph of Maribor is not a contender.

Brendan promises to keep a copy of A Hundred Miles as the Crow Flies in the AWM library and there may be some content, possibly, about Churches in a “Great Escapes” digital exhibition.

The fact the great trek was assisted by a bunch of Commies may be why the regime in Canberra wants to put a lid on it. Possibly, MP Tanya Plibersek, the daughter of Slovenian immigrants, can weave some magic.

Saints conserve us

One of the wretched aspects of the journalism craft is the way its practitioners fall so eagerly on the lapses and mistakes of their colleagues.

It’s an unattractive trait, which is why I hesitate to repeat news that Li’l Chris Kenny has made another of his comedic blunders.

However, since this amateur climate scientist is more a propagandist than a journalist, Gadfly has decided to waive his usual rules of restraint.

Scribbling in The Catholic Boys Daily on Monday, in his trademark laborious style, Li’l Chris was on his routine ABC bash.

“Listening to ABC radio recently I was shocked to hear a casual joke and shared laugh from a presenter about a wistful absence of conservatives being murdered – but ‘not through the want of trying or wishing’.”

Hypocrisy, Green–Left outrage. The Li’l One was incandescent that the ABC “sees everything through its ideological prism”. He was so appalled by this “poor taste” he broadcast the same story on his Sky News show.

It was left to the ABC communications people to gently point out that what he was referring to was a light-hearted discussion on Radio National’s Bookshelf program about a murder mystery in a museum where the victims were “conservators”.

Woof, woof.

Address makers

Gadfly’s invitation to the Sir Garfield Barwick Address has arrived and this year the speaker is retired Federal Court judge Roger Gyles, AO QC etc.

Among other career highlights, Roger was the special prosecutor in the bottom-of-the-harbour tax frauds, known in the trade as “wet Slutzkins”, going after companies that employed complex tax avoidance schemes in order to defraud the Commonwealth of funds.

During his time on the High Court, Sir Garfield himself came up with some bold tax interpretations – where profits could be innovatively turned into losses.

Memories of Dysey Heydon’s brush with the Barwick dinner come flooding back. In 2015 Dyse was the royal commissioner inquiring, at the behest of the Abbott-led Liberal government, into the trade union movement and its affiliation with the Labor Party.

A bright person at the Barwick Address Foundation thought Heydon would be the perfect speaker, only for the ACTU to promptly move that he disqualify himself as royal commissioner.

Dyse turned himself inside out as the reasonable hypothetical bystander who had to judge this apprehension of bias in what was supposed to be an Abbott-inspired stitch-up that would sink Bill Shorten forever and a day.

The royal commissioner said he “overlooked” the fact the address was a Liberal Party event and decided that by accepting this speaking invitation he was not biased.

This is despite the fact the “Liberal Party” connection was mentioned 13 times in emails that flowed into Dyse’s computer, and that’s not including the attachments. Those were such fun times.

Rich and haughty

The Government Gazette, aka The Australian, has followed The Australian Financial Review’s lead and gone into the rich-list business.

They even pinched the Financial Review’s “Rich Editor”, John Stensholt, to run the project.

In a massive celebration of income inequality, 250 names were drummed up and packed into an ultra-glossy insert in last weekend’s paper.

On the front cover was the not entirely photogenic cardboard box king Anthony Pratt, wearing socks with his own face on them – a fashion breakthrough that would have confounded even Liberace.

Of the 250 richest, 96 are billionaires. Altogether these citizens roll up about $320 billion worth of wealth.

It’s an orgy of money porn masquerading as success. And someone must be handing out the tax breaks if the latest figures from the ATO are to be believed.

The top 10 per cent of taxpayers are paying the lowest share of tax since 2005-06, while at the same time the number of millionaires avoiding tax continues to increase. Sixty-nine people in the over $1 million-a-year bracket in 2016-17 paid no tax – up from 62 people in 2015-16 and 48 the year before that.

Mark’s theory

The Louise Adler-free Melbourne University Press has just published the latest in its series of Little Books on Big Ideas.

It’s Mark Scott’s On Us – a brisk 124-page sweep about what technology has done for and against us.

Scott ran the ABC for 10 years and is now the head of the NSW Department of Education, one of the largest school systems on the planet – 800,000 students, 60,000 classrooms and 130,000 on the payroll.

He’s a man who loves bright, shiny, new technological things, but in the face of being drowned in the stream has learnt to calm down about what’s the latest.

Scott takes us into his thinking about how to run important and large institutions. His proposed five-year plan at the ABC fell off a cliff because no one could predict what was going to happen next in the media business and it was pointless locking the broadcaster into a fixed regimen of step-by-step developments that could be outdated in a month.

At the Department of Education it is quite different. The plans and priorities that are put in place for students won’t see fruit for years to come.

The department devoted the second half of last year to developing a policy on students having mobile phones at school, where there are classrooms full of eight-year-olds with small devices connected to the internet.

Scott gives some well-proportioned big strokes on what’s happening to journalism, education and the ABC, and how it has all been turned on its head by gleaming hardware and new apps.

He gives us a quoted comparison between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley – Orwell who thought books would be banned by the state and Huxley who feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

As Neil Postman put it: “What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”

You might get the feeling when reading Scott’s slim, pocket-sized book that you are actually viewing it on a mobile phone.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 6, 2019 as "Gadfly: Not beyond regional doubt". Subscribe here.

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