Diary

Gadfly
Bill’s joint adventure

So good to see the Shortens among the shorthorns, baby goats and bottled preserves at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

But it was on the Central Coast where the leader of the opposition made a lasting impression while participating with a whole pile of little kids in a “slip, slop, slap” awareness moment.

Gadfly has been unable to get out of his mind Shorten’s eccentric use of his knuckles in applying sunscreen to his face.

I suspect there’s a lot we don’t know about this man but the sunscreen incident was a valuable insight.

Anyone who finds knuckles an effective way to apply creams and unguents deserves kindness and understanding.

Board games

The Human Toilet Brush has been in a frantic state in the lead-up to the election, dishing out a huge pile of jobs on various government arts boards under his auspices: the National Gallery of Australia, Australian Maritime Museum, Classification Board, National Library, Old Parliament House, Australia Council, the National Museum and Creative Partnerships Australia.

The National Film and Sound Archive was fortunate to have Ewen Jones appointed to its board the day before the caretaker government period officially started.

Ewen was the former LNP member for the Queensland seat of Herbert, which he lost at the last election by 60 votes. By all appearances, Ewen has spent quite a bit of time since grazing in the top paddock.

An auctioneer and real estate agent by trade, the joke among the archive people is that Ewen will be able to flog off duplicate copies of the archive’s collection.

He replaces another Falstaffian, Paul Neville, an ex-Nat MP for the seat of Hinkler. At least Paul had some background in the film business, as a former manager of the Bundaberg cinema. Sadly he died in January this year, so there was a ready vacancy that the Toilet Brush needed to fill before the shutters came down on April 11.

Ewen takes his seat on the board alongside Fiona Scott, the former Liberal MP for Lindsay, which she lost at the last election. Tony Abbott described her as a “good sort”.

All this from a government that has no new initiatives or ideas for the yarts.

Bernard’s bugbears

The O’Regan Arts and Cultural Common Theatre at the Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney was brimful last Saturday for the launch of Professor Clinton Fernandes’s book Island Off the Coast of Asia.

It’s an alternative history of Australian foreign policy with special emphasis on how corporations define our “national interest” and influence foreign policy. Woodside and Fishnets Downer immediately spring to mind.

There was rapt attention as lawyer and former ACT attorney-general Bernard Collaery launched the book. Bernard faces charges of conspiracy relating to alleged violations of the Intelligence Services Act over information received by journalists about the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet office by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

A former ASIS officer known as “Witness K” is the co-defendant in this nasty prosecution, egged on by the attorney-general Christian Porter.

The O’Regan Arts and Cultural Common Theatre was seething with indignation about the whole ghastly abuse of the law. Collaery and K have the status of terrorists and are not allowed to see the brief of evidence, even though the summons was issued in May 2018.

The government wants a Soviet-style secret trial and a Canberra magistrate is yet to decide on that. Collaery said if there is an open trial, there won’t be a trial. The last thing the government wants is for K’s evidence about the Timor-Leste bugging operation to be made public.

Former diplomat Richard Broinowski told the gathering he knew David Irvine, the head of ASIS at the time of the bugging, from his Foreign Affairs days. He asked the old spy whether he had read Clinton Fernandes’s book.

“No, and I don’t intend to,” came Irvine’s reply.

That should be used as an endorsement on the front cover.

Appointee scrutiny

There is controversy about two members of the $500 million Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Six commissioners have been appointed, led by acting justice Ronnie Sackville, but Linda Burney, the shadow minister for disability, says if Labor wins the election the appointments of commissioners John Ryan and Barbara Bennett will be reviewed.

While no doubt fine people in their own way, disability groups say these commissioners should stand down on the basis of perceived conflicts of interest.

Ryan is a former Liberal member of the New South Wales parliament who became a public servant with oversight of residential programs for the disabled. Bennett worked for the Department of Social Services, where she managed the rollout of the cashless debit card trial.

There is a precedent for royal commission appointees standing down in the face of controversy. On the eve of the 1976 NSW election, the outgoing Liberal government was finally forced to set up a royal commission into NSW prisons – in the wake of the Bathurst Gaol riot.

There were three royal commissioners: Mr Justice John Nagle of the Supreme Court; Sir Leon Radzinowicz, a conservative criminologist, and Sir Harold Dickinson, retired head of the NSW Public Service Board.

The civil liberties people thought Radzinowicz and Dickinson had been put there to keep an eye on the interests of the outgoing government and dampen Nagle’s reformist tendencies. Lawyer Tom Kelly went to see the new deputy premier, Jack Ferguson, a former committee member of the Council for Civil Liberties, and had no trouble persuading him to sack Radzinowicz and Dickinson.

The “resignations” were presented as a “cost-saving” measure, particularly as the government would be flying Radzinowicz back and forward from London.

Two years later Nagle brought down a fine report that dragged NSW prisons from the 18th to somewhere approximating the 20th century.

Ay, there’s the Rob

Is there no limit to the self-serving audacity of the Murdochs and their indentured princelings?

Gadfly was choking over his tea and kippers reading reports of the biennial Keith Murdoch Oration on Tuesday evening by Uncle Rupe’s chief copy boy at News Corp, Robert Thomson.

Thomson was agitated by the 20,000-word New York Times investigation into the Murdochs, which he described as a “rancid hatchet job”.

In truth, it was a careful six-month-long investigation across multiple countries with countless interviews – the sort of thoughtful journalism consistently missing from Thommo’s rags.

With a total absence of irony, that can only have been acquired by spending too long in the United States, the head of News Corp went on to complain about The NYT’s “muck-spreading in which facts were incidental, if not accidental, and the journalistic jaundice and corporate self-interest were fundamental”.

Dear oh me, where’s Matthew 7:5 on hypocrisy when you need it? Casting out beams from eyes and so forth.

The wider organisation that Thomson so faithfully serves has a gold-plated record when it comes to illegally hacking into people’s private lives, its stars sexually harassing those lower down the pecking order, its TV outlets pimping for a corrupt and venal president and its newspapers turned into partisan billboards for politicians ready to do its bidding. To cap it off, News Corp wants Google broken up because it is too big and powerful.

In New York, the play Ink opens on April 24. It’s a Rupert Goold production from the Almeida Theatre in London and looks at how the Dirty Digger got his start in the newspaper business and his takeover of The Sun, which, according to The New Yorker, he injected with “tabloid juju”.

The play has been partly financed by the Roy Cockrum Foundation, run by a former Episcopal monk who won a $153 million Powerball jackpot in 2014.

We can’t wait for Thommo’s review of the play.

Hotel hits false note

Word on the Rialto is that Opera Australia is planning a fundraising event in London this July. One source said an initial suggestion was that the Dorchester in Mayfair would be a suitable venue for the knees-up. It is owned by the Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace.

According to OA’s PR operatives, the Dorchester is not now in contemplation, but a venue has yet to be confirmed.

Previous fundraisers by OA have involved the Dorchester, including a 2017 live auction with a prize of three nights’ accommodation at the grand pub. This was, of course, before the hotel’s owners wanted to stone guests to death in their beds for adultery, homosexuality and any combination of the two.

The hotel is now the target of protesters who book in for afternoon tea only to produce bullhorns and banners to monster guests who have ignored the boycott.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 20, 2019 as "Gadfly: Bill's joint adventure". Subscribe here.

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