Diary

Gadfly
Candidates with destiny

The election campaign is in full stride and citizens at long last are getting their money’s worth.

Scenes of Pauline in tears over Steve Dickson’s derailment of her plans to turn Australia into a bogan paradise were particularly endearing. This was a terrific performance of a grievance peddler playing the victim. Unfortunately, it’s the distressing but inevitable fallout of her party’s preselection processes, which are carefully designed to get drongos running for parliament.

It’s heartening that the family values National Party is sticking with its One Nation preference deal.

On Aunty’s Q&A show Queensland beefcake candidate Clive Palmer was variously called a “charlatan ... fraud ... and fruitcake”, just the qualities Queenslanders like in their politicians.

At least 19 of the “United” Australia Party candidates have submitted incomplete or puzzling information to the electoral commissioner about their eligibility, and section 44 is in for another workout.

Palmer himself is up against the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in a criminal probe over the collapse of Queensland Nickel and is facing charges related to a takeover of a timeshare resort at Coolum. Nearly half the UAP candidates, some of whom are volunteers from his mining companies, live outside the electorate they want to represent, some thousands of kilometres distant.

A check of the UAP website reveals the scantiest details of policies. The page called “Vision for Australia” is blank – fortunately. However, it is understood that what this senate candidate really wants is for the government to build railways so his minerals can get safely to port.

If it takes $50 million plus to have a man with Palmer’s qualities in parliament, you know you’ve got value for money.

Endorses for courses

In Warringah, electors were tickled pink to get a personal letter from Little Winston endorsing the Mad Monk’s re-election, even if the endorsement was chock-a-block full of the usual tautological inexactitudes – including the old chestnut that the abolition of tax loopholes is an attempt to inflict the nation with “new and unfair taxes”.

“Tony Abbott is the person you should support,” instructed Winston, which is not what he said in September 2015 when he was not opposed to Trumble’s move to topple the Monk. Or again in April 2018 when he said Trumble should remain prime minister, contrary to the plotting and knifing orchestrated by the member for Warringah.

More upsetting still, Sydney writer Sara Dowse revealed in an article for Inside Story that Abbott didn’t even live in the electorate. He was across the border in Mackellar, which used to be held by his former “love” mother, now blood enemy, Bronwyn Bishop.

Little Winston should have said in his endorsement letter: “Vote for the man who lives in the next electorate.”

Mess of the rest

This is not to say the campaign has been devoid of other highlights.

Tasmania’s health and police minister, the Bible-bashing Michael Ferguson, gushed about endorsed Liberal candidates across the Apple Isle:

“We have five ripper candidates across Tasmania. In Bass I think Bridget Archer could be a reality. She is a proven mother, mayor and businesswoman.”

“Proven mother” – that should clinch it.

Benito Dutton’s wife, Mrs Dutton, says the Home Affairs minister is not a “monster” – which is just the sort of endorsement you need from your life partner.

Gus “Watergate” Taylor also got caught up in the excitement of the campaign, leaving a comment on his official Angus Taylor MP Facebook page, congratulating himself for his announcement that there would be more car parking spots in his electorate. “Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus”, he posted from his own account. With every passing day, Gus is proving to be more and more of a silly duffer.

And while the member for Manila, George Christensen, has been putting in a large slab of time with his offshore fiancée, there’s no disclosure of this mysterious partner on his parliamentary qualification checklist.

He was asked: “Do you have a current or former spouse or similar partner who you know is or was a citizen of another country?” His answer: “Not applicable.”

In the follow-up question, as to whether he has provided details of each former or current partner who he knows is a citizen of another country, his answer is the same: “Not applicable.”

Which makes you wonder what has kept him occupied in Manila for so long.

Boxing Jim

Splits in the Nasty Party have been papered over during the campaign yet occasionally they can’t help but burst to the surface – as in the case of the campaign to re-elect Senator “Below the Line” Molan.

John Crawford, from the re-elect Molan team, emailed supporters saying that one of his campaign workers was “harassed” at a pre-polling venue and how-to-vote cards were “physically taken from them”.

This “deeply troubling development” did not come from a militant unionist but from “a very senior member of the Liberal Party”.

Yes, even very senior members of the Liberal Party don’t want Major General Molan re-elected, despite the glowing endorsement from Sydney Morning Herald political affairs man Peter Hartcher.

And electors in the gilded harbourside paradise of Wentworth are getting personal letters from Schmo Morrison urging them to vote for Lucy Wicks.

Lucy is actually running in the electorate of Robertson, about 90 kilometres north of Vaucluse.

Democracy. There’s nothing better.

Justice travails

Tuesday night the University of Sydney Law School common room was packed with grizzled reptiles of the press for the launch of Hamish McDonald’s book Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six.

This is the same Hamish who was The Sydney Morning Herald’s foreign editor, a post he also held until recently for the paper you’re reading now.

There were heaps of former Fairfax people rubbing up against assorted academics, including Richard Coleman, Bob Milliken, Max Suich, Malcolm Brown, Derry Hogue, Greg Lenthen and current Fin Review columnist Andrew Clark.

Reasonable Doubt is an intriguing examination of the case of six young Croatians convicted of terrorism offences after the longest criminal trials in Australian history. After being “interviewed” by NSW detectives, without lawyers present, they were said to have confessed all and were slotted by Justice Victor Maxwell for 15 years’ porridge.

The background was Balkan rivalries, Tito’s crumbling Yugoslav dictatorship and the troubling breakaway ambitions of the Croatians. On hand was a gentleman called Vico Virkez, a Bosnian Serb immigrant posing as a Croatian. He was the one who tipped off the NSW coppers that the Croatians were up to no good and planning a terrorist attack.

He was also liaising with an intelligence officer in Sydney’s Yugoslav consulate. Regrettably, the fact the chief crown witness was a Yugoslav agent was not disclosed by the police to the prosecutors, the defence lawyers or the court. In fact, the crown prosecutor told the jury there was “not a skerrick of evidence” that Virkez was a Yugoslav intelligence agent.

Much later Virkez admitted to Four CornersChris Masters that he fabricated most of his evidence.

Drawing on newly declassified ASIO files, McDonald says the Croatian Six case is a miscarriage of justice on the scale of the Birmingham Six in Britain.

Social conscious

ABC hacks have been placed on red alert by their editorial overlords about social media behaviour.

Editorial director Craig McMurtrie sent out a missive this week, hoping to head off political outbursts from journalists that might detract from Aunty’s fair and balanced approach to reporting:

“As we reach the midpoint of the federal election campaign and turn the corner into the home stretch we can expect the temperature to rise on the hustings and it’s timely to remind everyone about our social media policy, to ensure we maintain our disciplined approach.

• Don’t mix the professional and personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute;

• Don’t do anything on social media that would undermine your effectiveness at work;

• Don’t imply ABC endorsement of your personal views;

• Don’t disclose confidential information obtained through work.”

Yes, journalists need every encouragement to think before they write.

5 seconds of sumo

The Pussy Grabber has lined up a couple of trips to Japan and Chris Gould, a Pom who makes YouTube videos about sumo wrestling, says the Grabber has asked if he can present the Prime Minister’s Cup to the winner of the May sumo basho.

That involves climbing up onto the elevated clay ring and handing over a gigantic cup to the tournament winner. It is usually presented by one of Shinzō Abe’s cabinet ministers.

This has sent the Japanese authorities into a flap as the May basho will be the first held in the era of the new emperor who has taken over the Chrysanthemum Throne at the commencement of the Reiwa period. This event, therefore, is more significant than your usual sumo grabbo.

Really, what it’s all about is the Grabber finding an environment where other fat men grab each other and disport their manly techniques.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 4, 2019 as "Gadfly: Candidates with destiny". Subscribe here.

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