Security counsel

Senior members of the Commonwealth’s cop squad have been working overtime on coming up with fresh meanings for the phrase “national security”. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, it really means just what the government chooses it to mean, neither more nor less.

Certainly it covers things such as bugging the Timor-Leste ministerial offices, or soldiers shooting the wrong people in Afghanistan, or plans by spooky public servants to spy on the entire population.

All of that comes under the Humpty Dumpty definition, which really has nothing to do with national security at all, but more to do with government embarrassment – requiring Constable Plod to go through journalists’ socks and underwear drawers to get to the bottom of things.

In 1980, the High Court had something to say about embarrassment and national security in the famous “defence papers” case where the government wanted to stop Fairfax publishing early extracts from a forthcoming book by Richard Walsh and George Munster.

Talk about secrets, this book was chock-a-block full of them: classified documents concerning international treaties, foreign intelligence services and military bases, among other things.

It’s worth remembering today what Justice Anthony Mason wrote then:

“It can scarcely be a relevant detriment to the government that publication of material concerning its actions will merely expose it to public discussion and criticism. It is unacceptable in our democratic society that there should be a restraint on the publication of information relating to government when the only vice of that information is that it enables the public to discuss, review and criticise government action.”

Disciplinary auction

Lawsons, the auction house, has sent under the hammer a collection of items from the BDSM establishment in Sydney known as Temple 22. Some of the items are so purportedly traumatising that the auctioneers warned that only people over the age of 18 can view them.

The “iconic fantasy house” in Darlinghurst has shut up shop and everything had to go, including: surgical equipment and a metal operating table, ropes and chains, talons, ball crushers, rubber chastity belts, something called a Wartenberg wheel, nipple clamps, a non-vibrating urethral device, studded leather paddles and whips, padlocks, strap-on equipment, two waterproof mattress protectors together with a Vidal Sassoon heat-mat, back copies of Piercing World, a collection of veterinary gloves, a 1960s handmade Playboy Bunny outfit with cuffs, ears and tail, a Minnie Mouse costume, hoods, masks and other disciplinary items.

If you’re in need of any of these devices, sadly it’s too late – the online auction closed on Wednesday. It’s also unfortunate that Temple 22 is now chained and padlocked. Apart from police stations, there are fewer and fewer places where citizens can go for a good beating.  

Ryan’s water views

Also up for grabs, for those with a lazy $33 million, is Morgan Ryan’s gaff on the water on Sydney’s lower north shore.

Last week Gadfly reported the long-anticipated death of Ryan at the age of 97. His wife, Dorothy, president of the Cornucopia Committee, has listed the Kurraba Point spread, which has proximity to rising sea waters.

According to top real estate commentator Lucy Macken, Justice Lionel Murphy’s “Little Mate” purchased the property for £10,000 in 1964 after his sensational win on Dream King in the 1961 Australian Cup at Flemington.

Morgan and Dorothy commissioned then architecture student Andre Porebski to design the home in what is now one of the finest examples of Sydney Modernism.

In the real estate advertisements for the property, My Little Mate is variously described as a “colourful solicitor”, a “controversial former solicitor” and “a solicitor”.

Cutting on the bias

The courts seem to be full of applications for judges to disqualify themselves on the ground of “apprehended bias”. This is not actual bias, rather it is what people may consider bias – and to make sure that everything is above board, the judge who is the subject of the application determines its outcome.

So it was that Gadfly came across an application that Justice Ian Harrison of the New South Wales Supreme Court disqualify himself from hearing another chapter in the long-running drama of Garry Burns and Bernard Gaynor.

Garry is a gay rights activist while Bernard, from Queensland, is a conservative Catholic and keen family values man. They have been battering away in the courts for ages over various posts and publications.

As the judge put it: “It is fair to say that the views of Mr Gaynor and Mr Burns on several issues of public interest do not closely correspond and are effectively diametrically opposed.”

Gaynor wants orders on jurisdictional grounds that Burns’s proceedings against him in the Local Court are void and of no effect.

Before the matter was heard, Gaynor’s barrister, the former Liberal MP for Wentworth and noted conservative Peter King, made an application that Harrison should step aside.

Why so? asked the judge. Because the judge’s tipstaff had posted various things on Facebook that suggested he was “gay friendly”, he was told. The tipstaff reviewed a play at the University of Sydney titled Peter Pansexual, he participated in Wear It Purple Day, and he wrote an article in Queer Honi, a special edition of the student newspaper Honi Soit, and an article for the Alternative Law Journal that questioned the assumptions about criminalising the transmission of HIV.

Gaynor submitted that, because the tipstaff actively campaigned for ideas that are opposed to his Catholic beliefs, Justice Harrison should step away from deciding whether the Local Court proceedings against Gaynor should be tossed out.

The judge thought this was all a big stretch and crisply dismissed the application, saying: “In my limited experience, cases are decided by judges, not their staff.”

Rich text formats

Those Rich Lists can be a hit-or-miss affair, with some contestants wearing the ignominy of having far less money than they were supposed to.

Recently, The Catholic Boys Daily entered the money porn business with a new rich list, whereupon The Australian Financial Review thoughtfully pointed out that Lachlan Murdoch, firing-squad enthusiast and co-chairman of News Corp, which publishes the newspaper, was missing from its compendium.

AFR sleuth Neil Chenoweth modestly calculated that Lachlan, whose corporate listing gives his residence as Sydney, is worth $700 million – and that’s not counting his Disney shares worth about $2.7 billion. He would definitely qualify for the list but was strangely absent.

It’s much the same in London, where The Times’ rich list buried the proprietor Lord Moloch on page 144 of the liftout wealth supplement under the heading “rules of engagement”, even though the family’s fortune increased by £5.8 billion after unloading Sky to Comcast and 21st Century Fox to Disney.

If he were included he would be ranked fourth, but the paper explains: “We exclude Rupert Murdoch … as he is a US citizen and based in America.”

Strangely, that didn’t disqualify Roman Abramovich from being listed by The Times in the top 10 richest people in Britain even though the Russian hasn’t got a British visa and has reportedly been granted Israeli citizenship.

It’s touching that reliable hacks around the globe faithfully try their darnedest not to draw attention to their bosses’ bloated fortunes.

Just so cliché

Into the inboxes of hard-working news hounds at the ABC plops another memo from management. This one from Tim Ayliffe, who is a news executive with the title of managing editor, television and video.

Tim is vexed by the rising number of clichés that have “crept back into our scripting”, which is nothing less than “lazy storytelling”.

He suggests everyone take it easy with the war references: “Footy teams don’t go to war and battle lines get drawn way too often.” And please, no more “turning blind eyes” or “sigh with relief” or “searing indictments”.

Quite right, too. While Tim is busily on cliché watch, he has let his grammar get the better of him, as this unfortunate signoff illustrates: “In summary: good writing, good journalism and good storytelling doesn’t require clichés”.

A bit of a drag

New horizons for conquest are opening for religious right supporters of the Bone Spur President. Of immediate concern is the way Drag Queen Story Hour has gathered momentum around the country. This is a yearly occasion when men in make-up and dresses read stories to little tots and lead singalongs at schools and libraries.

Needless to say, a hack from Moloch’s New York Post opinion page named Sohrab Ahmari is incandescent about this development and fired off an essay to the religious journal First Things. Sohrab is an Iranian who converted to Catholicism and wants the church to bring order to the nation’s affairs. As a starting point, he wants Drag Queen Story Hour banned.

On a scale of conservative hatreds, drag queens reading books to kiddies with titles such as It’s Okay to Be Different would far outrank our Safe Schools program in moral decadence. As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg put it: “How long can conservatives tolerate a political system that victimizes them by allowing Drag Queen Story Hour to exist?”

It’s almost certain that Schmo Morrison’s religious freedoms bill will take a lead from the agenda set by the New York Post opinion editor, with provisions to counter “gender whispering” so that schools, libraries and church kindergartens can crack down on this sort of mischief.

As a sign of the passions the issue generates, James Greene, a Trump devotee with a gun, was prevented in his attempt to stop a drag queen book reading in Houston. He said he had been “arrested for being a white Christian”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 15, 2019 as "Gadfly: Security counsel".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes 500Words.com.au.