Diary

Gadfly
Gus’s power play defused

Fantastic Angus has been so busy with explanations about the poisoning of endangered grasslands on a family spread that he’s taken his eye off the ball. Both carbon emissions and power prices have gone in the opposite direction to that promised by Schmo Morrison’s junta.

Emissions are up, up, up, and so too are power prices. Fantastic. Great move. Well done, Angus.

Emissions tracking outfit Ndevr Environmental says for the year to March 2019, emissions increased by seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to 561 million tonnes, with far less renewable generation than in the March quarter the previous year.

One of the contributing factors was the rise in “fugitive emissions” from the liquefied natural gas sector. You’ll recall last month Taylor concocted the brilliant claim that LNG exports were reducing emissions in our overseas markets, so what’s all the fuss about? With the worries about endangered grasslands on his plate he must have forgotten the contribution that our coal exports make to more than offset these wonderful reductions.

Further, the emissions reduction fund is running out of puff, with fewer projects and less abatement. Scratching around for elaborate and implausible justifications is what happens when government hucksters are left to hawk fake policies.

And don’t get Gadfly started on power prices. This is one of Angus’s pet projects, with promises that the wholesale price of power on his beat would be cut by 25 per cent – a fall to $70 per megawatt-hour by the year after next.

The energy sector wonders what Angus is smoking. The wholesale price is heading towards $100 per megawatt-hour in New South Wales and is more than $100 in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Overall prices rose 14 per cent in the second quarter.

As for the critically endangered natural temperate grasses of the south-eastern highlands, they definitely look greener after a good squirt of Agent Orange.

Porter’s latest leap of faith

Israel, oh Israel, wilt thou lead us to the promised land? At least The Christian Porter is doing his best to assist Bible enthusiast and former Wallaby Israel Folau with this mission.

The attorney-general this week unveiled aspects of his religious freedom bill and in the process performed a terrific somersault in the pike position, saying the legislation would prevent employers enforcing contracts that shut down religious expression of the Folau variety.

He told Guardian Australia there would be an “overarching” rule that would prevent employment contracts that have a “disadvantaging” effect on a person of faith.

That was not the impression he gave six weeks ago to listeners of Perth commercial wireless station 6PR: “... what I would say is that we’re not necessarily in the business in government of trying to prevent individuals privately contracting the terms of their employment in a fair and balanced and reasonable way with their employer in a range [of] circumstances.”

This is not the only confusion. A character from a local Astroturf Christian lobby outfit last week claimed that a recent decision of the High Court of England and Wales in a case brought by Felix Ngole against Sheffield University “lines up almost exactly with Folau’s case”.

Ngole is in the Folau camp when it came to sins: “Homosexuality [is] a sin ... God hates the act ... same-sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not.”

It is a decision on religious freedom that “will send chills down the collective spine of Rugby Australia ... The factual similarities to Folau’s case are remarkable,” wrote John Steenhof of the Human Rights Law Alliance Limited.

Some mistake, surely. The Ngole case concerned a judicial review about the university’s processes and findings in relation to a vague health and care guide for students’ conduct and ethics.

It was largely about discrimination, whereas Folau is a case about the enforceability of a contract, the ambit of the Fair Work Act and perhaps the law relating to secondary boycotts. It’s so easy to get overexcited with religious fervour, but the two could not be more different.

Seeking mercy

In South Australia, along the stricken waterways of the Murray, we find the Anglicans exercising their religious freedom to discriminate against people with disability.

The Venerable Dr Peter Carlsson has lost a round in the Federal Court where he was seeking to stop the bishop tossing him out of the rectory and confiscating his motor because he had cancer and was in need of treatment.

Carlsson had been archdeacon and vicar-general of the Diocese of The Murray but was shunted aside after a long absence from work while struggling with a haematoma of the spine, partial paralysis and problems with walking, and bowel cancer.

There was also an allegation, which went nowhere, that Carlsson had nicked some candles from the church.

The venerable doctor brought a discrimination case in the Human Rights Commission, which has now ended up in the Federal Court, where it was most recently decided that the bishop and the synod need not keep on the applicant while he is undergoing chemo and surgery.

To do so would mean the Murray diocese would haemorrhage money. It is not over yet, for while Carlsson lost his injunction, the discrimination case remains on foot.

This is the same diocese that last year ordained far north Queensland MP George (Manila) Christensen as a deacon. The Murray Anglicans exercise the freedom not to ordain women as priests, which is right up George’s alley.

The bishop carefully explained that while the MP would be administering the faith in north Queensland, he would “bring considerable experience and great insight” to the Diocese of The Murray.

Jesus wept.

Lapse of luxury

What’s going on with 88-year-old executive chairman Lord Moloch? Private Eye in England, the bible of all things political, media, business and cultural, has concerning news about the ancient mogul, reporting that he personally spent more than $US20 million buying 600,000 shares in Fox Corp – a week after he had bought the same number of shares only to promptly sell them.

This was not some clever wheeze to make a quick buck for, as the United States Securities and Exchange Commission explained, the Dirty Digger bought the first batch by mistake. This was an “erroneous purchase and subsequent sale”. Private Eye says: “If, while having a senior moment, Rupert can absentmindedly spend more than $20m on shares he didn’t mean to buy, what eight-figure errors will he commit next?”

In May 2012, the house of commons culture, media and sport select committee found Moloch to be a person “not fit” to run a major international company.

Up for debate

Great to hear that Bookshelves Brandis is in good spirits, belting out his message last week to a spellbound audience at the Latvian embassy in London.

Like a dog with a bone, Bookshelves has not let go of the idea that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act needs to be shredded.

It’s all about the contest of ideas, according to the bald bigot-promoter who is unfazed by the promotion of hate speech. “Intolerant ideas are best exposed by being subject to public debate, public exposure and criticism,” he told the Latvians at the Sir Isaiah Berlin lecture.

In other words, minorities should not be protected by the law.

First to congratulate him on Twitter was Freedom Boy Tim Wilson MP: “Well put, @AusHCUK”. Freedom Boy is a protégé of @AusHCUK, having been carefully selected from the bowels of the Institute for Paid Advocacy to be flung into the post of human rights commissioner as a forerunner to getting his backside on the parliamentary leather.

The trouble with the Bookshelves–Freedom Boy thesis is that it assumes a level playing field when it comes to the contest of ideas. Instead, the contest is dominated by raucous muffins bellowing at us from 2GB, the Moloch rags and After Dark mercenaries. This is what Brandis calls “public debate”.

Hickey’s tricky turns of phrase

Last week the Tasmanian Liberal government looked to be in trouble. “Unpredictable” speaker and Liberal member Sue Hickey was not toeing the line, threatening to leave the party after she was overlooked in a cabinet reshuffle.

Had she done so, Willy Hodgman would be governing with just 12 seats in a 25-seat house. Already the Otto Abetz faction is in a state of foam-flecked fury, as Hickey crossed the floor to vote against the government, including to support the gender birth certificate reforms.

By last Friday, all was sweetness and light. Hickey was staying put, for now, but as she said, “Who knows what’s going to happen in the next few weeks or the next few months?”   

In the process, the speaker showed us some of the finer turns of phrase of the Tasmanian tongue. “I do believe after a long and strong conversation with the premier that we’ve reached on a landing of understanding.”

And when last Monday it might seem the Liberals would try desperately to hang on as a minority government, she said: “I bet when test comes to shove, all those bums are superglued to a seat.”

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 13, 2019 as "Gadfly: Gus’s power play defused". Subscribe here.

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