Diary

Gadfly
Out of saddle and addled

Little wonder Nick “Goosebumps” Cater very quickly lost the plot on Monday’s Q&A. The poor fellow from the Menzies “Research” Centre had just stepped off his Pollie Pedal bicycle, after he and a bunch of other ageing, angry, white reactionaries in Lycra and dyed hair roared into towns in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, sweatily inspecting war memorials and other remnants of past glories.

Pollie Pedal was, as usual, helmed by Tony Abbott, who these days is not a pollie at all, but has to find ways to fill in time between taking out the garbage at Forestville.

On the ABC, Goosebumps didn’t seem to have his wits about him, clutching at the “increasing intolerance to free speech … particularly on the left, I have to say”.

When pressed about what he is not allowed to say, the exhaustion of the bike ride became evident. He waffled admiringly about the inspirational free speech of popular heroes such as Pauline Hanson and President Pussy Grabber.

It was all too much for Gadfly and within about four minutes he had switched to SBS On Demand and the new documentary show The Weekly, tracking reporters from The New York Times as they investigated the taxi medallion rort and how poor immigrants trying to earn a living are screwed by moneylenders. There was also a beaut story about a school in Louisiana that faked student entry qualifications so youngsters could get into Ivy League colleges.

Which begs the question: why does Q&A insist on bringing dolts and snake-oil salesmen into our living rooms on a Monday evening?

Pedalling pollies’ funding downshift

Pollie Pedal is not without its curiosities. The plan this year was that the riders would raise money for an outfit called Soldier On, which not only provides help to defence force veterans but also extends a soothing hand to stressed former “service personnel” from Border Force and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

According to the PP website, the former member for Warringah topped the fundraising effort with pledges of $8927.

“Fantastic” Gus Taylor came in second, with pledges of $7426, including $216.83 from log-rollers Barton Deakin public relations firm. Goosebumps Cater had a goal of raising $1000 but, according to the official information provided online by Pollie Pedal 2019, he had attracted support of $100. Overall, the fundraising efforts were disappointing. The aim was to raise $500,000 for the ex-diggers and DFAT shinies but, at time of press, the 32 riders had mustered only $45,503.

Come off the grass

Once again, we find Fantastic Gus all geared up with some pretty solid spadework about #grassgate. He pointed out so clearly this week that the land clearing on his family’s property in the Monaro had nothing to do with him. However, he did attend a meeting while he was assistant cities minister with a compliance officer from the Department of Environment that was arranged by the then minister, Josh Frydenberg.

Gussy explained the meeting was not about compliance but rather the “technical aspects” of the revised listing of the natural temperate grasses of the south-eastern highlands. But of course.

This was at a time when NSW and federal agencies were examining the poisoning of 30 hectares of endangered grasses on the Taylor spread. After Gus got into Frydenberg’s ear, the environment minister’s office canvassed whether the protections for these grasses could be watered down and if the watering down could be kept secret.

As we know, keeping things secret usually means everything is above board. Fantastic Angus told parliament on Tuesday that we should all be very clear about this. “Let’s be clear, let’s be clear,” he doubly insisted. This was all about looking after the farmers in his electorate, although the issue mostly concerned the grass in another electorate.

To suggest that a meeting with an environmental compliance officer was about the family farm’s compliance was a “grubby smear”, Taylor said. Labor had the impertinence to describe this as a “rapidly escalating ministerial ethics scandal”. There were also mutterings of a need for an anti-corruption commission.

Nothing to see here. Move on, please.

Tinkering Taylors

Those magnificent Taylors are everywhere. Don’t forget Bronwyn Taylor from Cockies Corner, Aunty Gladys’s minister for mental health and women and Gus’s sister-in-law. She popped up from grazing in the top paddock to face questions in the NSW parliament over what she might have done to influence submissions that sought to upgrade grassland protections.

According to material tabled in parliament, it looks as if Bronwyn made representations to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage over an investigation into land clearing on another Taylor property she owns with Gussy’s brother, Duncan. Again, nothing wrong was going on here.

Guardian Australia’s ace snoop Anne Davies revealed that Duncan Taylor lobbied the leader of the state cockies, John (Pork) Barilaro, to stump up $16 million to fund something named the Country Universities Centre, a grand name for study centres in RARA-land.

This was all done without tender and in the face of advice from other government agencies that said the benefits of the project were “unrealistic”.

Fortunately, the federal government also chipped in $7.5 million to fund the CUC, including $830,000 for a centre in Goulburn, in Gus’s seat of Hume. Gus says all this is nothing to do with him; he only announced the funding, saying, “I am backing this centre a hundred per cent and have been since its inception.”

His wife, Louise Clegg, is on the board of the Goulburn CUC.

Tongan trials

There’s far too much under-reporting of Tongan affairs, a lacuna Gadfly is seeking to repair.

One of the country’s nobility, Lord Tu‘ivakanō, who also served as a prime minister, is on charges relating to issuing Tongan passports, accepting bribes and perjury. There are a total of 15 charges and His Lordship has pleaded not guilty.

The royals in Tonga have been involved in all sorts of peculiar things, particularly during the period of the eccentric King George. There was a famous allocation of the mobile network to a member of the royal family. And until the voting franchise was extended, parliament always chose one of the nobility to be prime minister. In fact, the current PM, Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, is only the fourth commoner to hold the post in some 140 years.

Old attitudes die hard, and Lord Tu‘ivakanō’s lawyers are arguing he should stand trial separately from his two co-defendants, who are commoners, despite prosecutors pointing out the facts are the same for all.

Tonga is the ancestral homeland of Isileli (Israel) Folau, whose old dad, Eni Folau, set up the Truth of Jesus Christ “Church” in Kenthurst, NSW, where as many as 30 people can be found offering prayers and supplications to the Almighty.

As Kate McClymont revealed last weekend in The Sydney Morning Herald, the Folau outfit has some unusual beliefs, including that the Catholic Church “is a synagogue of Satan … and masked devil worship”.

It’s hard to imagine Christian lobbyist and religious freedom guru Martyn Iles goes along with this, after getting his flock to stump up $2.2 million for Izzy’s case in the Federal Court. Iles is a fully fledged God-botherer who reminds Gadfly of the lederhosen-clad lad in Cabaret who sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”.

No George blessing

In further developments from the religious affairs desk there is an undated bulletin on Dawson MP George Christensen’s pathway to the priesthood.

Readers who pay close attention will know Gadfly reported that last year the MP was ordained as a deacon in the Anglican Diocese of The Murray in South Australia. The local bishop explained the LNP MP would “bring considerable experience and great insight” to the diocese.

This seemed odd, as George was attempting to divide his time between Mackay, Canberra and Manila.

Now it appears that Anglicans closer to God have intervened and that George has not been ordained in the Diocese of The Murray. A spin doctor for Archbishop Philip Freier, the Anglican Primate, tells us: “It would be unusual for a person to be ordained in a diocese in which they do not reside in order to serve.”

It looks as though someone had a word to someone else and the MP for Dawson has not been ordained.

Court of a Paul

Jonathan Biggins makes a fine Paul Keating in his one-man show The Gospel According to Paul, playing at the Seymour Centre in Sydney for a repeat season.

The mannerisms, voice, tone, tempo, inflection and stylistic quirks are all there, along with a good dose of vanity and a little hubris. There’s lots of music: Handel, Mahler, and a Keating/Biggins rendition of “Delilah”, Tom Jones style. Much of the story is told through a wonderful slide show of family and Labor Party history, reminiscences of advice at Jack Lang’s knee, and the French watch he brought from antique dealer Stanley Lipscombe, dated around 1796, “that sweet moment between Robespierre and Napoleon”.

We also got a few of the one-line zingers, although it must be said they sounded a lot better out of Keating’s mouth. Up came a slide of Malcolm Fraser’s smirking senate leader Reg Withers, drawing a response from our man centre stage: “I may not be a proctologist, but I recognise an arsehole when I see one.”

Labor, too, came in for its fair share of cracks. There was an all-too-graphic photo of Bob Hawke in Speedos with a slight protrusion in the middle. “Follows you around the room, doesn’t it,” says Paul, adding that “Bob was working the smugglers well before Abbott”.

As for the Liberals, “they lost their brains when Wilson Tuckey retired”.

This is a warm and poignant portrayal of the former PM – with history, sentiment and laughs. The vision thing writ bold, with lots of talent and courage in the Hawke–Keating/Keating cabinets to see it through. We are all painfully aware that ever since we’ve largely been in the hands of visionless pygmies.

Keating’s career adviser at school said he should choose either architecture or panelbeating. We should all be so pleased he chose the latter.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 27, 2019 as "Gadfly: Out of saddle and addled". Subscribe here.

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