Diary

Gadfly
Furphy Brown

Sadly, Gadfly’s invitation to hear Minister for Minerals Matteo Canavani at Chuckles Henderson’s Institute got lost in the mail.

It promised to be a spellbinding evening, with the topic “The Link Between Pope Pius XI and Bob Brown”. The theological possibilities are intriguing, especially when you consider Pius XI – formerly Achille Ratti – and the regime of Benito Mussolini had a lot in common.

David Kertzer, who specialises in the politics and religious history of Italy, says that much of the ideology of Fascism drew heavily on the Catholic traditions of authoritarianism, intolerance and dislike of the Jews.

Pius XI was distressed over the state of women’s clothing, particularly backless ball gowns and gym togs, while allowing himself to be shamelessly manipulated by Il Duce into supporting the Fascist regime.

How did this dovetail with Bob Brown, wondered puzzled members of Chuckles’ institute? Was Bob similarly upset by scantily clad women? From what Gadfly can gather from the event, Matteo thought Brown was a busybody who meddled in the Adani mine business, which “really, really frustrates people and leads to very poor decisions to boot”.

Pius XI all over again.

Message corrupted

Can anyone work out what the leader of the opposition, Antonio Albanese, is on about? The corruption question has him meeting himself coming around corners.

Last week, the Granny Herald reported that Albo was part of a troika from Labor’s politburo that before the election opposed the idea of a national anti-corruption commission on the grounds it would “make it very hard to govern”.

Sensible Penny Wong and grizzled hardliner Tony Burke were among those from the leadership buro who expressed concerns about their ability to govern without corruption. Senator Stephen Conroy – who went on to a stellar career as a gambling lobbyist – was also reportedly in the anti anti-corruption commission camp.

Fingers were pointed to the experience of New South Wales’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, which the party’s right wing declared to be “disastrous”. If being extremely effective is the same as being disastrous, then ICAC has been disastrous, certainly for politicians of both major stripes.

Two days later Albanese didn’t think the criminal associations of Crown casino were worth investigation by a parliamentary committee. For Albo, the very limited ambit of a probe by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is sufficient. The whole saga was a timely reminder of how deeply Crown’s tentacles run into the Labor Party.

And please don’t mention politicians who walk out of cabinet into lobbying gigs, or lobby public servants for community interests that accidentally coincide with their own.

The ALP leader got into his famous barbwire fence straddle, saying that on one hand he has never seen proved “any evidence of direct corruption” during his time in parliament, while adding that’s “one of the reasons why we need a national integrity commission”.

And Albanese operates in an environment where favours are bought and sold every day.

As independent MP Andrew Wilkie put it: “Corruption seems to be the word we don’t utter in this place.”

Security tsk

National security is defined as anything with a red stamp that says “top secret” or any other phrase that sounds vague and scary. In truth, national security should be about protecting Strayans, as Peter Dutton calls them, from internal or external attacks to life, limb and infrastructure.

The prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery in Canberra is nothing to do with national security at all. It’s to do with government embarrassment at being sprung conducting illegal activities in our neighbourhood. In the process, we once again see a craven silence from the federal opposition.

Former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer Witness K has pleaded guilty to one summary offence, while Collaery at great personal cost is to fight on in a closed court trial into allegations he leaked information to journalists about Australia’s spying operations in Timor-Leste.

National security has morphed into anything that exposes the regime’s abuse of power. What is at risk is public trust in a legal system – prosecutors and attorneys-general included – that would pursue people who have heroically acted in the public interest.

The law has a tipping point, where if it acts perversely and without public acceptance, its findings and rulings are less likely to be respected.

Leading the charge in the Collaery–Witness K protests is Susan Connelly of the Josephite Sisters. She rallies the troops outside the court and with ceaseless missives from her bunker in Lakemba.

“J’accuse.” Where’s Émile Zola when you need him?

Code words

And don’t expect the High Court to be any help when it comes to free speech. The finding on Wednesday that the Commonwealth can sack a public servant who anonymously tweets concerns about immigration policy sends a disturbing message not only to the sacked twitterer, but also to God-botherer Isileli Folau and his camp followers.

Their highnesses thought the public service code of conduct needs to be respected and twittering leftist views about refugee policy is not on. Specifically, they said, unanimously, that the code “did not impose an unjustified burden on the implied freedom of political communication, with the result that the termination of [her] employment with the Commonwealth was not unlawful”.

What does that tell Isileli, who is complaining he was sacked from playing football because he breached his contract? If a code can get you sacked, you’d think that a contract could get you even more sacked.

Curiously, the British Court of Appeal recently said the University of Sheffield could not discipline one Felix Ngole, a Bible-bashing postgraduate student who posted homophobic rants on Facebook. That case involved a breach of a “Health and Care Professions Council’s student guidance on standards of conduct and ethics”.

Things are getting complicated and weird.

Black remarks

Meanwhile, the Poms are having loads of fun with their new PM. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s rise to the prime ministership has given old hacks a marvellous opportunity to write eviscerating columns about each other.

Gadfly mentioned recently that Max Hastings, former editor of London’s The Daily Telegraph, had written in The Guardian that de Pfeffel is a “weak character” who “cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification”. He’s morally bankrupt and a “cavorting charlatan”, et cetera et cetera.

To de Pfeffel’s rescue rides no less a sponge bag than Conrad Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, a Boris booster and probably the most preposterously pretentious and pompous person ever to own a newspaper.

In The Spectator, he writes that he asked Max, then editor of The Telegraph, to “help organise my small wedding to Barbara Amiel in 1992”. Black goes on to observe that Hastings is “an ill-tempered snob with a short attention span. He has his talents, but it pains me to report that when seriously tested, he was a coward and a flake. I think Boris will be fine.”

In a jaw-dropping aside, Black described his imprisonment on a fraud conviction in the United States as his “legal difficulties”, which have now been “withdrawn and expunged”.

Presumably, he is referring to President Pussy Grabber’s pardon, a case of one fraudster excusing another.

In any event, this drew the equally horrendous Paul Dacre, former editor of The Daily Mail, into The Spectator’s fray. Calling a spade a spade, he described Baron Black as a “jailbird” and a “megalomaniac monster”, who offered him the editorship of The Telegraph “in his palatial Kensington drawing room, every inch filled with Napoleonic memorabilia”.

Dacre went on to confirm that “Max is an egregious snob” – something journalists, whose job it is to puncture pomposity, should never be.

Now a side dish of excitement has broken out with allegations that Crossharbour interfered in an exposé of his friend Jeffrey Epstein written for Vanity Fair by former Telegraph scribe Vicky Ward. Black was an uncle to Ward’s then husband, and his employer, so the oleaginous proprietor had leverage.

Vanity Fair’s editor at the time, Graydon Carter, obligingly cut out of the profile any reference to Epstein’s involvement with two young sisters, one of whom was underage at the time. Carter explained, “He’s sensitive about the young women.”

For good measure, London Review of Books has published a new edition of Heathcote Williams’ volume Boris Johnson: The Beast of Brexit. A Study in Depravity.

Mad, mad world

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Crazed gunmen are wreaking death and havoc; the president is not sure about the extent to which he now supports white supremacists; financial markets are in disarray because of Trump’s tariffs; deplorables are running large chunks of the world; and war is on their breath.

In Britain, the head of counterterrorism says 80 per cent of those who want to attack the United Kingdom are British-born or -raised and it is beyond the security services’ ability to cope.

On home soil, the prime minister thinks it is unchristian to increase the Newstart allowance because it’s only a fair go for those who have a go; while the Catholic Church, recently drenched in an industrial-scale child sex scandal, wants to tell women what to do with their reproductive agendas.

Christ almighty. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 10, 2019 as "Gadfly: Furphy Brown". Subscribe here.

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