Diary

Gadfly
Legal eagles take to Sky

It was a star-encrusted night on Tuesday as the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties held its annual knees-up at Sky Phoenix in Sydney. This was not just a few lefties munching on dim sum around a lazy Susan in a Chinese restaurant. Rather, it was a grand affair bursting with judges, lawyers, politicians, scientists, captains of industry, academics, public administrators, journalists and other worthies.

The ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, gave the keynote on the importance of a free media in an increasingly small-minded world. Her theme came from The Washington Post’s clarion call, “Democracy dies in darkness”, based on a phrase coined by a United States judge. Ita said that right now the ABC is amassing for publication on its website a number of important stories for which whistleblowers have bravely stuck out their necks.

She also noted that the Afghan Files investigation, the subject of Constable Plod’s raids on Aunty in June, is still on the ABC’s website and has been for more than two years. If it were such a threat to national security, why is it still accessible to anyone in the globe with a computer, asked Ita to thunderous applause and stomping.

The serious part of the evening was taken up giving awards to reptiles of the media – Paul Farrell from the ABC’s 7.30 with runner-up Kate Allman from the NSW Law Society. There was also a curious vignette – Matt Canavan, the Minister for More Coal, sent his apologies to the CCL that he was unable to attend the dinner.   

More Vasta strokes

Sacked academic Peter Ridd has been awarded $1.2 million by Judge Salvatore Vasta in the Federal Circuit Court after he found James Cook University had breached the Fair Work Act in tossing overboard the “red-hot” Barrier Reef sceptic.

The university is to join the long queue of litigants appealing against the decisions of Judge Vasta, whom The Australian Financial Review nominated as a contender for “Australia’s worst judge”.

Salvatore is prone to courtroom outbursts, intemperate interruptions, bombast and bullying – e.g. to a litigant in person: “Do not ever interrupt me. Do not ever. You’ve been told many times when I talk your mouth goes closed. You do not ever interrupt me or you will be cited for contempt. I’m not putting up with your rubbish.”

Appeal judges have variously described his conduct as “openly hostile … disparaging … sarcastic … aggressive … unfair … an affront to justice … an egregious departure from the role of a judge”, and there are numerous findings that he had denied parties procedural fairness.

Many of his decisions have been overturned on appeal with fresh judges having to hear his cases all over again – so much so that Vasta has been sent off for “counselling”. On the present rate at which he is overturned, James Cook University surely thinks it has reasonable prospects of a successful appeal.

After all, in his reasons in the Ridd case Judge Vasta decided, at one stroke, to abolish the principles of citing authority and precedent, even though other cases were mentioned in submissions. “I have had regard to the submissions of both counsel and the many authorities to which they referred me.”

Where are they? Although he did mention the United States constitution.

Sal is, of course, an appointment of the former and greatly missed attorney-general Bookshelves Brandis, who now has his well-padded posterior resting on the high commissioner’s couch in London.

Spraying Ridd’s repellent ideas

After James Cook Uni got rid of Ridd, the professor went on a Queensland tour spreading the gospel that runoff pollution from farming, particularly cane farming, is not a threat to the reef and that generally the natural wonder is in terrific shape, even though other scientists say much of it is dead.

The former James Cook scholar argued the reef would quickly recover from mass coral bleaching, and that scientists had been blinded by their emotions and “we can no longer trust the scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science”.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has just published its report for 2019 in which it says the reef is now at a “critical point” – downgrading the outlook from “poor” to “very poor”. The recruitment of coral spawn into bleached areas had fallen by up to 89 per cent, with cleaner water being one of the key requirements to give the reef a better chance of surviving. Presumably, this sort of information is “untrustworthy”.

This is possibly why Flight Centre can give you return airfares to Port Douglas, five nights’ accommodation and a continental breakfast – all for $599. It could mean the tourist market thinks things are dire reef-side.

Former chief scientist Ian Chubb has warned that Ridd is misrepresenting the science. He has compared his claims to the misinformation spread by manufacturers of cancer sticks. Ridd is backed by other scientific scholars such as Peta Credlin, Alan (The Parrot) Jones, the Institute of Paid Advocacy and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Another act to Wagner soap opera

Unfortunately, another “expert”, the Menzies “research” scholar Nick Goosebumps Cater, has been on the receiving end of a jury thumping in the Queensland Supreme Court.

In another round of the defamation cases brought by the quarry-owning Wagners, this time against Channel Nine’s 60 Junkets and “expert” commentator Cater, the jury in answering eight questions delivered a solid verdict for the plaintiffs.

Specifically in regard to Goosebumps, the jury found he had made the defamatory claim, based on agreed facts, that the Wagners had caused a man-made disaster – a catastrophic flood that destroyed the town of Grantham and killed 12 people – because they failed to prevent a quarry wall from collapsing.

In September last year, in another verdict for the Wagners, The Parrot and his radio stations were ordered to pay damages of $3.7 million for sprouting much the same fact-free stuff.

In November 2017, the Australian version of The Spectator, under the baton of Rowan Dean, “the talking pikelet” (hat-tip Mike Carlton), settled with the Wagners for $572,674 over an article in 2015 headlined: “Dam Busters! How Cater and Jones burst Grantham’s wall of lies.”

The wall of lies seem to be coming from the fabled director of the Menzies Research Centre. Now another whopping bundle of damages is in the process of being calculated as a result of Cater’s assistance to Channel Nine.

The only defence offered at the trial was that the plaintiff’s defamatory imputations did not arise. This is often seen as the only defence when no facts are available to prove the truth of what has been published or broadcast.

There are two days set aside for the damages hearings on October 14 and 15. The expectations are for another whopper. By now, it must be evident that Goosebumps’ scribblings have inflicted enough damage, on not only the Wagners but also the body politic at large. Time he was shuffled off to “special projects” in a broom cupboard.

Boris’s brood

In all the wondrous Brexit kerfuffle, sight has been lost of the pressing question: how many children does Boris Johnson actually have? It’s here that a certain degree of vagueness surrounds the answer.

We know that in 1987 he married Allegra Mostyn-Owen and they divorced six years later. Reportedly 12 days later he married barrister Marina Wheeler. Five weeks on their first child was born, followed by three others – two daughters and two sons in all: Lara Lettice, Cassia Peaches, Milo Arthur and Theodore Apollo.

In 2006, News of the Screws reported that Johnson was having an affair with Guardian journalist Anna Fazackerley, whom he subsequently employed. Then it emerged that in 2009 he fathered a daughter, Stephanie, with arts consultant Helen Macintyre.

In a recent memoir titled Restoration Heart, society scribe William Cash revealed he was frightfully keen on Helen and wanted to bring up her daughter in Shropshire.

His plans fell apart when it was leaked that Boris was Stephanie’s father, with Helen blaming William for the leak.

Cash subsequently ran into Johnson at the Belvedere Hotel in London, telling him: “I wanted to marry Helen and bring up your daughter as my own. It was that simple.”

He said Boris replied, “Thanks for letting me know”, and then shot through. It seems Cash is still married to Lady Laura Cathcart, a society milliner and the daughter of the 7th Earl of Cathcart. They have two children, Rex and Cosima.

Earlier there had been an injunction stopping reporting of Stephanie’s existence. The Court of Appeal overturned this, saying the public had a right to know about Johnson’s “reckless” behaviour. During the case it was claimed there was a further Johnson child who has so far not been identified.

By now Marina had lost interest and confirmed in September last year that “several months ago” she and Boris had parted. His current squeeze is Carrie Symonds, a former Conservative Party communicator.

What a mensch. His constantly priapic state may explain why things in the Old Dart are a little shaky.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 14, 2019 as "Gadfly: Legal eagles take to Sky". Subscribe here.

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