Diary

Gadfly
Rhodes to perdition

By now the gatekeepers at the entrance to the Rhodes Scholarship must be rewriting the requirements.

What a collection of political mugs they have delivered us in recent years: The Mad Monk, Malcolm Trumble and Grassgate Gussy Taylor.

All Rhodes, and all terrible at their politics. Old Cecil must be turning in his plot, not to mention having his statues torn down and splattered with red paint.

After all, he only wanted to gift scholarships to chaps who were committed to truth, courage and moral fortitude. How did Gussy slip through the selection committee?

Having said all that, of course it’s easy to understand why Schmo Morrison wanted to keep Taylor on the frontbench while the New South Wales wallopers examine his handwriting and the travel documents proffered to shame Clover Moore’s City of Sydney Council for carbonising the planet with jet travel.

A man like Angus is future Nasty Party leadership material. He can’t answer a direct question, and he manages to get himself in the middle of grisly circumstances where business interests elide with political fortune – otherwise known as storms in teacups.

Even though he’s a dud, he’s a Liberal dud and destined for great things. Schmo had already tried to clear the path by having a chinwag with the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller – you know, just seeing if he could help with their inquiries, stuff like that.

Goosy goosy slander

Over at the other arm of government, we find the Temples of Justice dishing out wads of money to ameliorate the distress caused by defamatory defendants.

Traditional decorum among reptiles requires a moment’s silence if a journalist gets pinged in the courts for defaming an upstanding citizen, but in the case of defendant Nicholas (Goosebumps) Cater sadly we have to make a dishonourable exception.

Goosy, alongside Channel Nine, was found to have defamed the Wagners, four members of the family conducting quarrying, concrete and transport businesses from Toowoomba.

Someone at 60 Junkets thought it would be a stroke of genius to get Goosebumps onto the show to discuss the Grantham flood of 2011.

The angle was that the Wagners allegedly failed to prevent a wall at their quarry from collapsing, causing floodwater to engulf the town, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people.

The problem was Nine and the Goose couldn’t prove this was true. In fact, Cater was told by an eyewitness at the floods that it was not true, plus there was a whole heap of other independent information that said Goosy was way off course.

“Vendetta … unjustifiable … improper … baseless”, are just some of the words used by Justice Peter Applegarth of the Queensland Supreme Court to describe Cater’s conduct. Then there was his “miserable” post-publication conduct towards the Wagners.

The upshot was an award to the plaintiffs of $1.2 million in aggravated damages against the paleoconservative newspaper columnist and director of the Menzies “Research” Centre, and another $2.4 million payable by Nine.

This comes on top of a settlement in 2017 of nearly $600,000 that The Spectator and Cater made to the Wagners over an article headlined “Dam Busters! How Cater and Jones burst Grantham’s wall of lies”.

The Spectator is edited in Australia by The Talking Pikelet, Rowan Dean – another intolerable plonker.

Shame game backfires

Nor do we see too many moist eyes around town at news that former senator David Leyonhjelm has to fork up $120,000 to the upper house Green Sarah Hanson-Young.

The courtroom stoush followed a senate debate on the prevention of violence against women, during which Leyonhjelm’s contribution was to tell Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men”. He claimed this was in response to her injection that “all men are rapists”.

Whereupon the Liberal Democrat set out on a round of defamatory media appearances – Sky News, 3AW’s Sunday Morning and the ABC’s 7.30 – peddling his theory that Hanson-Young was a hypocrite and a misandrist.

As he put it with a customary charm: “If you think they’re all rapists, why would you shag them?”

The trouble was that Hanson-Young had not said “all men are rapists”. Justice Richard White in the Federal Court found on the evidence that she had not said it and instead Leyonhjelm had “ ‘heard’ what he was predisposed to hear, rather than the actual words used”.

Leyonhjelm also submitted that the court could not adjudicate on Hanson-Young’s claims because of parliamentary privilege – the proceedings of parliament cannot be impugned in court.

Justice White had to painfully point out that parliamentary privilege only applied to proceedings in parliament and as Hanson-Young had not made the statement in parliament that Leyonhjelm insisted she made, it was not part of the proceedings.

There’s late news that Leyonhjelm has managed to crowdfund about $2500 since this unfortunate outcome. For her part, Hanson-Young has pledged to donate her $120,000 to two women’s charities.

NT sex industry laws bedded down

The Northern Territory’s parliamentary economic policy scrutiny committee recommends passage of the Sex Industry Bill, with some minor technical amendments.

Section 9 of the legislation deals with “refusal to perform sex work” and says that in a contract for sexual services “a person may at any time refuse to perform or continue to perform”.

Just to be clear, the bill adds that entering a contract for sex work does not of itself constitute consent for the purpose of the criminal law if consent is withdrawn.

There is also a provision that enables clients to recover “damages” for sex work that is not performed. Normally, you might expect customers in this situation to slink out of the premises with their tails between their legs. Yet, a contractual breach might end up in court if someone did want their money back, posing a judicial challenge to calculate refunds on how much of the service had been provided up to the point of rescission.

Gadfly looks forward to seeing how Top End judges get their heads around that.

For Pete’s sake

Northern Tasmania must be proud of their chosen one in the senate, so-called independent Jacqui Lambie.

She’s been dancing a jig over whether to defenestrate the medevac legislation on refugee medical transfers from offshore gulags.

“Hopefully, over the next few days, between myself and Pete Dutton we can get this sorted and certainly get a vote taken,” Lambie squawked.

“Pete Dutton”, for god’s sake. We know where this is heading – referring to Benito Dutton in cuddly terms is the thin end of the wedge.

Meanwhile, 5000 doctors from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians asked Lambie to vote to retain the medevac legislation because it saves lives.

The Tasmanian senator was having trouble with that:

“Anything that’s got to do with humanity is always really, really difficult to have to take a vote on, so that’s why I’m taking a little bit longer than I know that many people would have hoped.”

So where does the senator’s struggle with humanity take us?

Apparently she’ll vote to garrotte the medevac law if Pete allows refugees in offshore detention to resettle in New Zealand.

There are 484 people still stranded on Nauru and Manus and New Zealand says it will take 150, which means that under the presumed Lambie scheme 334 people will be stranded without the possibility of emergency medical care in Australia.

It’s really, really difficult.

Not in this Watch

There’s uplifting news in the latest edition of China Watch, kindly inserted in Nine’s metropolitan newspapers. There are stories about the cultural impact of bookshop designs; fantastic developments at modernising the country’s “governance system”; the yuan as a growing worldwide currency; and something about ancient relics.

China’s spying agenda, its theft of intellectual property, the strange death of a Chinese informant in a Melbourne motel room, the network of prisons for the incarceration, mistreatment and “re-education” of Uygurs are all mysteriously absent from China Watch, whose tagline is “All You Need to Know”.

Fail of the century

One of Gadfly’s field agents reports that his stepmother had turned 100 and was anxiously awaiting a letter from Her Majesty to mark the occasion. Instead, through the post came a congratulatory letter from Michael McCormack, the deputy PM who is promoting carbon emissions as a way to contain bushfires.

The old dear was beside herself with grief and concerned she may not get to 101.

Quite possibly Betty Battenberg is too absorbed in the TV doco The Prince and the Paedophile to be sending telegrams to venerable subjects. And Schmo has been on a full-time mission looking smug.

What is to become of a colony that no longer receives herograms from Her Maj?

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 30, 2019 as "Gadfly: Rhodes to perdition". Subscribe here.

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