Diary

Gadfly
A Scott in the dark

It’s been too long since we were in each other’s warm embrace. But here we are, back from a fume-filled break. As they say in Hawaii, aloha.

It’s not been an easy time for Scotty from Marketing. He is supposed to be a PR genius, yet the art of public relations suddenly got too complicated for him. PR is the place people end up when all other professional options fail, and now Schmo has failed at the failures’ last resort.

The sight of him in his post-Hawaii scramble for street cred will stay with us for yonks: wantonly grabbing at the hands of people who were telling him to “piss off”, dashing about for photographic moments, jabbing his fingers into maps of fire-torn country, ordering “boots on the ground”, producing a grab bag of money that will turn into a trickle when the carnage fades, and his video conflating the Liberal Party with national salvation.

Citizens desperately wanted to believe that promises of an “evolving” climate policy and “balance” were signs that things would change. Nothing will change. We’re trapped in a country led by rorters and snake-oil merchants.

One thing is clear, the Nasty Party is split – clearly evident in the putdown of New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean, someone who wants to take more than a timid step on climate policy.

Schmo is a control freak who has lost control, a fearmonger who is afraid – mainly for his own political future. Australia is an international pariah and newspapers such as the Financial Times are mentioning that the prime minister is an “absolute arsehole” – an observation from a ministerial colleague as reported by Niki Savva in her book Plots and Prayers.

Praise be.

Tingle-minded pursuit

You may have detected a touch of longshoreman’s patois has crept into the column. Unlike the hardworking hacks at the ABC, Gadfly has not received any language instructions from the editor.

In response to a miserable Twitterer who dubbed the national broadcaster’s reports on the climate and the fires as “fake news”, Laura Tingle retorted: “A rare editorial engagement: go fuck yourself.”

The Australian Spectator, The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail were among the guardians of public decency who were aghast. Mark Maley, the acting editorial director at Aunty, was quick to send out an all-points ukase to the ranks, urging them to do “nothing that brings the ABC into disrepute”.

“It is crucial that our ability to be impartial and to be seen to be impartial is maintained.”

This raises the question of whether a corrective response to someone who is not impartial itself amounts to impartiality.

Maley continued: “In short, if you wouldn’t say something or endorse a point of view on air, it’s best to avoid doing it on social media.”

Oddly, La Tingle’s lively remark is still available on Twitter, while the account of the anonymous character to whom it was directed has been suspended for violating the rules.

Going Downer the wrong way

Bunter (Fishnets) Downer and his daughter Georgina have a magic touch. Young George has twice been rejected by the voters of Mayo and it was at her second crack in 2019 that she presented an oversized polystyrene cheque adorned with her mug to the Yankalilla Bowling Club.

She had wanted to “make sure its Community Sport Infrastructure grant application was successful”. It was, and the club trousered $127,373. The Adelaide Hills Council also got nearly $500,000 to upgrade the changerooms at the oval.

It was the Yankalilla cheque that triggered the auditor-general’s investigation into how Bridget McKenzie, the then sports minister and leading light in the National Party, went on a vote-buying spree with taxpayer money in marginal Coalition seats.

This threatened Bridget’s gilded, if otherwise useless, political career. Thanks, George.

And it was Bunter getting stuck into gin and tonics at the Kensington Wine Rooms with a Trump campaign flunkey, George Papadopoulos, that was the seed for the special counsel investigation into Russia’s assistance to Bone Spurs in the 2016 election.

With friends like the Downers, who needs enemies?

Exorcising spirits

So wonderful to see Eryn Jean Norvill back on the boards of the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Anthem, staged as part of the Sydney Festival.

This is an important moment in her career after reluctantly giving evidence for The Daily Smellograph in the Geoffrey Rush case. Currently, we’re waiting on the outcome of the Smello’s appeal against the findings and eye-watering damages totted up by Federal Court judge Michael Wigney.

In the circumstances, Norvill’s evidence against Rush was brave as she had much to lose taking on a big star. In the end Wigney was persuaded that the big star could not have “behaved inappropriately” towards the young actress.

A curious thing is that during the defamation trial, actress Yael Stone also published some disturbing stories about Rush’s “spirited enthusiasm” during a production of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman – alleging that Rush danced naked in front of her in the dressing room, “with his penis out”, about 40-45 centimetres from her face; that he looked at her with a mirror while she was in the shower; that he sent her escalating sexually provocative text messages; that he stroked her back at an awards night; and that he invited her to his apartment in a “very physically intimate way”.

All of this was reported by The New York Times, the ABC and elsewhere.

The allegations were made over a year ago, so the time for Geoffrey’s writ has run out.

Price cookers

Grassgate Gussy never disappoints when it comes to fresh twists and turns in his life story.

We have to go back to Watergate for the latest news, unearthed by the indefatigable Anne Davies at Guardian Australia. This was the business of the Commonwealth’s $80 million purchase of water rights from Eastern Australia Agriculture, co-founded by the minister for higher emissions.

Eighty million dollars sounds a bit steep for water that has never made its way back to the catchment. Still, Barnaby Joyce signed the cheque, so it must have been a sound decision.

This was done in 2017 and Gussy Taylor said he was out of the company by 2013. A large part of the money, which found its way to the Caymans, ended up with a Hong Kong investment company run by an Oxford friend of Taylor’s, Chris Gradel.

As a result of new documents produced in reply to questions raised in senate estimates, Davies reported that Eastern Australia Agriculture offered to sell the water on three earlier occasions, and each time the offers were rejected because they were not value for money.

In 2008-2009, EAA offered 37,000 megalitres of overland flow for $1495 a megalitre. The Commonwealth said, “No thanks.” There were two other attempts to sell between 2013 and 2015 and on both occasions the offer was regarded as overpriced.

Then Barnaby came along generously agreeing to buy for $2745 a megalitre – 84 per cent higher than the price that was regarded as too high. The auditor-general is sure to take a look.

Another puzzle is why NSW Police flicked Gussy’s doctored documents case to the Australian Federal Police. It is claimed to be for “jurisdictional reasons”, yet the City of Sydney documents were created in NSW, and if an offence occurred it would be under NSW law.

Premiership meddle

A field agent brings news about the political upheaval in the Apple Isle. Like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Premier Will Hodgman has beetled off.

Actually, Germs Greer predicted when the Sussexes got hitched that Meghan “will bolt”.

Last week, holy roller and Minister for Infrastructure Michael Ferguson, who is an acolyte of Otto Abetz, was ahead with the numbers (eight to six) to replace Hodgman. Otto got on the blower to shore up any waverers, yet that didn’t help. Gadfly hears that his intervention caused antagonism among those who didn’t appreciate the pressure.

With his numbers tumbling, Ferguson pulled out shortly before the party room meeting.

“Don’t ask Otto for help” may be the best idea for number-crunching in the future. Now former treasurer and alleged moderate Peter Gutwein is in the saddle as premier.

Health, housing and the arts were all slashed while Gutwein was in charge of the state abacus. According to the grants commission, the only thing Tasmania funded generously was “services to industry” – handouts to needy corporates.

Don’t be surprised if Hodgman, in due course, throws his hat in for the federal seat of Franklin, family commitments permitting.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 25, 2020 as "Gadfly: A Scott in the dark".

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

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