Diary

Gadfly
Masking for trouble

By now it is clear the face mask is the object that most defines this new decade.

From an unfashionable item confined to special conditions in specific geographies, it is fast becoming ubiquitous.

It is the facial accessory du jour, filtering the effects of fires, plagues, pestilence, climate and uncertainty. The closer civilisation hurtles towards dystopia, the more citizens will put their faith in this ungainly facial furniture.

Large swaths of the world’s population are trapped by regimes too incompetent to mitigate the long-term effects of mismanagement. If Gadfly were Warren Buffett, he would be investing in face masks, for as Hanrahan predicted: “We’ll all be rooned, before the year is out.”

Authoritarian regimes see the face mask as a threat to their control, viz  Hong Kong, where the regime banned their use because they stymied the clampdown on democracy activists.

The mask is indeed an impediment to state agencies whose mission is to spy on their citizens.

This week, there are reports Chemist Warehouse ran out of masks in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, as people clamoured for protection against the untamed coronavirus.

Greg Hunt, the Health minister who did his bit for polluting the atmosphere when he danced for joy at the abolition of the carbon tax, rushed 450,000 face masks to Victoria during the bushfire crisis to assist firefighters and those with breathing difficulties.

Hunt’s masks can filter some particles, but he warns they are not an “alternative to avoiding smoke wherever possible”. In other words, like the government of which he is a member, they are fairly useless.

As coronavirus panic increases, doctors are begging Hunt to release millions of masks he has stashed in something called the National Medical Stockpile.

At this stage there are serious design deficiencies with this increasingly essential garment. A few stylish versions were seen on the red carpet at the Grammys, but honestly Jean Paul Gaultier, or one of his ilk, should get cracking on something glamorous and alluring.

With shoes to match, please.

Divvy Vanstone

What of Amanda Vanstone, the former Immigration minister notorious for stamping the visa application of Francesco Madafferi, a man with a history of “violence and extortion”.

After associates of the Madafferis gave a pile of money to the Liberal Party’s Millennium Forum, Amanda handed Frank a visa on “humanitarian” grounds. He went on to be found guilty and sentenced for his part in a drug-smuggling conspiracy.

As Amanda put it herself, in relation to a Sri Lankan family the government wants to deport, “Any decision to break the rules for one person or family gives them an advantage over others in the same position. Why is that fair?”

That’s all water down the drain because now the Howard-era minister received an AO for services to the parliament and the community. Three days before she was gonged, though, she put her foot in it by tweeting a snide swipe at Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who received an award of $20,000 and a six-month artist’s residency in Paris, courtesy of the Australia Council for the Arts.

Ms Vanstone offered the ungenerous observation: “Is it just me? Abdel-Magied gets $20k and a Paris stint?”

Others were quick to point out that the former politician should be the last person to complain about snouts in troughs, what with landing the grace and favour post of ambassador to Italy and thereafter coasting through life on a government pension.

What has not received more recognition is her contribution to Australia’s identity, as the author of a patriotic song titled “Under Southern Stars”.

To the tune of that well-known ditty “Land of Hope and Glory”, the first verses go like this:

Home to first Australians,
Joined from near and far,
Shining light for freedom,
Under southern stars.
Nation made of many,
Bound in hope as one,
Building for the future,
Under southern sun.

Other verses deal with our love of peace and alternatively our courage in battle. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a dirge but it’s up there in sentimentality with “True Blue” and also goes quite well to the tune of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. Take your pick.

Losing the Blot

Lord Moloch insists there are “no climate deniers” at News Corp. That must be why the noted Dutch philosopher and News Corp scribbler Dr Andreas Blot brands himself a “climate sceptic”.

As the language takes on fresher shades and hues, “sceptic” should usefully be understood to mean “denier”.

Blot was at it this week with a piece in the Hun arguing “warming is good for us”. Intriguingly, his main source was climate scientist Professor Andy Pitman, described as a “warmist”.

We’ve entered a pretty weird universe where a climate denier, whose boss insists is not denying anything, is relying on a warmist scientist to support a denialist agenda.

Naturally, Blot omits vital morsels of information to advance his case. Pitman has already clarified his earlier statement and made it clear that “there is no direct link between climate change and drought”. There is certainly a link but take out the word “direct” and people such as Blot can have a field day.

The other leg of the Dutch philosopher’s story is that carbon dioxide is helping to make the planet greener. For this notion, he mainly relies on Freeman Dyson, an American theoretical physicist, quantum electrodynamicist and climate denier, aka sceptic.

Speaking to SBS’s The Feed, Pitman pointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says while there are areas of greening, it’s a trend that won’t continue. As things get warmer, greening will give way to browning. Pitman says Blot is “cherrypicking with intent”.

James Murdoch may be critical of people such as Blot, Little Kris Kenny, Ms Devine et cetera, yet the classic News Corp formulation is to say it is simply hosting debates that reflect the political division in the country – all in the public interest.

This is another way of saying that acreage is given over to ill-informed and unqualified nut jobs to retail junk theories.

Letter or curse?

This week Blot also blotted his copybook, again, on the issue of Aboriginal identity and his favourite subject of late, Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe.

In his eagerness to discredit Pascoe’s Aboriginality, Blot published a letter purportedly written by Aboriginal elder Terry Yumbulul. The letter was apparently provided to the Dutchman by Josephine Cashman, but this week Yumbulul told NITV he did not pen the screed.

Cashman was removed from the Indigenous Voice to Parliament advisory council the following day, yet Blot continues to paddle his canoe.

Immediately, as he started down this path, memories of his starring role in the 2011 racial discrimination case came flooding back.

The Federal Court found that his articles about light-skinned Aboriginals getting special benefits were not written in good faith and were riddled with factual errors.

News Corp must have decided it had insufficient grounds for an appeal, because there was none.

Mod cons

It was intriguing to see how a “Modern Liberal” such as Dave Sharma, MP for Wentworth, juggles the climate issue with his well-informed electorate.

In the local Moloch throwaway, the Wentworth Courier, Dave expatiated on the wonderful people in his electorate and their efforts at helping fire victims over the hills and far away. There’s even a picture of Dave delivering toilet paper to the Bondi Surf Club to be dispatched in convoys down the coast.

His opinion piece was headlined “We need to change climate policy”, which seems a little out of step with the policy initiatives enunciated by the Liberal Party’s spiritual godfather, former furniture salesman Craig Kelly.

Dave tots up all the things he believes will make a difference: “Australia is making a transition to a cleaner-energy, lower-emissions future, as is the rest of the world, and technology is on our side here ... And we are committed to meeting and beating our target of reducing our emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.”

It’s just that he feels the transition “needs to be happening at a faster rate”. Er, in other words, we need to stick with the do-nothing-much policy but do it more quickly.

The barbed-wire straddle of these Modern Liberals must be causing terrible chafing to their nethers.

Moral histories

A dog’s breakfast of a Religious Freedom to Discriminate Bill is drifting around somewhere in the parliamentary ether.

It allows Holy Rollers to do a whole lot of nasty things in the name of God – and it’s right up Schmo’s alley.

It’s interesting to cast our minds back to 2002, when the Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill was before parliament. It was another round in the God v Science mud wrestle.

At the time Joe Hockey was minister for Small Business and Tourism, but still edging his way up the greasy political pole. More recently he’s been starring in the Nine newspapers as he eases his way out of the Washington cocktail circuit.

But Hockey’s second reading speech on the Embryos and Human Cloning Bill deserves some airing as parliament gets closer to The Christian Porter’s latest version of the “Religious Freedom” Bill. Take it away, Joe:

“I do not believe, as do some of my colleagues, that it is the role of government to preach and legislate morality. This is not a church, and I am not standing in a pulpit. As an elected representative of the Australian people, it is not my role to exclusively impose my values on others; it is to represent, take into account and promote community values that nurture the aspirations of our nation and its people. I have great faith in our community. Unfortunately, some others in this place do not share that faith. We must never indulge ourselves with the power of office and we should not use our position to force the community to accept our personal moral judgements. This parliament is not for moralistic crusades.”

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 1, 2020 as "Gadfly: Masking for trouble".

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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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