Diary

Gadfly
Chef’s def mission

Tony Bilson, the great chef, restaurateur, raconteur, flâneur, dreamer, trendsetter and bohemian was laid to rest this week with a big Sydney sendoff.

The morning started off grey and drizzling, but by the time the encomiums finished the air was sunny and sparkling. Leon Fink, Bilson’s business partner for many years, spoke, as did others who recalled his life in food, wine and friendship – from La Pomme d’Or in Camberwell and the Albion Hotel in Lygon Street, then north to the harbour city and Tony’s Bon Gout, Berowra Waters Inn, Kinselas, Fine Bouche, Bilson’s, Ampersand, Canard and Number One.

Gadfly remembers Bilson for his generosity when as an editor and publisher of a small but mighty organ your correspondent was sued for defamation. Tony leapt to the defence, saying he would provide a fundraising dinner at Kinselas to help defray eye-watering legal bills.

A vast selection from the demimonde was invited: journalists, lawyers, performers, politicians, people on the make and ne’er-do-wells. It was one of those evenings when people fell in and out of love. For some reason Labor’s young rising star Gareth (Biggles) Evans agreed to turn up and deliver an oration about freedom of the press.

Some objectionable guests who were not in possession of their faculties started to throw bread rolls at the guest speaker. There was a pervasive air that law and order had broken down.

To make matters worse, the man on the door who was supposed to collect the money got shickered and left his post. The alcohol bill devoured the remaining funds and nothing was left for the defamation defence lawyers.

The event had more to do with hellraising than fundraising, with Tony Bilson right in the merry thick of it. Needless to say, your correspondent came second at the defamation trial.

Deal or no deal?

The nation doesn’t seem to be holding its breath but it might still be worth wondering what happened to Senator Jacqui Lambie’s secret arrangement with the government – the sub rosa quid pro quo that secured her vote to repeal the medevac legislation.

Last December the government said there was “no deal”, yet the Wild Tasmanian insisted there was an agreement that she couldn’t reveal due to “national security”. As she said herself:

“I put a proposal to the government, and since then we have worked together really hard to advance that proposal … As a result of that work, I’m more than satisfied that the conditions are now in place to allow medevac to be repealed.”

For good measure, she added: “I am being 100 per cent honest to you.”

Lambie negotiated with Schmo directly, so after the handshake she would have had to count her fingers.

Nothing has emerged about a magic proposal that might make life better for those still banged up in offshore detention without proper medical treatment. The government insists it is not progressing anything, which is its usual state of play.

Here we are in February and there’s not been a peep. Did Lambie give away her vote for nothing? Was she double-crossed? Considering this government’s form that is a distinct possibility. Lambie tells us she still can’t say anything, yet.

Now Lambie is eager to do a deal with the government on its union crackdown bill. Let’s hope “national security” doesn’t get in the way of discovering the details.

Appeal to Chuckles

“Yawn,” says Gerard Chuckles Henderson about historian Jenny Hocking’s High Court challenge, seeking release of the letters that flowed between then governor-general Jolly John Kerr and Buckingham Palace at the time the old soak was secretly plotting the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

The High Court heard submissions for a day and a bit this week on whether the letters were private or belonged to the Commonwealth. Chuckles, as expected, was aghast at an ABC report on 7.30 and an interview with Hocking.

He knows so much about the topic the ABC should have interviewed him, Chuckles whinged in his blog. Indeed, he knew so much about the topic that he claimed, “Jenny Hocking’s application for special leave to appeal against a Federal Court decision not to release Sir John’s correspondence with The Palace will be heard by the High Court of Australia next week.”

Er, Chuckles, the special leave application was heard and determined almost six months ago, on August 16 last year. What has just been heard is the appeal itself.

No wonder the ABC steers clear of him.

Molan moments

The twice unelected Senator Jim Molan was speaking for the entire climate-denying apparatus when he announced on the revamped Q&A that his position on the topic did not depend on “evidence”.

He had an “open mind” about whether the world’s great environmental problem is caused by humans, but that openness was not infected by evidence.

The usual position of climate deniers is a closed mind, so to that extent Molan is an unusual gush of stale air.

The essential component in this dialectic is “feelings”, which Roger Ailes explained very well in The Loudest Voice. Fox News viewers don’t want facts or science or any of that stuff. They want to have their emotions confirmed.

Clearly, there’s no need for elections when characters of the dimension of Jimbo Molan can get appointed and reappointed to the senate by apparatchiks in the Nasty Party.

Leyonhjelm largesse

The electorate is no doubt grieving that David Leyonhjelm is no longer in the senate, indeed not in any parliament anywhere.

Instead, last week the rusticated politician received findings from Justice Richard White in the Federal Court about the costs he has to pay Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for his unsuccessful defence of her defamation action over imputations that she was a misandrist and a hypocrite.

In November, White ordered Leyonhjelm to pay the Greens senator $120,000 in aggravated damages. That is to be appealed. Indemnity costs were ordered last week: that is, costs at the maximum rate.

This is partly because Leyonhjelm’s offer of settlement was unreasonable, in fact insulting. His offer was that Hanson-Young withdraw the action and pay his costs.

Generously, he said the costs paid to him could be capped at the amount Hanson-Young received from her crowdfunded “fighting fund” “garnered on false pretences”. The Greens senator has thus far raised just north of $60,000. He neglected to mention that his own crowdfunding efforts have brought in $40,000.

In the process, Leyonhjelm also referred to Hanson-Young’s claim on parliamentary expenses for a whale‑watching excursion with her daughter.

His solicitor wrote to Hanson-Young’s lawyers in September 2018 offering what was described as a “cumshaw or lagniappe for the benefit of your client”.

This was characterised by Hanson-Young’s lawyer as the equivalent of a tip offered to a taxi driver. The judge thought the language was “grandiloquent”.

Parsed words

While in the landscape of words and language, the delightful little online service A.Word.A.Day this week gave some careful thought to the meaning of “Moloch”.

It seems we’ve been right all along in anointing Rupert Murdoch with this title, for it means: “Someone or something to which extreme sacrifices are made.”

Moloch was a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifices. The word also has been turned into a verb, “to molochise”.

Interestingly, the word for January 30 was “feuilleton” – the part of a European newspaper devoted to light literature, criticism and the like.

That’s right where we are now.

Lurking perks

Members of the New South Wales parliament were overawed to receive an infographic from ASIO about protecting democracy from foreign interference. No doubt it was distributed to other parliamentarians across the land.

It explained that “foreign actors are creating and pursuing opportunities to undermine Australia’s sovereignty”.

Politicians should be wary of gifts, donations, expenses-paid travel, networking and study tours.

Too much caution about these things is likely to put most politicians out of business. However, ASIO warns that these perks, if developed over long periods, can morph into obligations. In particular, be careful of specially crafted sexual or romantic relationships.

There is some handy advice on questions with which MPs must constantly grapple, including: “I have been invited to a conference or learning tour overseas. Should I attend? … Should I accept donations from an individual or group?”

The security organisation has been sending out this sort of stuff to business for years – warning about actual or potential threats from foreign interests and investors, particularly Chinese interests.

The most recent annual report from ASIO asks for more resources to tackle these perceived risks. Geoff Raby, the former Australian ambassador to China, writing in John Menadue’s blog recently said: “It would appear that ASIO has become something of a self-appointed gatekeeper on foreign investment into Australia. None of this would matter very much if the process was transparent, open and contestable, but it is not.”

As far as transparency goes, Mark Webb, the chief executive of the NSW Department of Parliamentary Services, told MPs and MLCs that the information ASIO provided is “for official use and should not be shared”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 8, 2020 as "Gadfly: Chef’s def mission".

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