Diary

Gadfly
Trump’s life or debt decision

One savvy business sage who this week was in Gadfly’s ear thinks the fast-failing enterprises in the United States might see Bone Spurs Trump become the first president in office to go bankrupt.

Dirty weekends at the Trump Golden Swamp Country Club have been put on hold, now that it’s been forced to close.

The value of his gilded city towers and hotels is crashing with each passing moment and given they are leveraged to buggery with either Deutsche Bank or the Russian mafia, the whole rickety edifice will soon be underwater. Not that Trump is any stranger to bankruptcy.

Little wonder the president wants to unlock the doors and let everyone out on the streets where they can spend, spend, spend. Morgan Stanley’s prediction of a 30 per cent annual shrinkage in the US economy would see not only the gossamered Pussy Grabber go down the gurgler but a few banks with him.

In lifting the current restrictions, the administration has to work out how many deaths are needed to kickstart the economy.

Casey Mulligan, a former chief economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, weighed in on the cost benefit of sacrificing additional lives to save the upward-thrusting pistons of capitalism. In language Trump understands, he said: “It’s a little bit like, when you discover sex can be dangerous, you don’t come out and say, ‘There should be no more sex.’ You should give people guidance on how to have sex less dangerously.”

Pollies on full pay

The Anzac spirit was alive and well as citizens fought in the aisles for toilet paper. Now tanks and other armoured vehicles might soon roll on to the streets to keep crowds under control outside Stuart Robert’s government queueing centres.

New South Wales has introduced laws that will amend the state’s constitution, ramp up powers for ministers to govern by regulation and have criminal trials conducted on the basis of tape-recorded evidence by witnesses (no need for bothersome cross-examination). Convicts are to be selectively set free, there will be slower judgements from the civil and administrative tribunal, and selected developers can get cracking without approval.

Aunty Gladys is not one to let a good crisis go to waste.

The criminal justice changes are therapeutic, with fewer juries and more judge-alone trials. Tim Game, president of the NSW bar ’n’ grill, was not impressed: “There are no safeguards to ensure the integrity of the process by which evidence is taken remotely … evidence that is taken in such a vacuum, for use in subsequent trials, can only be done at the substantial risk of unfair outcomes.”

Greens MP David Shoebridge also was on the battlements, pointing out that the checks and balances designed to moderate the regulation-making power can themselves be removed by regulation. It’s not as though parliament can exercise any oversight – it has packed it in until September.

Which begs the question, what sacrifice are the pollies making? Workers are being stood down in droves while politicians are enjoying extended parliamentary leave on full pay.

A ship of fools

Whoever made the mad decision to allow 2700 passengers from the Ruby Princess to disembark, untested, in Sydney presumably is also still on full pay.

Since that fateful free pass to dry land three days after the introduction of a ban on cruise ships docking, one passenger has died and 133 have tested positive for Covid-19 while dispersing to the four corners of the continent. There were nearly 160 cases of various illnesses logged on the ship before disembarkation.

At time of press, NSW’s coronavirus cases topped 1200, more than double the cases of Victoria; Australia was heading towards 3000 cases, with numbers multiplying every few days.

Passengers report they were able to get off the ship with nary a thought about being tested. NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant said the ship was “low risk”, while the Health minister, Brad Hazzard, had second thoughts: “If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people, I’d have said, ‘Yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship.’”

That’s little comfort to those who thought the authorities might know what they were doing. A week later, a wallah from Border Force, an outfit with an outstanding record for detaining people for extended periods, is pointing the finger at NSW Health, while his colleagues are herding people close and tight in Sydney Airport.

And everyone is still on full pay.

Lockdown lessons

A field agent in Vietnam reports that the country’s schools went into lockdown in January. Everyone wears a mask, thermal guns are everywhere, and the World Health Organization praised the country for inventing a cheap and effective testing kit within a month of the virus seeding. America is still struggling on this front.

This week, Vietnam reports about 140 cases and zero deaths. Sometimes dictatorship works.

In South Korea, which has one of the best Covid-19 databases, the death rate for those contracting the virus who are below 29 years of age is zero, rising to 0.4 per cent for those in their 50s. The death rate for those in their 70s is 5.4 per cent and for the over-80s it’s 10.4 per cent.

On this basis, policy wonks are suggesting that everyone under 50 return to work or school, and those over 70 be confined to barracks. They are still trying to work out what to do with those in between.

Silks’ screen

One of the gilded sets of barristers’ chambers in Sydney’s Phillip Street has sent everyone home – including 17 silks, readers, staff and future legal stars who are being carefully nurtured.

Restricted access arrangements also apply and there’ll be no deliveries in person or by courier. This has been attributed to the “developing Covid-19 situation”, although Phillip Street gossipmongers say this shutdown isn’t about fear of anyone catching the virus, but rather an absence on the floor of toilet paper, soap, hand sanitiser, tissues and hand towels.

Raiding parties have been sent out to fossick for the necessary hygiene products, to no avail.

Mind you, this would have to be the softest, thickest toilet paper imaginable. It was just a matter of time until the upper echelons of the law went paperless. 

Spoke in the wheel

Meanwhile, life goes on or, as the case may be, it doesn’t.

The Goulburn Mulwaree Council has struck a problem with its proposed bicycle trail along the old railway line between Crookwell and Goulburn. The idea is that this beautiful pedalling pathway would attract daytrippers. “Wallets on wheels” is the way some councillors see it.

However, local Pitt Street farmer Maurice Newman AC, is not an enthusiastic supporter. He’s got an 800-hectare spread at Crookwell fronting the track, which he bought for $5.5 million. In fact, his duck pond could pose a problem for the project as it is built across the railway right-of-way.

Maurice explained his objections to Gadfly, of which there are many: the track has a pretty steep incline; it “cuts through our property in an economically inconvenient way … one-third of a paddock would be unusable”; there are biosecurity issues with cyclists spreading viruses and noxious weeds (maybe Grassgate Gussy could get rid of those); they may drop lolly wrappers that would damage the cattle if eaten; it would cost $20 million, which would be better off going to the hospital; and in winter it snows.

This is not Maurice’s first objection to local projects. He described the farmers wanting wind farms on their properties as “greedy” and joined a posse of Sydney-based Crookwell landowners threatening to sue anyone should the wind turbines proceed.

The retired sharebroker called upon the then premier, Barry O’Farrell, to intervene in the community consultation process. Latest reports say the NSW Independent Planning Commission has blocked the proposed 102MW Crookwell Stage 3 wind farm, citing concerns about visual impacts.

Sharma/Sharri show

What a treat to see Sharri Markson pop up in Lord Moloch’s throwaway property rag for Sydney’s eastern suburbs, the Wentworth Courier.

She got up close to the local Nasty Party MP Dave Sharma in an interview that can only be described as cloying. No hard questions for Dave, who posed for photos splashing about in the waves at Bondi.

He did his best to prove to his climate-concerned constituents that he is on their ticket. Except, he’s not, because he’s shackled to the party’s unconvincing straddle.

Sharma doesn’t think Australia should be on the front line of climate action but of course he wants us to be “at, or towards, net zero in the second half of the century” – far too late for anyone. He supports coal-fired power for the energy sector and the introduction of nuclear power – see what that does to your power bills – and he also loves gas, which is “about 50 per cent cleaner than coal”, by his estimation.

Not a mention anywhere of the great future for wind, solar and batteries. Tellingly, he’s opposed to Zali Steggall’s call for a parliamentary conscience vote on climate action. “It’s not something like abortion or marriage equality or same-sex relationships, which go to the heart of people’s values,” explained Dave.

His big continuation is to advocate for the abolition of the luxury car tax on electric vehicles.

The Wentworth Courier anointed Dave with the title, “climate crusader”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 28, 2020 as "Gadfly: Trump’s life or debt decision".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

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

Our journalism is founded on trust and independence

Register your email for free access or log in if you already subscribe

      Keep Reading                 Subscribe