Diary

Gadfly
Reality smites

Death and the plague. Whenever Gadfly reaches for his well-thumbed Pears’ Cyclopaedia he finds that plagues turn out worse than everyone had hoped.

The Great Plague of Justinian, which took the Byzantine Empire by the throat, started in AD541 and kept coming back until 750. It decimated the eastern Roman Empire and the historian Procopius claims that at its peak in Constantinople 10,000 a day were dying.

It sounds a bit like the Pussy Grabber’s America, although back then the bacteria was probably bred in a laboratory in Cairo.

The Black Death initially ran for a disciplined four years from 1347 to 1351 and slimmed down the population of the world by up to 200 million souls. It was accompanied by economic and social chaos. It kept recurring and persisted throughout Europe up to 1671. Naturally, many people blamed the Jews.

Closer to our time, we had the Spanish flu, the first wave of which started in 1918 and kept on having new outbreaks up to 1920, and by then it had infected about a third of the world’s population.

All this misery and disruption was spread by precursors to the Ruby Princess. Those ships of yore carried rats frolicking among the grains and other merchandise.

What does this pattern of history mean in regard to Schmo’s “snapback” or the impressive “V-shaped recovery”? All the economic pundits Gadfly can discover say the PM’s smoking something. The recovery will be slow and, even though infrastructure spending may boost demand, it will not be enough.

Businesses that are piled with short-term debt face the worst prospects and there’ll be loads of bankruptcies. Your correspondent is advised that a liquidity crisis is unfolding, with banks having to turn off the credit spigot.

Concepts you don’t find in Leaky Josh Frydenberg’s spruikings.

Van glorious

The one enterprising outfit that has been ahead of the curve throughout the pandemic is the Caravan Industry Association of Australia. Bravo.

Last month it pressed state government for an exemption to restrictions that have seen caravan parks closed. The association points out that cabin accommodation “in spacious gated communities within nature” is safe because, unlike hotels, there are “no shared hallways or elevators”.

And where do the 80,000 caravaners “on the road across Australia right now” park their mobile homes if they are being turned away from these areas?

It’s a horrible situation to be sure. Yet there is a silver lining, because the industry stands ready to “lead the road to recovery” by releasing onto the highways 710,000 recreational vehicles “waiting to holiday and stimulate the market”.

You have been warned.

Sitting pretty

The New South Wales parliament meets next Tuesday – the first time in more than six weeks. This is a one-day affair conducted on the basis that as few a number of members have to sit next to each other as possible.

It looks pretty hectic with the legislative assembly starting work at noon and the legislative council at 2.30pm. The main item on the agenda for the Rump Parliament is legislation to provide relief to residential and retail tenants and landlords.

Then there’s a four-month break with a scheduled resumption on September 15 for an astonishing 21 days of debate until the end of November.

The Labor opposition has unsuccessfully asked the government for more sitting days. It also wants next Tuesday’s sitting to be extended so that laws dealing with powers to enforce standards in the building and construction industry can be debated and enacted.

The government has fast-tracked construction projects, which also involve new residential buildings, yet there need to be enforceable safeguards in place, otherwise don’t be alarmed if there are more tower blocks and townhouses cracking and tottering.

Ages ago Aunty Gladys had agreed that because of the long adjournments the business of the executive could be scrutinised by the legislative council’s public accountability committee.

The committee’s first scheduled meeting was scheduled for Thursday, this week; the building and safety legislation is nowhere on the horizon, and even though the schools are opening their doors and the beef-boys at the NRL are ready for a set of six, the Short Parliament struggles to find time to assemble.

Constance craving

The NSW opposition’s overtures about parliamentary sittings and legislation were made to Andrew Constance, leader of the house. He has been a bit busy to attend to these matters during his on-off attempt to move his backside onto the parliamentary leather in Canberra.

Poor little Pork Barrelo, the leader of the NSW Nationals and deputy premier, who has been pining until his heart ached for Mike Kelly’s seat of Eden-Monaro.

On Monday, Porko announced he was withdrawing because it was what was best for him, his family and the people of Eden-Monaro (and because Constance was the better candidate and would beat him).

“My decision was difficult but, at the heart of it, I love NSW …” and there’s so much more to do as deputy premier.

Amazingly, Constance also withdrew after discovering he has “unfinished business” as Transport and Roads minister.

By Tuesday, Barilaro was tearing into the deputy prime minister, Michael “Crackers” McCormack, for his “lack of public enthusiasm ... for my candidacy”. Pork accused Crackers of feeling “threatened” by him.

Then it emerged that the deputy premier, from the Queanbeyan family of door framers, thinks his “friend” Constance is a “cunt”.

Aunty Gladys looks as though she is stuck with Porker, even though she was desperate for him to depart Macquarie Street. One saving grace for the voters is that Field Marshal Molan will not be on the ballot.

Labor’s Mike Kelly reluctantly stepped aside as an MP due to an ongoing illness. Other MPs have taken extended leave of absence without resigning their seats while attending to personal health issues, including Liberals David Coleman, Andrew Robb and Arthur Sinodinos.

Oh, super! Law’s best recognised

The eternal squabble about whether silken barristers should be called senior counsel or Queen’s counsel has been a monumental distraction for far too long.

Now we have a new crop of winners in a category called “Best Lawyers”, where a huge number of people who are not silks can get some alluring branding.

Included in the latest crop were some of Sydney University’s finest legal academics plus scads of contenders from law firms practising in everything from rural affairs to franchising, biological law and bankruptcy.

This vanity project is conducted by an American “peer review” outfit, one of many in a crowded field dedicated to handing out gongs to worker bees in the dusty confines of the law.

The Queen’s counsel badge was clawed back in Queensland and South Australia, following well-worn arguments about status, wealth, and competing in Hong Kong and Singapore where they don’t appoint QCs.

But why would anyone want to be badged with SC or QC when you can have the much less confusing bauble, “Best Lawyer”.

The daddy of them all is another piece of plumage from America, the “Super Lawyer”. Around the bars at the best golf clubs, that one takes the cake.

Biden his time but is it enough?

It’s to be hoped that with all the local distractions with which to contend, people aren’t taking their eye off the forthcoming United States presidential election.

A discussion with Australian expats in the US along with local experts, scholars and other ear-to-the-ground types shows that Joe Biden, if he can remember that he is running for president, will be a shoo-in.

The Economist is more cautious and has sliced and diced the electorate into 380,000 cells and applied a technique called “multilevel regression and poststratification”.

After analysing a bewildering pile of maths, it says Biden is six points ahead of Bone Spurs. He is polling better at this stage in key parts of the electorate than Hillary Clinton in 2016.

However, there are worrying signs. The ballots say that 41 per cent of whites would vote for Biden and 51 per cent for Spurs. The president is well ahead with Christians, who prefer his brand of sexual assaults than the sort alleged against Biden.

Also, Trump is polling better with Black Americans and Hispanics than he did last time around.

It all depends on voter turnout and maybe whether Amy Klobuchar is the running mate.

As Biden is approaching his 80th birthday, Klobuchar will have to be on hand to take over the presidency in a heartbeat.    

According to The Economist’s multilevel regression analysis, Trump could again lose the popular vote by two to three percentage points and still win a majority in the electoral college.

Still, at six points ahead and if the election were held now, Biden would probably win even if he continues to look completely dopey.

What have we done to deserve such a fabulous ally?

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 9, 2020 as "Gadfly: Reality smites".

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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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