Diary

Gadfly
Jackson thrives

Where’s Kathy Jackson when you need her during a pandemic? It’s a cry Gadfly hears frequently as he gallivants around a boarded-up nation, so it’s timely to present a handy updated guide to events.

Kathy was the national secretary of the Health Services Union of Australia, the outfit that represents a massive number of people who work in and around hospitals and nursing homes.

As far back as August 2015, the Federal Court found Jackson had misappropriated union funds and ordered her to repay $1.4 million. Regrettably, she had been declared bankrupt two months earlier.

Some of the money was allegedly allocated for rest and recreation in New York, fashion items, gym equipment and various electronic tools.

Criminal proceedings loomed – relating to 160 theft and deception offences, to which she pleaded not guilty. It was not until November 2017 that she was committed for trial.

Here we are, more than two-and-a-half years later, and no trial has happened. A mention in the County Court of Victoria is set down for July 27, with no judge assigned. There is no trial listing anywhere in the next six months.

Justice can be slow, if not meaningful.

In January last year, Jackson applied to the County Court for Legal Aid to take over her defence, saying that her partner, Michael Lawler, a former vice-president of the Fair Work Commission and pal of the Mad Monk, should not be forced to subsidise her legal costs.

In June, the same year, she moved for a permanent stay of the criminal trial. Her barrister argued records that would have supported her side of the story have disappeared.

Judge Mandy Fox reserved judgement. The matter is still being listed in 2020, so it looks as though a permanent stay has not been granted.

In December 2014, David Rofe, QC, a Sydney barrister and confirmed bachelor, signed his last of 40 wills, typed by Jackson herself and to which she said she “made alterations”.

In January 2015, her house in Wombarra caught fire and she and Lawler rented out Rofe’s neighbouring property, which had been purchased by Lawler acting on behalf of the retired silk. As The Australian wistfully put it at the time: “Kathy Jackson living in dementia lawyer’s home”.

Rofe died in July 2017, and now some of the beneficiaries are heading to court for a six-week hearing in which the carve-up of the estate is in dispute. Six weeks may be an optimistic assessment.

The will names the former secretary of the HSU as a 10 per cent beneficiary of the $30 million estate.

Property prices going swimmingly

Gadfly took to the highway this week and headed for the seaside town of Mollymook on the New South Wales south coast – just down the road from historic Milton.

Anything to get out of the big smoke and go gluten free. Reminders of the mega-bushfires in and around the area are ever present, although it’s heartening to see green shoots sprouting out of blackened tree trunks.

Many lives remain horribly impacted – no homes, no livelihood and only tiny dollops of salvation on the way.

Still, property prices are zooming ahead – one of the main topics of economic discussion. And why not? Sea changers are pouring down the highway looking for alternatives.

The ocean itself is as good a reason as any to migrate. It’s like swimming in champagne, or Porphyry Pearl.

Papal wine

Sighting of the week: The distinctive Monsignor Charles Portelli fossicking among the imported Italian wines at Bottega del Vino in bobo Potts Pointless.

The monsignor was George Pell’s close colleague and opportunity witness at his trial. The Victorian Court of Appeal found his evidence, particularly on the manoeuvrability of an archbishop’s robes, to be unreliable.

The High Court thought otherwise.

Maths and ABC

When is a cut to the ABC’s budget not a cut? When Schmo and his sidekick Paul Fletcher say it’s an increase.

About 250 jobs have gone and the budgetary allocation is down by $84 million over three years because of an indexation freeze.

According to the Schmo–Fletcher thesis, the ABC management is retrenching people and chopping programs because the organisation has more money.

Taking away the indexation but adding occasional smaller increments over the triennium is deemed by Canberra to be an overall increased allocation.

Schmo is famous for his magic tricks and sleight of hand and he can do this with a straight face, with Fletcher by his side doing enthusiastic noddies. Part of the trick has been to add in transmission and distribution costs, increased due to indexation, and then suggest that is a bigger budget for the operations of the broadcaster.

In fact, the operational side of the budget remains lower for the next four years than it was in 2018-19.

Political dishonesty isn’t half of it – little wonder Fletcher bears that perpetual ashamed-guilty look.

Reductions to the “operational base funding” started to get under way in the dreadful Hockey (No Cuts to the ABC) budget of 2014. Someone should give the man a cigar for removing a $250 million chunk of Aunty’s money.

According to the think tank Per Capita, the national broadcaster has lost $783 million in funding over the past six years.

Broadcasting éminence grise Kerry O’Brien has issued a statement on behalf of ABC alumni urging the voters of Eden-Monaro this Saturday to send a heartfelt message to the government: “Don’t mess with our ABC.”

Bringing folk up to Speed

Citizens frequently ask about Speed and Stracey, the Sydney law shop representing former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.

In circles close to the moneybags end of town, Speed and Stracey is the preferred port of call for tax advice. Notably, in 2015, a couple of the firm’s partners came to light as the hands behind an outfit named the Family Office Institute.

The institute, which had no members, lobbied in Canberra for the exemption of very wealthy individuals from legislation that required the Australian Tax Office to disclose how much tax had been avoided by their privately owned corporate extensions.

Joshy Frydenberg thought this degree of transparency was a shocking idea, saying it would only make the owners of these companies targets for kidnappers.

In the rarefied air of Canberra this powerful argument won the day, and the corporate playthings of the well-padded are exempt under the Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency legislation.

Robin Speed, who founded the law firm, also created the Rule of Law Institute, otherwise known as the Rule of Lawyers Institute. It spawned an affiliated outfit named the Magna Carta Institute, where Dicey sat as a committee member.

The Sydney Morning Herald once described the RoL Institute as patrolling “the corridors of power for legislation that may threaten the interests of business”.

Heydon’s name has now been scrubbed from the honour board of Magna Carta’s governing directors.

Robin Speed also lunged into the same-sex marriage debate. When, in August 2017, Pauline Wright, the president of the Law Society of NSW, committed the society to support for the Yes vote, Speed became incandescent.

He demanded Wright resign as president “immediately”. He threatened legal action and set about gathering support among the membership to requisition an extraordinary general meeting of the society to censure the council for “incorrectly holding out that all solicitors in NSW had united in supporting marriage equality laws”.

In the end, the council had to create “working groups” to advise committees on how to handle the collapse of civil society in the wake of marriage equality.

Pollie anomie

The British-based website polifiller.co.uk is providing a wonderful service. It automatically strips clichés and filibusters out of pieces of political posturing.

Just paste the transcript of a political interview or a speech into the site and it will identify the verbosity and hyperbole and “expose the political vexicon”.

Gadfly tried it with the Gettysburg Address and discovered it has a cliché count of 3 and a filibuster factor of 2 per cent. By comparison the much longer strategic defence speech by Schmo on Wednesday scored a cliché count of 19, but slightly better than Abraham Lincoln on the filibuster measurement, with an outcome of 1 per cent.

Hamish Thompson, who runs the site, has announced the awards for the 2020 Polifiller Hall of Shame, highlighting the leading “wrigglers and stretchers” out of the lips of politicians. Among the top well-worn responses we find:

“That’s a great question …”

“We’ll have more to say about that.”

“Let me be clear.”

“Let me be very clear.”

“Hard-working families …”

“Unprecedented times …”

“We’re all in this together.”

“Now is not the time” and “I’m not going to give a running commentary.” 

Grassgate Gussy Taylor is a dedicated user of “Let me be clear”, as he dodges and weaves around questions about the now infamous Sydney City Council fake travel figures or his involvement in seeking to change the regulations around endangered Monaro grasslands.

Gadfly’s awards suggestion would have been: “Keeping Australians safe.”  

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 4, 2020 as "Gadfly: Jackson thrives".

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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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