Diary

Gadfly
Carry on up the Charteris

The buttery emollients that gushed back and forth between Jolly John Kerr and senior palace flunkey Sir Martin Charteris will be a treat for Australia’s gimcrack royalists and accompanying style mavens.

In the “palace letters” there were heaps of exchanges about when to wear morning dress with decorations, what tunes to play by way of royal salutes, the extent to which subjects should curtsy, damage to official photos of Betty Battenberg and Phil the Greek after Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin, and the odd Latin bon mot.

Trappings and trivia filled the billets-doux, yet not so far beneath the surface the political groundwork was being laid for the dismissal.

Kerr, by this stage in his role as viceroy, was fighting his demons and not too successfully the demon drink. Yet, one thing was clear – he needed the palace’s nod on exercising the reserve or discretionary powers of the monarch’s representative.

Charteris, for all the world a Tory to his bootstraps, was soothing balm itself. He told Kerr it was “constitutionally proper” to sack the government and dissolve parliament if supply bills were blocked in the senate.

The GG shared with the royal retainer details of conversations with Gough Whitlam and then opposition leader Malcolm Fraser, and in return Charteris laid it on, telling Kerr he was playing his hand with “skill and wisdom [and] impartially”.

Charteris added, use of the reserve powers to dismiss a government in the circumstances of November 1975 placed Kerr in a “very honourable position”. He dressed up Kerr’s role in the crisis as “constitutional”, whereas it was in truth political.

This was the succour that the desperately insecure Kerr needed to pull the trigger on the government. Whitlam remarked of Fraser at the time: “It is the first time the burglar has been appointed as caretaker.”

Again when Kerr resigned in 1977, Charteris commended his “honourable motives”. Less than a week after the putsch, the Queen was sending Kerr her “best wishes”.

There could not have been a greener green light from London. Further, it’s unimaginable that the Queen did not know what was going on prior to the dismissal. Charteris would have been in her shell-like ear about the thinking of her shickered satrap Down Under.

Jolly John was simply providing cover for Buck House’s backside when he said he did not advise HM in advance of the sacking. Of course, he was straight on the blower afterwards to let her know what he had done in her name.

If Australia was truly a sovereign nation, Charteris would have been on the phone to Yarralumla, saying stop sending me all this obsequious falderal, the political infighting of Canberra is none of my business, and forget the reserve powers – for a democracy they are an anachronistic absurdity.

More dirty washing

The political crisis of November 1975 was nothing to the contentious struggle that consumed one of Kerr’s predecessors as governor-general, Field Marshal William Slim, later Viscount Slim, aka Uncle Bill Slim.

Researcher and writer William Summers reveals that in 1959 Slim struggled with whether Australia should gift to each of the Queen and the Queen Mother a pair of Hills hoist rotary clotheslines.

In correspondence to the governor of South Australia, home of the Hills hoist enterprise, Slim acknowledged “Messrs. Hills Hoists Limited generous offer to donate a Rotary Clothes Hoist to Her Majesty The Queen and to Her Majesty The Queen Mother”.

Slim studied the rules governing “the acceptance of presents of value from commercial houses” and regretfully he found himself “precluded from recommending acceptance of these gifts”.

He signed off to the SA governor with a flourish: “I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient servant, W. J. Slim, Governor-General.”

How the royal sheets and smalls are dried has been a mystery ever since.

Sliding rules

The establishment in the home country was not the only force trying to unravel the Whitlam government, which was seen as having dangerous ideas about cutting the apron strings.

It’s been documented by journalist Brian Toohey and others that the CIA was up to its ears in undermining Whitlam and was delighted when he was dispatched.

Now there are a heap of laws to stop foreign powers influencing Australia’s social and political life.

Ostensibly the legislation is aimed at China, which is seen as tampering with corporate and political decision-makers in order to bolster its sway.

So we have special laws to quarantine China’s influence peddling, yet a void in the responses to the attacks on Australia’s sovereignty when the royals and the CIA were hard at play.

Who should cross check and arm Vic?

With thousands of troops being sent by Schmo Morrison to help paramedics during the Victoria lockdown, one of Gadfly’s field agents has suggested an enterprising alternative approach.

Why not use those out-of-work Qantas and Virgin cabin service personnel for the task? They are skilled at managing people, emergency healthcare, contact tracing, plus ferrying food and drinks to strapped-in customers.

They could drive ambulances and carry stretchers with equal, if not better, aplomb than your average grunt or pusser.

Further, they have perfected the skill of dealing with irritating and demanding people. An accidentally spilled cup of piping hot tea in the crotch usually keeps annoyances quiet for the rest of the journey.

Schmo and co are far too eager to wrap themselves in flags and militarise everything they touch. A suitable and more calming antidote would be to wheel out airline hosties to show distressed citizens what a service culture looks like.

Big-noting Otto

A citizen from Adamstown in New South Wales very recently fired off a letter to various Nasty Party senators and others who want to cash in the ABC.

The importance of public broadcasting, the independence of editorial policies and the negative agenda of Lord Moloch’s hacks were all part of the entreaty about defending Aunty.

Only one reply came back, from Senator Otto Abetz. His was an instructive response because it is at the heart of Nasty Party thinking about the national broadcaster.

Needless to say, there is much looseness in Otto’s thesis, but primarily he suggests that attacking the Murdoch outlets does not assist the ABC.

He says News Corp is a private company, by which he assumes that a public company can be private, and it “does not receive any funding from taxpayers”, whereas the ABC receives more than $1 billion a year in “guaranteed” funding.

“Moreover,” he says, “where people can choose to pay for Mr Murdoch’s products, they have no choice in paying for the ABC’s.”

The flaw in this is his belief that News Corp is not taxpayer funded. Yet, if you consider that the leading arms of Moloch’s enterprises in this country pay little to no income tax on considerable profits, then there is indeed a taxpayer subsidy.

In any event, Otto says Aunty is biased. “The last election saw the unfortunate bias of the ABC personnel which [sic] my people have notes.”

If Murdoch’s companies were not given generous taxpayer subsidies, then there would be more money to properly fund the ABC’s journalism.

“My people have notes”! Where have we heard that sort of spooky stuff before?

Sal’s salvos

The Full Court of the Family Court is the latest appeal bench to give Judge Sal Vasta a fresh birching.

Sal is from the Federal Circuit Court, a jurisdiction of glorified federal magistrates, and has had many run-ins with Federal Court and Family Court appeals, which have seen his judgements demolished and sent back for another hearing before different judges.

On this occasion, in a family parenting dispute, we find Salvatore’s trademark overreach: threats of imprisonment, bombast, breaches of natural justice, plus rewriting of his oral reasons.

The appeal court referred to five other cases where Sal has been overturned in the family jurisdiction, which means he is now the subject of his own branch of jurisprudence about judicial delinquency.

When he delivered his oral reasons he waved the threat of imprisonment in the faces of the litigants:

“And unless there are some very good reasons … depending on the severity of the breach of the order, there really is only one place that people go if they breach my order, where they will get at least square meals a day, but there is not much else to recommend it.”

Vasta must have thought better of this threat, because when his written reasons arrived, that and another related paragraph were missing.

The full court wearily added: “We regret needing to do so, but we repeat [that] speaking to litigants in these terms … can only undermine the communities’ trust in the administration of justice.”

Further the judge was rapped over the knuckles on procedural fairness grounds because he did not give one of the parties a chance to be heard on his application.

Having to send the whole thing back for a rehearing is a “burden” on the Federal Circuit Court.

Needless to say, Vasta was a judicial appointee of Tim Tam export manager Bookshelves Brandis

Tips and tattle: [email protected] 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 18, 2020 as "Gadfly: Carry on up the Charteris".

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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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