Diary

Gadfly
Recurring pipe dreams

The ghost of Rex (The Strangler) Connor lives and breathes. Gough Whitlam’s hulking Minerals and Energy minister, who slept by the telex machine waiting for news of Tirath Khemlani’s $4 billion loan, has been reborn as a modern-day inspiration.

The Strangler’s plan more than 45 years ago was for a nation crisscrossed with gas pipelines. It was believed his vision went further, and that he saw a future for a massive pipeline between Australia and Japan.

Iron ore and coal could be slurried up to Nippon while Toyotas would be piped back to us Down Under.

Rex’s gas plan has been dug from the bottom of a government drawer and dusted off by Nev Power and Schmo’s chums at the NCC, which Chuckles Henderson and others may have thought was Bob Santamaria’s National Civic Council, but turns out to be the National Covid-19 Commission.

No one is sure what this outfit of Nasty Party pals is up to, but it seems the government can’t govern without it.

Nev told a senate committee that the gas pipes will need taxpayer support, but he didn’t think this sort of assistance necessary for renewables.

The pipe dream came out of a special NCC taskforce led by Darwin lad made good Andrew Liveris, who told Donald Trump: “I tingle with pride listening to you.”

The plan could be extended so that the pipeline sends gas and other raw materials to Shanghai and the entire stock of Bunnings and Harvey Norman could be pneumatically sent south.

This hallucination of pipelines to reboot the nation never happened under Rex and it’s unlikely to happen in the Schmo era, being an improper waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned.

Boyer scout

Gadfly was rather hoping Gina Rinohart could have presented this year’s Boyer Lectures on the ABC.

Instead we have Nev Power’s former boss at Fortescue Metals Group, Dr Andrew Forrest. It seems Twiggy is on the same page as Nev because his lecture series is titled “Rebooting Australia: How ethical entrepreneurs can help shape a better future”.

We’ve had other plutocrats present the Boyers in the past. In 1994 Kerry Stokes was behind the microphone, talking about “Advance Australia Where?”

This was at a time when Stokes owned The Canberra Times, and journalist Crispin Hull put the boss’s thoughts into English. As Hull told us: “I wrote the lectures so his ideas were well articulated.”

In 2008, another billionaire, The Dirty Digger, Lord Moloch, gave us the benefit of his thoughts in a series titled “A Golden Age of Freedom”. He could have chosen from a raft of talent to assist with his presentation – Piers Akerman, Dr Andreas Blot, Miranda Devine, Roger Ailes… the list is inexhaustible.

If Aunty wanted to secure the affections of the government, then Gina Rino for 2021’s Boyer would be a sensible step. Sophie Mirabella or the IPA’s beautifully oiled policy boffin Gideon Rozner would be on hand to assist with research.

Bidders’ pill to swallow

No doubt inspired by Blanche d’Alpuget’s and Michael Yabsley’s successful auctions of knick-knacks and heirlooms, the Bjelke-Petersen progeny have offered Sir Joh and Lady Flo’s tat for sale online through Lloyds Auctions.

More than 800 “treasured items” went under the hammer: lots of cake tins; a surprising number of books, including Bible Stories; a portrait of the late Queensland premier by William Dargie; a hat worn by Joh and another worn by Flo; a handwritten recipe for little cakes on the back of a how-to-vote card; a 1982 Jaguar saloon; an old briefcase; the famous pumpkin scone formula inscribed on a ceramic soup spoon; Lady Flo’s black leather Gucci bag and white-gold Mikimoto pearl earrings.

Needless to say, the word “iconic” was used several times to describe these UNESCO treasures.

The auctioneers announced a last-minute hitch to proceedings – that items from the auction could be Australian protected objects and subject to an export ban by the government. In other words – they are unlikely ever to find their way to the British Museum or the Smithsonian.

Who will be next in the auction stakes? Perhaps the Kerr family will want to sell the old man’s letters from Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason. And wouldn’t it be good if Bob Askin’s “iconic” betting slips went up for sale? Or Harold Holt’s snorkel? Barry O’Farrell’s bottle of Grange? Even Bunter Downer’s pantyhose and boiled bullseyes?

Let’s not think that Australia doesn’t have a rich history to be harvested.

Discursive lettering

Paul Singer, MVO, Esq, the official secretary to the governor-general in Canberra, must have been surprised and moderately tickled to receive a letter from the famous Brisbane silk Anthony J. H. Morris, QC, sometimes known, for reasons that are not clear, as Lord Eldon.

Many may realise that leading light of the Melbourne bar Norman O’Bryan, AM, SC, has fallen on his sword over some fee-doctoring in the big Banksia Securities class action.

It was time for Lord Eldon to intervene on behalf of… well, we’re not entirely certain.

Mr Singer opened the letter at Yarralumla and was presented with details of O’Bryan’s fee-gouging and news that the Melbourne brief had consented to pay back what was not his and, if need be, to have his name removed from the jam roll.

Lord Eldon then suggested to Government House that if these reports are true, “they would strongly suggest that the conduct of Mr O’Bryan also warrants his being stripped of his Membership of the Order of Australia”.

The missive was copied to Air Commodore Mark Gower, AM, LVO, OAM (Mil), official secretary to HE the Gov. of Queensland.

Eldon’s fame in recent times has been heightened as a result of acting for politician Mark Latham, who was being sued for defamation by journalist and now editor of the 7am podcast, Osman Faruqi. The original defence pleadings of more than 70 pages, which contained references to the “martyrdom of Christians in the Roman Empire”, were struck out and later reduced by other lawyers to a more digestible three pages.

Lord Eldon also appeared for Bangalow solicitor Owen Hughes, who was trying to overturn findings of a Judge Sal Vasta in a sexual harassment case.

Morris said that far from being a harasser, his client was a latter-day Mr Darcy, pursuing a relationship with an employee, as though she were Lizzy Bennet. It didn’t work – it was one case where not even Vasta could get it wrong.

Meanwhile, other urgent correspondence was consuming the attention of the prime minister. Last month, Melbourne brief Michael D. Wyles, QC, wrote to Schmo complaining about the hardship then faced by Victorians – a mere fraction of the hardship under way now.

“Our quality of life has been decimated by the lockdown,” Wyles wrote. “The mental strain of another six weeks being imprisoned in our homes, watching our fellow Australians enjoying meals out, good times with friends and new work opportunities, is just too much to contemplate. How do we keep the black dog in his kennel?”

Wyles added it was unfair because Victorians could not have free movement to their “hard earned holiday homes”.

“Please help Prime Minister – free us from our punishment. Yours faithfully, Michael D. Wyles QC FAICD.”

Being a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors would have clinched it.

Cap’n hooks

We’re happy to report that Ghislaine Maxwell’s father, Cap’n Bob Maxwell, aka Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch, had an Australian connection, in the form of former Sydney resident Mordechai Vanunu, aka John Crossman.

Vanunu was a technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center who revealed details to the British press of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Just before travelling to London to blow the whistle on the weapons, Mordechai had settled in Sydney, where he was a dishwasher at the Menzies Hotel. He also got a taxi licence and converted to the Anglican branch of Christianity.

According to an Israeli government employee, it was Cap’n Bob who told the embassy in London that Vanunu was in town and blabbing state secrets to The Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror, where the Cap’n was the proprietor.

There is little doubt that Maxwell was a Mossad agent as well as being a thoroughly bad egg. He was probably a double or triple agent, because he was also dripping stuff to MI6 and the KGB.

It was reported that six current and former people from the Israeli secret service attended the Cap’n’s funeral. The then Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, said that Maxwell “has done more for Israel than can today be said”.

A honey trap was set for Mordechai, who was persuaded by Cheryl Bentov, an alluring Mossad employee, to go to Italy for a holiday, where he was injected with a paralysing drug and then stretchered to a waiting Israeli ship at the La Spezia dock.

In 1988 Mordechai was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He’s still a prisoner of Israel because he cannot leave the country, he cannot speak to any foreigner, he is not allowed within 550 yards of a border crossing or 100 yards of a foreign embassy and he is constantly monitored.

It’s a bit like living in Victoria. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 15, 2020 as "Gadfly: Recurring pipe dreams".

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