Diary

Gadfly
Hock of Gibraltar

Isn’t it terrific that Fishnets Downer consistently lends his talents to the betterment of nations?

According to reports, he’s signed on for a three-year gig to assist Gibraltar in free trade negotiations with Australia.

In his new job, “The Knee”, as Paul Keating memorably christened the great global statesman, has to unravel the complexities of the Rock’s movements of goods and services, in and out.

Kep Enderby, the Whitlam-era minister, reminded us in 1974 that “traditionally Australia obtains its imports from overseas” – and The Knee will surely keep that in mind as he goes about getting a grip on things.

Surprisingly, the little British territory has only $US30,000 worth of exports to Australia – predominantly pesticides – and imports of about $US53,600, according to figures from 2018.

Its main activity seems to be importing refined petroleum ($US7.3 billion in 2018), which accounts for 78 per cent of its total imports. It then sells $US62.3 million worth of refined petroleum, which makes up 36 per cent of its exports.

Refined petroleum comes in and refined petroleum goes out. It’s perfect for a fossil fuel enthusiast from the Winston Howard era.

The island also does a nice line of business in leisure craft, canoes, toilets, table glassware and postage stamps.

Needless to say, Fishnets will be advising that the sky’s the limit.

Who can forget the peace and security he brought to the troubled island of Cyprus as the United Nations secretary-general’s special adviser?

His settlement of disputes between the Greeks and the Turks was a triumph, only to have an ungrateful Cypriot parliament unanimously condemn him for his “one-sided and detrimental statements and actions [and] numerous non-impartial ... and dangerously interfering statements and actions that depart from his mandate”.

A super Supreme

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a woman who fought all her adult life for gender equality.

Notably, as a lawyer, she wrote the Supreme Court brief for Reed v Reed, which resulted in the extension of Fourteenth Amendment protections to women.

In the Moritz case, a male caregiver had been denied a tax deduction because of his gender and Ginsburg successfully argued to overturn the ruling – a clever stand for equality that led to RBG being regarded as a mensch.

She won a challenge to a law that discriminated against a female member of the armed services in the provision of a housing allowance, and an Oklahoma statute that set different ages for male and female drinkers.

Memorably, on the Supreme Court, she wrote the opinion that overturned a Virginia military academy’s policy to admit only men.

When it came to abortion rights, one of America’s great obsessions, she said: “The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.” She was critical that the decision in Roe v Wade – sometimes referred to as “two alternate ways to cross the Potomac” – was vulnerable to attack because it was decided on privacy grounds rather than on the basis of gender equality.

Now President Bone Spurs is reported to be enthusiastic about appointing as Ginsburg’s replacement to the court Amy Coney Barrett, a deeply conservative Catholic and originalist who once worked for Antonin Scalia.

Coney Barrett lives in South Bend, Indiana, where, according to The New York Times, she belonged to a Catholic charismatic renewal organisation named People of Praise.

Those who join the close-knit group are assigned a personal adviser to assist them in making important life decisions. The male advisers are called “heads”, while the female counterparts are called “women leaders”, although previously they were called “handmaids”.

Duties of Kerr

Gadfly was tickled pink last week to be part of a talk with Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking, who conducted the legal campaign to retrieve from the clutches of the National Archives more than 200 letters that passed between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace – a large proportion of which exposed the governor-general’s groundwork for the sacking of the Whitlam government.

One curiosity that emerged from the talk was that Kerr’s autobiography, Matters for Judgment, was cleared by the palace before it was published.

In fact, there is correspondence in September 1978 from the Queen’s new private secretary, Sir Philip Moore, thanking Kerr for being “so scrupulous in omitting any reference to his personal exchanges” with his predecessor, Sir Martin Charteris.

This was the book that involved elaborate arrangements to avoid tax on the royalties, known as an “Uncle Charlie” scheme, with Kerr adopting the name of Mr King on company documents signed and stamped in Hong Kong.

Not only was Charteris flagrantly prompting Kerr to use the reserve powers to sack the Whitlam government, he also arranged for any mention of his subversive role to be expunged from the old toper’s book.

As Jenny Hocking said, none of this should have taken place and the Queen owes Australians an apology.

As for the National Archives, it is up for about $2 million in legal costs, stretching back to the first flawed Federal Court decision, then the Full Court and ultimately the High Court, which had to unstitch the mistakes lower down the judicial food chain.

At the moment Hocking is putting the finishing touches to her new book, The Palace Letters: The Queen, the Governor-General and the Plot to Dismiss Gough Whitlam. It should be a corker.

Appeal falls behind

Spare a kind thought for Victorian Court of Appeal judges Phillip Priest, David Beach and Terry Forrest.

There they were in all their finery, hearing an appeal from former boxer Craig Vitale, who was seeking to overturn his conviction for armed robbery and intentional wounding.

At his September 10 hearing, Craig was not assisted by legal counsel and was patched in by video link from Barwon Prison, where he is doing 11 years’ porridge.

When the bench asked what he had to say for himself, Vitale replied that the court did not “give a fuck about [his] circumstances”.

Justice Priest put it this way:

“[Vitale] continued to interrupt and loudly talk over the court, and proceeded to deliver a vituperative tirade, the central theme of which seemed to be that the court was treating him unfairly.

“Having for a time tolerated the appellant’s invective, the court indicated to the appellant that if he had nothing further to say in support of his case, the court would hear from the respondent’s counsel.”

What happened next was explained by Priest JA:

“... the appellant stood up from the table at which he had been seated, took down his trousers, bent over, exposed his buttocks to the camera and pulled his buttocks apart so as to expose his anus.”

The judge thought this was “regrettable”.

Mr Vitale then spoke the following into the court record:

“You just copped a anus [sic], if you want to talk to him again, let me know.”

Gregory Hughan for the Crown remarked that Mr Vitale was “not very helpful”, while Justice Priest went further and said the gesture was “quite unattractive”.

Appeal dismissed.

Home enervations

After delving into Rick Morton’s two-part trophy exposé of the failures in aged-care management, as devised by former prime minister Little Winston Howard, the only possible fitting footnote would be for Winston to see out his days in one of these nursing establishments.

He might sit at the dinner table, slurping on his mash, alongside some of his favourites – Bronwyn (Kero-Bath) Bishop, Alan (the Parrot) Jones, Dicey Heydon, Big George Pell, and that other man of the cloth with a blotted copybook, former archbishop Peter Hollingworth.

There, in the dimming light, he could reflect on his other policy catastrophes that saw anything of value reduced to fit his stunted vision – the privatisation of everything he could get his hands on, the depletion of universities and cultural institutions, the transfer of government welfare to the middle class, the invasion of Iraq, his failure to apologise to the Stolen Generations or to lift a finger on climate.

If Covid-19 continues to plague us, at least people could wave at him through the window.

Empire beware

Corrupted institutions, a stacked judiciary, a mendacious megalomaniac at the helm, toadying senators, debt and disease – this is part of the rising odour that accompanies the crumbling end of the American century.

The parallels with the last days of the Roman Empire more than 1600 years ago are eerily apparent.

Between AD165 and AD185, the Antonine plague swept through the empire, killing up to five million people. It crippled Rome’s finances and the army, leaving irreversible political scars in its wake.

Americans today can sympathise with the damage wrought, and if that’s not enough of a stark historical parallel, there’s also climate change from the second century onwards. Europe’s climate got colder, resulting in failed crops, famine, and great swaths of uninhabited land.

There were strange military adventures, reminiscent of “mission accomplished” – such as the Emperor Julian’s decision to invade Persia, despite being vastly outnumbered. He was so confident that he would not have to retreat that he burned his boats. Needless to say, he was mortally wounded a few weeks later.

To cap it off, Rome was beset by foreign meddling. Odoacer, a barbarian in origin, was pulling the strings and decided who should be emperor in a form of proto-electoral interference.

Much the same is happening to our great ally today.

Rome’s last western emperor was Romulus Augustulus, installed at the age of 16 by Odoacer.

By then it was too late to Make Rome Great Again. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 26, 2020 as "Gadfly: Hock of Gibraltar".

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