Diary

Gadfly
Corresponding angles

The battle of the Kerr–palace correspondence is surging ahead.

Historian Jenny Hocking’s book The Palace Letters was out of the stocks on Tuesday. By Tuesday next week the bookshops will also be selling the rival book, The Truth of the Palace Letters, by Monsignor Paul Kelly and Troy-Boy Bramston of The Catholic Boys Daily.

We can only hope the Melbourne Cup doesn’t steal some of the limelight. Of course, the Daily has been doing a massive job plugging the work of its two in-house hacks.

So far, it hasn’t been easy to follow their arguments. Depending on the day of the week and what line needs to be peddled, the Monsignor and Troy-Boy produce quite different pictures of the interaction between John Kerr and the palace.

Last Saturday, referring to the events leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam government, they said: “The Queen was hostage to Kerr … Keeping the Palace in ignorance was a deliberate strategy.”

By Monday, Kelly–Bramston told us: “These new documents reveal a masterful study in psychology, with the Palace pushing Sir John to the resignation door while telling him it was his decision to judge where his duty lay.”

In one moment, it seems Betty Battenberg and her courtiers were putty in the hands of a scheming Kerr, while in the next breath they were brilliantly psyching the old soak out the door.

It’s a tangled web, possibly because Lord Moloch’s dancing bears in 1975 were campaigning enthusiastically for the removal of the Whitlam government. At the time, his organs were not expressing grief that the palace’s local satrap was covering the crown in ordure – and that has been the line peddled all the way to today.

We have to turn to Jenny Hocking for a non-tortured explanation of what went on between Yarralumla and Buck House.

Kerr’s favourite Martin

Hocking recounts in harrowing detail her 10-year campaign to wrest the Kerr–palace letters from the vice-like grip of bureaucrats at the National Archives with insistence from London that the billets-doux be kept confidential, in the “public interest”.

Importantly, she gives us chapter and verse on the details of the syrupy blandishments that passed between Kerr and the palace. There was Kerr’s famous letter to “My dear Private Secretary”, Martin Charteris, in late October 1975, saying he was inclined to ignore official advice from government lawyers that “there is nothing left of any substance in the reserve powers of the crown”.

Charteris’s reply to Kerr a week before the Dismissal flattered the desperately insecure governor-general with just the right honeyed words:

“I think you are playing the ‘Vice-Regal’ hand with skill and wisdom. Your interest in the situation has been demonstrated, and so has your impartiality. The fact that you have the powers is recognised, but it is also clear that you will only use them in the last resort and then only for constitutional and not for political reasons.”

Gee, thanks Marty.

Charteris, the arch intriguer and palace Rasputin, knew how to keep the Battenberg thumbprint off the Whitlam government official death warrant. To insist, as the Monsignor and Troy-Boy do, that the Queen had nothing to do with the Dismissal fails to recognise how plausible deniability works.

There’s no need for the monarch to directly blow kisses to Kerr, it’s all done in the shadows.

The sad thing is that, according to Kelly–Bramston, Charteris and the Queen had a low opinion of Kerr and his consort, Lady “Fancy Nancy” Kerr. This is the view Sir Paul Hasluck, Kerr’s predecessor at Government House, picked up after discussions with Charteris.

The Kerrs were a “greedy” couple and the monarch thought it was a good thing they were going. While they held their noses about the pretentious poltroon Down Under, the monarch’s official establishment was providing all the buttery encouragement he needed to dismiss the Whitlam government.

As Hocking has said on previous occasions, the Queen owes Australia an apology.

Shell schlock

Michael Shellenberger is the latest entrant into Lord Moloch’s hemisphere of contorted climate messaging – travelling in the footsteps of another favourite, Bjørn Lomborg.

Shellenberger, an American who believes in heaps of nuclear power and gas, started out as an environmentalist only to recant and apologise for the “climate scare”. Needless to say, his dubious thoughts in The Australian laid waste to many a good tree. On Sky News, meanwhile, he was lathered in double cream as the interviewer licked him dry.

Among Shellenberger’s claims: climate change is not making natural disasters worse; carbon emissions in rich countries are declining; life below sea level can be great – just ask the Netherlands; the colonial approach to gorilla conservation in the Congo resulted in the killing of 250 elephants; and don’t worry about the huge fires in Australia and California, they are due to excess fuel loads.

Real scientists have denounced his views as simplistic and inaccurate, but they are sufficiently unhinged for the Institute of Paid Advocacy to jump on board.

Now Jason Falinski, the Nasty Party MP for Mackellar on Sydney’s northern beaches, has been sending out “exclusive” invitations to a Zoomathon with the Shell. It could be interesting: climate analyst Ralph Evans, whose book, Toast, has just been published, has sent in some challenging online rejoinders.

The only thing that can be said about Falinski is he is one of 7.7 billion people on the planet who are preferable to the previous member for Mackellar, Bronwyn “Beehive” Bishop.

Judge dread

Two adornments from the Federal Court have been anointed to the Last Chance Saloon.

Simon Steward, by all accounts a steady-as-she-goes tax guru at the bone-dry end of the scale, and Jacqueline Gleeson, daughter of former chief justice Smiler Gleeson, are due to move into the High Court vacancies created by the constitutional senility of Justice Geoffrey Nettle and Justice Virginia Bell.

Family connections for the highest judicial office in the Wide Brown Land are a bit of a thing with Nasty Party appointees. Bookshelves Brandis appointed another Federal Court judge, Michelle Gordon, wife of former member of the High & Mighty Kenneth Hayne.

Now Smiler’s DNA lives on at the highest judicial level – maybe it should be renamed the Family Court of Australia. At least it’s a change from the United States, where Bone Spurs and his senate enablers have shovelled onto the US Supreme Court Amy Coney Barrett from the Zombie Catholic School of Handmaidens.

Interestingly, Barrett refused to rule out during senate questioning whether abortion should be a capital offence, punishable by death.

SCOTUS has been debauched by the Republican Party with its nomination of sex pests, originalists and usurpers to the ultimate constitutional court.

Fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch and his outfit called Americans for Prosperity campaigned in congress for Barrett’s appointment, as they did for the coquelicot president’s two other nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

In Australia, Attorney-General The Christian Porter made only a bare bones announcement about the latest members of the High Court. No cocktail parties in Schmo’s office, no lickspittle party endorsements.

In November 2018, while she was sitting on the Federal Court, there appeared a strange footnote from Justice Gleeson in a judgement in which she, Justice Duncan Kerr and Justice Kathleen Farrell were involved. It read:

“Kathleen and Duncan, it would be more obiter to go on to the question of offsetting claims arising after the date of the application. My view is that we should not be canvassing the issue where there is no utility (especially where the appeal was not particularly well argued).”

Jacqueline had obligingly let us into some of the internal thinking behind the scenes – it was soon removed from the record.

More recently, she awarded defamation damages totalling $875,000 in a case brought by Nationals MP Anne Webster, her husband Philip and their charity Zoe Support Australia, against a conspiracy theorist’s Facebook posts.

Personally, Gadfly prefers an Eddie McTiernan style of judge, who keeps an eye out for the most compelling thinking by the smartest person on the court and then simply adds: “I agree.”

Watch this election space

Last Monday, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins voted for America’s next president. She did so while 408 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, from aboard the International Space Station.

As one Twitter pundit wryly observed: “It’s easier for a white person to vote from space than for an African American or Latino to vote in their home zip code.”

The Republicans are the minority party and becoming even more minor as the white vote shrinks in proportion to the growth in Latin and Black American voters.

So, the only way the Republicans can win is by cheating, and it has been successfully doing that particularly since the Cheater-in-Chief has been president.

Purging rolls, suppressing voters, bogus identification requirements, having Republican judges strike down the Voting Rights Act and restricting polling stations are all part of the agenda.

Red states are purging voters in unprecedented numbers, with at least 17 million struck off between the 2016 and 2018 elections. Between them, Ohio, Texas and Georgia wrongfully removed 160,000 voters in 2018 and 2019.

Weeks after his inauguration, Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The point was to investigate and stamp out “voter fraud” and replace it with a better form of fraud so he wouldn’t ever again lose the popular vote, as he had in 2016.

After November 3, it’s going to be one great politico-legal clusterfuck aimed at delegitimising ballots. At least, our little dwindling democracy is spared this naked indecency.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 31, 2020 as "Gadfly: Corresponding angles".

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