Alexan­der Downer. Mal­colm Turn­bull. An­drew Probyn, Tony Ab­bott and Katharine Mur­phy.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents - Richard Ack­land

Fish­nets Downer is­sued a last mov­ing mes­sage from his well-padded HQ at Aus­tralia House.

The out­go­ing high com­mis­sioner to the United King­dom was look­ing in­cred­i­bly pleased with him­self as he faced the cam­era.

“Be­ing a diplo­mat means not just go­ing to par­ties,” he said. “It means hav­ing pur­pose. So, um, your pur­pose is to pro­mote the in­ter­ests of your coun­try.”

And the mem­o­ries that will linger with him after four years on The Strand? Well, there was the ex­cite­ment of Brexit, of course, but, “in­evitably, I re­mem­ber the times I’ve met the Queen, for ex­am­ple – din­ners at Buck­ing­ham Palace.”

And the fu­ture: “I’ve got dif­fer­ent things I’ll be do­ing.” That’s it. All done in one minute 21 sec­onds. We’re go­ing to miss his gi­ant in­tel­lect strut­ting the world stage.

Same shame but dif­fer­ent

There are royal com­mis­sions and then there are royal com­mis­sions. Today we have the Ken­neth Hayne abat­toir, fil­let­ing some of the finest peo­ple money can buy.

Back then we had the Owen royal com­mis­sion into the demise of HIH, the big­gest cor­po­rate belly flop in Aus­tralian his­tory. While Blair Pa­ton-Trum­ble re­sisted the Hayne com­mis­sion for longer than was nec­es­sary, he was a bit of star in the Owen com­mis­sion, hav­ing been Gold­man Sachs’s man at the wheel at the time he ad­vised Rod­ney Adler’s in­surance busi­ness FAI, prior to and dur­ing its takeover by HIH.

Amaz­ingly, in his 2003 re­port the then Western Aus­tralian judge Neville Owen laid bare much the same stuff that for­mer jus­tice Hayne is dev­illing away at right now: poor man­age­ment, in­ad­e­quate board su­per­vi­sion, hope­less reg­u­la­tors, ugly cul­tures, con­flicts of in­ter­est, big swing­ing dicks all over the place, money grub­bing on an eye-wa­ter­ing scale, dodgy ac­counts – the whole nine yards.

Back then the Rowena Orr of the day was Stormin’ Nor­man O’Bryan, coun­sel as­sist­ing Owen. He squarely laid the blame for HIH’s demise at the door of Turn­bull and his client, FAI.

There were the usual Trum­ble an­tics: threats of defama­tion, ac­cu­sa­tions that the royal com­mis­sion was leak­ing, chew­ing the ears off wretched hacks caught in his path­way.

The thing was that, years ear­lier, young Blair and Gold­man had done a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of Adler’s busi­ness, known in the trade as Fuck All In­surance, and de­cided not to in­vest in a pro­posed pri­vati­sa­tion. Gold­man, in a mes­sage to head of­fice in New York, said that the true net as­set val­u­a­tion of FAI is about $20 mil­lion, “com­pared to a stated book value of $220 mil­lion”.

This in­for­ma­tion was not passed on to the FAI board. Later, when HIH came out of the wood­work with a bid of $295 mil­lion for Fuck All In­surance, Rod­ney Adler re­tained Gold­man as the takeover ad­viser.

Com­mis­sioner Owen said it would have been nice if the di­rec­tors of FAI had been told by Gold­man Sachs Aus­tralia that they had al­ready in­ves­ti­gated FAI and de­cided not to in­vest in the pro­posed pri­vati­sa­tion be­cause the busi­ness was hardly worth a cracker.

“Such in­for­ma­tion should have been re­vealed to the FAI board by a fi­nan­cial or cor­po­rate ad­viser like Gold­man Sachs Aus­tralia.”

Di­rec­tors then would have been in a bet­ter po­si­tion to de­cide whether to break up and sell the in­surance busi­ness, or go with the less at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive of the HIH takeover.

“The fact that these mat­ters were not re­vealed to the board of FAI is re­gret­table,” said Owen.

Trum­ble es­caped a bul­let from the royal com­mis­sioner, but not from the HIH liq­uida­tor, who sued him and Gold­man Sachs for dam­ages.

A set­tle­ment took place after Trum­ble had de­clared that the liq­uida­tor’s claim was “base­less”.

Those were the days. The same sort of days we have now.

Free not easy

While a con­certed so­cial me­dia cam­paign is gath­er­ing pace to have the ABC de­sist from fea­tur­ing In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Af­fairs drones on its chat shows, a spe­cial com­mit­tee ap­pointed by IPA mem­ber and Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Mitch Fifield has been set upon the pub­lic broad­cast­ers to see if they are com­pet­ing too avidly with the pri­vate broad­cast­ers.

Lord Moloch’s free mar­ket danc­ing bears have been up on their hind legs about the dread­ful com­pe­ti­tion from the ABC and SBS, par­tic­u­larly their free news web­sites and stream­ing ser­vices.

Com­pe­ti­tion is all very well, but ap­par­ently not when it comes from pub­licly funded broad­cast­ers – tar­gets of Pauline Han­son, who per­suaded the govern­ment to set up this wretched

in­quiry in ex­change for her vote on the me­dia “re­forms” bill, from which not one iota of re­form has yet flowed.

Even so, there would be a re­volt in the streets if Mitch and his merry men tried to stop the free news web­sites of the na­tional broad­cast­ers and, in par­tic­u­lar, the stream­ing ser­vices such as SBS’s On De­mand.

Po­lit­i­cal de­fen­es­tra­tion for this clot of a min­is­ter would be in store, should an an­gry mob get hold of him.

Fact and fric­tion

Mean­while, the me­dia watch­dog has been bark­ing at the moon.

The Aus­tralian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Author­ity has found ABC po­lit­i­cal edi­tor An­drew Probyn (Chris Uhlmann’s re­place­ment) breached the im­par­tial­ity rules when he said on air that Ten Flags Tony was “the most de­struc­tive politi­cian of his gen­er­a­tion”.

This was in the con­text of re­port­ing a cli­mate de­nial speech Ab­bott made in Lon­don, the same speech where he sug­gested poli­cies to re­duce car­bon emis­sions were akin to “prim­i­tive peo­ple once killing goats to ap­pease the vol­cano gods”.

Un­for­tu­nately, ACMA solemnly thought Ab­bott was a cred­i­ble politi­cian who should be taken se­ri­ously, and so Probyn’s re­mark was a “pe­jo­ra­tive de­scrip­tor”.

As Katharine Mur­phy in Guardian Aus­tralia pointed out: when you con­sider Ab­bott’s record on cli­mate, Probyn was merely stat­ing the “bleed­ing ob­vi­ous”.

Some­how in the mud­dle-headed wom­bat think­ing of the reg­u­la­tor the jour­nal­ist was not be­ing “im­par­tial” when stat­ing a fact. As Front­line front­man Mike Moore would say, “Ummm…”

Mem­o­ries come flood­ing back of the reg­u­la­tor’s blun­der­ing de­ci­sion on Chan­nel Seven’s ex­po­sure of a for­mer New South Wales trans­port min­is­ter, David Camp­bell, vis­it­ing the steam rooms at Ken’s at Kens­ing­ton.

When Seven ap­proached the min­is­ter with its bril­liant scoop he promptly re­signed. The broad­caster was ter­ri­bly in­dig­nant that he used his min­is­te­rial car to get a good steam­ing.

ACMA came up with this pearl: “In this case, the res­ig­na­tion of the min­is­ter meant that the broad­cast, which would oth­er­wise have been an in­va­sion of pri­vacy, was jus­ti­fied, but solely be­cause it pro­vided a deeper ex­pla­na­tion of the cir­cum­stances be­hind the res­ig­na­tion.”

In other words, the pri­vacy rule was breached but this was okay be­cause this breach of pri­vacy forced the min­is­ter to re­sign and there­fore the re­port was in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Pasta joke?

Fed­eral Cir­cuit Court judges in Syd­ney had good cause for Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions last year as they gath­ered at the well­known East Syd­ney res­tau­rant Beppi’s.

After all, they had a gru­elling year toss­ing out the cases of im­mi­gra­tion and refugee ap­pli­cants and now it was time to kick back and get fes­tive.

The guest of hon­our was John Pas­coe, the chief jus­tice of the Fam­ily Court, pre­vi­ously a Howard-era ap­point­ment as chief judge of what were then called the fed­eral mag­is­trates. Be­fore that he was chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ge­orge Weston Foods, the maker of Tip Top, and chair­man of the Aris­to­crat poker ma­chine com­pany.

By co­in­ci­dence, he had worked at the same law firm as Howard’s brother – although the link to white bread was prob­a­bly more ap­po­site in Howard’s Aus­tralia.

For the Christ­mas do at Beppi’s, the chief judge of the cir­cuit court, Three Wigs Willy Al­ster­gren, had come up from Mel­bourne.

Just as the as­sem­bled beaks were tuck­ing into their vast plat­ters of zuc­chini flow­ers, pro­sciutto and figs and gnoc­chi with prawns, Pas­coe prayed for every­one to be silent and pro­ceeded to swear in Al­ster­gren as deputy chief jus­tice of the Fam­ily Court of Aus­tralia.

No one be­fore had ever been to a ju­di­cial swear­ing-in at an Ital­ian res­tau­rant, but now the prece­dent has been es­tab­lished there is no need for the ju­di­cial oath to be taken solemnly in court­rooms in front of mem­bers of the pro­fes­sion and judges, de­liv­er­ing long­winded, fawn­ing speeches.

Of course, it is slightly un­usual for a judge to be sworn in to one court be­fore judges of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent court.

But, hey, we live in a time when an­cient tra­di­tions are bit­ing the dust all over the place.

Trum­pette #67

It’s alarm­ing that an­other dis­turb­ing di­men­sion of Bark­ing Dog Trump’s al­ready com­plex char­ac­ter has emerged – his de­sire to be so em­pa­thetic with some­one that he usurps their iden­tity in or­der to fraud­u­lently pass off his own cor­re­spon­dence as theirs.

Take the case of Harold Born­stein, the age­ing hip­pie doc­tor who had the grue­some job of be­ing Trump’s physi­cian. He is now say­ing that the glow­ing pre­elec­tion health cer­tifi­cate he signed ac­tu­ally had been dic­tated by the Pussy Grab­ber.

We should have got the clue be­cause of the over-larded su­perla­tives: “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state un­equiv­o­cally, will be the health­i­est in­di­vid­ual ever elected to the pres­i­dency.”

Two days be­fore this med­i­cal anal­y­sis was re­leased Trump had tweeted with amaz­ing in­sight: “As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, I have in­structed my long-time doc­tor to is­sue, within two weeks, a full med­i­cal re­port – it will show per­fec­tion.”

Born­stein also said that after he re­vealed that he pre­scribed some weird hair-growth rem­edy for the pres­i­dent, a cou­ple of Trump’s goons raided his of­fice and re­moved med­i­cal records.

In Au­gust last year it emerged that the pres­i­dent had dic­tated a state­ment that was re­leased in the name of his hap­less and oily son Don­ald Trump Jr.

The mis­sive was de­signed to give a mis­lead­ing gloss on the meet­ing at Trump Tower with sev­eral Rus­sians who promised “dirt” on Hil­lary Clin­ton. Ac­cord­ing to Don Jr’s proxy state­ment, it was a “short in­tro­duc­tory meet­ing” to dis­cuss the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren.

In the 1980s, the dotard, pre­tend­ing to be some­one else, would ring news­pa­per re­porters to plant favourable sto­ries about him­self.

There are sim­ply no more sur­prises to • be had.

RICHARD ACK­LAND is the pub­lisher of Jus­tinian. He is The Satur­day Pa­per’s di­ari­s­tat-large and le­gal af­fairs edi­tor.

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