Eric Abetz. An­gus Tay­lor and Tim Wil­son. Will Hodg­man and Sue Hickey. Gail Ham­bly.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Richard Ack­land

The theme for this week is “Fear”. Let’s start on Mon­day night when Tas­ma­nian sen­a­tor Otto Abetz ap­peared in the lounge rooms of the na­tion on the ABC’s Q&A show.

Otto in­vari­ably looks and sounds as if he’s eaten a live an­i­mal and there he was crunch­ing on a mouth­ful of bones as he ad­dressed the ter­ri­fy­ing is­sues of the day: Mus­lims, ter­ror­ism, Safe Schools, Peter Dut­ton and Lib­eral Party lead­er­ship spillages. It was too much for your cor­re­spon­dent, leav­ing no op­tion but to turn off the telly and set­tle down with the bi­og­ra­phy of Billy McMa­hon, Tiberius with a Tele­phone.

Scary min­is­ters and se­cu­rity creeps

The Min­is­ter for Car­bon, An­gus Tay­lor, is go­ing ham­mer and tongs to put the fear of God into us with mes­sages about La­bor’s “Car­bon Tax”. He must be talk­ing about La­bor’s ver­sion of the NEG, which is bor­rowed from Trum­ble’s ill-fated no­tional en­ergy guar­an­tee – the “car­bon tax” that mo­men­tar­ily, at least, was Nasty Party pol­icy.

If you’re not gripped with fear about that, Free­dom Boy Wil­son, as chair of the house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives stand­ing com­mit­tee on eco­nom­ics, fore­shad­owed a meet­ing on Fri­day at the Oaks Room of the Dee Why RSL to ex­plore how to frighten “se­nior Aus­tralians” about La­bor’s pol­icy of re­mov­ing re­fund­able frank­ing cred­its. Then, of course, your house price is go­ing to col­lapse be­cause dread­ful Bill Shorten is tin­ker­ing with neg­a­tive gear­ing. Never mind that prices will drop even fur­ther un­der SloMo’s go-slow on im­mi­gra­tion.

Then there’s the blis­ter­ing ur­gency for par­lia­ment to pass the coun­teren­cryp­tion bill, so that Ben­ito Dut­ton can get his sticky fingers all over ev­ery se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tion imag­in­able, just in case a lone-wolf ter­ror­ist sends him­self an en­crypted mes­sage.

McKell in a hand­bas­ket

Back to Pa­trick Mullins’ spell­bind­ing Tiberius with a Tele­phone, which sets the scene in the wake of the 1949 elec­tion that swept Pig Iron Bob Men­zies to power. The open­ing of par­lia­ment was a fab­u­lous af­fair with min­is­ters in morn­ing dress and a speech from the se­nate throne by the gov­er­nor-gen­eral, Boil­er­maker

Bill McKell, re­plete with all the fear­mon­ger­ing of the day.

There was a big em­pha­sis on na­tional se­cu­rity with the gov­ern­ment leg­is­lat­ing to “pro­tect the com­mu­nity against the ac­tiv­i­ties of sub­ver­sive or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als”, no­tably the Com­mu­nist Party. At that stage there wasn’t enough room un­der the beds of the na­tion for Mus­lims.

The new gov­ern­ment would im­pede of­fi­cial in­tru­sion into in­dus­try and in­vest in in­fras­truc­ture. There were also mea­sures to al­ter the gov­er­nance of Com­mon­wealth Bank. It was ever thus.

Hickey stick

Otto has enough on his hands try­ing to get his Tas­ma­nian Lib­er­als to heel. Pre­mier Willy Hodg­man wanted to rel­e­gate new MP and for­mer Ho­bart mayor Sue Hickey to the back­bench, a move that didn’t please her so she sup­ported a La­bor–Greens move for her el­e­va­tion to the speak­er­ship of the house of assem­bly.

With the house evenly di­vided the speaker’s cast­ing vote is ev­ery­thing, and from this perch she has been snip­ing away at Otto’s vice-like clench on the Tas­ma­nian branch of the Nasty Party. To send the lo­cal Gauleiter into a bru­tal bout of bone-crunch­ing, Hickey was the de­cid­ing vote for the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion to al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple to change their gen­der iden­tity on birth cer­tifi­cates.

As if this were not di­a­bol­i­cal enough, Hickey has now called for the gov­ern­ment to make abor­tions in the Ap­ple Isle free, on a means-tested ba­sis.

Otto was vis­i­bly up­set and told a com­mer­cial wire­less pro­gram: “I am wait­ing for Ms Hickey to say some­thing pos­i­tive about the Lib­eral Party.”

In fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions, Sarah Court­ney has de­parted from the port­fo­lios of pri­mary in­dus­tries, wa­ter and rac­ing after it emerged she was play­ing hide-the-sausage with her de­part­men­tal head, Dr John Whit­ting­ton.

If you think the wheels are com­ing off SloMo’s Can­berra bus, it’s even worse

for Otto’s clapped-out panzer di­vi­sion in Van Diemen’s Land.

Do the Strand

News from the Old Dart, where Book­shelves Bran­dis has been host­ing rol­lick­ing cel­e­bra­tions to mark the cen­te­nary of Aus­tralia House on the Strand.

The Prince of Wales did the hon­ours with a heart­felt speech amid the hand-cut Bo­hemian crys­tal chan­de­liers: “Aus­tralia House was opened by my great-grand­fa­ther, King Ge­orge V, in what were the grimmest of times ... When my great-grand­fa­ther ar­rived at Aus­tralia House, to be met by Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter Billy Hughes, he was greeted by rous­ing and af­fec­tion­ate cheers of ‘cooee’ from Aus­tralian dig­gers in their slouch hats gath­ered out­side.”

Book­shelves, proud monar­chist that he is, was flushed with pride.

An­other Aus­tralia House cock­tail reg­u­lar, “Sir” Lyn­ton Crosby, is also back in the news. The lat­est is­sue of Pri­vate Eye re­ports that Sir Lyn­ton’s firm CTF Part­ners is dol­ing out loot to those op­posed to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

CTF gave £753 for Che­quers pro­tester David Davis to fly to Mu­nich to give a speech to a right-wing “think” tank, the Hanns Sei­del Foun­da­tion.

An­other £26,000 was doled out to Tory MP Ben Bradley, who is de­fend­ing his seat on a slim mar­gin – not helped by his old blog posts ad­vo­cat­ing va­sec­tomies for the un­em­ployed. He voted Re­main but since then flipped to hard-Brexit/an­tiChe­quers.

The firm was also work­ing with pro­fes­sional poo­dle-faker Boris John­son and now an­other Brexit out­fit named ERG. At least the prime min­is­ter’s sup­port­ers are com­forted by Sir Lyn­ton’s re­cent track record: his dis­as­trous 2017 cam­paign that landed Mrs May’s To­ries in a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment and Zac Gold­smith’s cat­a­strophic 2016 tilt at the Lon­don may­oralty.

Gail force

Among the de­par­tees from the once mighty House of Fair­fax is group gen­eral coun­sel and com­pany sec­re­tary Gail Ham­bly.

She’s been in the sad­dle there for 25 years and was the mo­ti­vat­ing pres­ence be­hind many of the great court cases the com­pany fought to de­fend its jour­nal­ism.

She will stay on as a lead­ing hand at Aus­tralia’s Right to Know, a con­glom­er­ate of me­dia in­ter­ests press­ing the case for defama­tion laws that ac­tu­ally al­low se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions to be pub­lished with­out spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on pun­ish­ing court­room stoushes.

There are many who agree that Ms Ham­bly, with her depth of cor­po­rate, me­dia, le­gal and artis­tic (Belvoir) ex­pe­ri­ence, would make a first-rate man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the ABC, should she feel in­clined to put her head into a lion’s mouth.

At least Fair­fax had a for­mer jour­nal­ist in the form of Greg Ply­wood at the helm. The board of Nine, the en­ter­tain­ment com­pany that now con­trols the Fair­fax mast­heads, con­tains no one with any news­pa­per ex­pe­ri­ence.

The chair­man is Lib­eral Party faith­ful and for­mer trea­surer Peter Costello. He, of course, has ex­pe­ri­ence in the defama­tion field as a plain­tiff in the case against Ran­dom House and Bob El­lis over a spicy pas­sage in the book Good­bye Jerusalem.

Dummy Fo­ley

Re­lief all round that for­mer New South Wales Op­po­si­tion leader Luke Fo­ley has given up the idea that he might sue the ABC and/or Ash­leigh Raper over al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing at a booze-fu­elled 2016 Christ­mas party.

It’s all lies, the politi­cian said.

That was after Ms Raper, in a state­ment re­leased by the ABC, de­scribed the sud­den and un­wanted ar­rival of Mr Fo­ley’s fingers, late at night, in­side her un­der­wear.

Ac­cord­ing to the jour­nal­ist’s state­ment, Fo­ley, in a later phone con­ver­sa­tion with her, promised to re­sign. Then, after “le­gal ad­vice”, he with­drew his prom­ise. Raper said Fo­ley had ex­pressed re­morse and ex­plained: “I’m not a groper, I’m just a drunk id­iot.”

I’ll re­sign ... I won’t re­sign ... I’m a drunk id­iot ... I didn’t do it. This doesn’t sound like the best recipe for a suc­cess­ful defama­tion ac­tion.

The an­nounce­ment on Wed­nes­day that there would be no lit­i­ga­tion was dressed up as the need to “draw a line un­der the sand” be­fore the NSW elec­tion in March.

Trum­pette #97

The Pussy-grab­bing Toad­stool was in a fact-based mood when he sat down with The Wash­ing­ton Post on Tues­day for an in­ter­view.

On the big cli­mate re­port that warned about the in­ten­si­fy­ing eco­nomic dam­age, Trump knew what he knew:

“One of the prob­lems that a lot of peo­ple like my­self, we have very high lev­els of in­tel­li­gence but we’re not nec­es­sar­ily such be­liev­ers. You look at our air and our wa­ter, and it’s right now at a record clean ... As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the ef­fects that you’re talk­ing about are there, I don’t see it.”

He then moved onto the Fed­eral Re­serve, to which he at­trib­uted the volatil­ity of the share­mar­ket and prob­lems at Gen­eral Mo­tors: “I’m do­ing deals, and I’m not be­ing ac­com­mo­dated by the Fed ... They’re mak­ing a mis­take be­cause I have a gut, and my gut tells me more some­times than any­body else’s brain can ever tell me.”

The week would not be com­plete with­out those tiny pres­i­den­tial fingers jab­bing out a vol­ley of tweets about the Mueller in­quiry. Sure enough, as soon as it emerged that the spe­cial coun­sel had in­di­cated that Paul Manafort had bro­ken his un­der­tak­ings and lied to the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion there they were: “Phony Witch Hunt” that’s do­ing “TREMEN­DOUS dam­age to our Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sys­tem”.

Mueller was “only look­ing at one side and not the other”. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is “ru­in­ing lives for them re­fus­ing to lie ... He­roes will come of this,” Trump wrote hope­fully.

One of his he­roes could be act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, the bul­let-headed Matthew Whi­taker, who now has charge of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the Jus­tice De­part­ment. Hand­ily, he be­lieves in ab­so­lute pres­i­den­tial power with­out any hin­drance from pesky in­sti­tu­tions such as the Supreme Court.

God bless.

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

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