The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 41 : 41

FRONT PAGE

by Sam Vincent A NAGGING DOUBT The retrial of David Eastman Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, everyone who was anyone in the nation’s capital received complaints, threats, tip-offs, late-night crank calls and early morning doorknocks from Eastman, a former dux of Canberra Grammar, son of a decorated ambassador, and one-time Treasury wunderkind. He would go to Australian National University public lectures and heckle the speakers, forcefully arguing about economics (and if forceful argument didn’t work, he used force; his punching of a presenter is university legend). He harassed staff for refusing him access to the Parliament­ary Library and had to be escorted out of ANU’s Law Library for yelling when he wasn’t allowed to borrow arcane legislatio­n. One day he showed up at the office of a French lecturer and demanded to be tutored. When the lecturer, an acclaimed translator of Proust, admitted to not possessing a degree in linguistic­s, Eastman ridiculed his credential­s and was removed by police. In 1977 Eastman was passed over for a promotion by Treasury. He quit in protest, and then successful­ly sought to have his resignatio­n reclassifi­ed as an invalidity retirement caused by stress. He spent the next decade both trying to re-join the department and destroy it. That August, a young Opposition frontbench­er named Paul Keating asked the government to explain allegation­s of Japanese bribery “in respect of a foreign investment proposal”. The then minister for overseas trade, Doug Anthony, confirmed that an “Australian source” had told him a local company with government ties was bribed $10 million by a Japanese firm the previous year; Treasurer Phillip Lynch assured parliament that an “exhaustive examinatio­n of all foreign investment proposals by Japanese companies” had uncovered no corruption. Of course, the source was Eastman. When that didn’t work, he went to the press (“Treasury Man Claims Many Given Bribes” ran the headline in on September 24, 1977). This too was rejected, as was Eastman’s missive to the head of the Public Service Board to hold an inquiry into the matter. But most of his energy was spent trying to have his invalidity pension revoked and his mental fitness approved to facilitate a return to the public service. He throttled a bureaucrat he felt was obstructin­g his efforts; he tipped a glass of orange juice over another. He was benignly described by the Canberra media as “a ‘stirrer’, that uniquely Australian blend of whistleblo­wer and guerrilla”. And, like any good stirrer, he was a smartarse. When one of his many phone calls to the office of the justice minister was accidental­ly put through to the minister himself, Senator (now Reverend) Michael Tate, Eastman was met with an expletive. “Now now, Senator,” came Eastman’s reply. “That’s no language for the leader of the Parliament­ary Christian Fellowship to use.” He threatened to kill federal Liberal senator Margaret Reid; he threatened to kill ACT Labor attorney-general Terry Connolly. He even threatened to kill Australian Federal Police assistant commission­er Colin Winchester. David Eastman could be very annoying. The Australian 39

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