From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Brandis no-mates. The full Federal Court’s decision ordering Attorney-General George Brandis to process a freedom of information request from his shadow, Mark Dreyfus, for his 2014 diary contains some interesting tidbits about the life and times of Australia’s chief law officer.

As part of its examination on whether it would be just too much effort for Brandis to process the request, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the court actually looked at Brandis’ diary, and found the Attorney-General worked up to seven days a week, with an average of 12 appointments per day. It wasn’t just his minister appointments in the diary however, with appointments said to range from minister appointments to Coalition appointments and personal appointments. The latter, however, seemed to be missing:

“Although, the tribunal noted, that the extracts from the diary in the confidential exhibit did not appear to contain personal appointments.”

Poor George. Lucky he has all those books.

The Age goes full frontal. In an article titled “Have we hit peak nudity on the red carpet?”, The Age inadvertently published a photo of, well, nudity. The article, by Jenna Clark, reported on the outfits of two models at the Venice Film Festival, whose flowy gowns allowed for a revealing look at what is usually left under the fabric. The image was originally uploaded without any pixelation of the models, and it still shows up in previews of the article on social media. This is how it appears online now, and the unedited preview can be seen here (not safe for work, obviously).

peak nudity

NBN opacity continues. It came as a bit of a surprise to many when the government-owned NBN Co was listed as one of the recipients for funding to build mandatory data retention systems. Just what could NBN Co need to keep, as a wholesale company that has no end users to spy on? Surely all that data would be held by its ISP customers?

We may never know. When we asked, we got a one-line response that said not very much at all:

“In line with federal government legislation, NBN [Co] will comply with the mandatory data retention obligations required of relevant Australian communications service providers.”

When pushed as to what the company might retain, we were told that if NBN Co were to disclose the application for the document it “may breach section 187L of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979″.

We looked up the section of the act and found that the so-called commercial-in-confidence clause (one NBN Co is often fond of using to escape transparency) applies only to how the Attorney-General’s Department and the ACMA handle the applications, and there is nothing to prevent NBN Co from releasing its application, or stating what it actually needs to keep that law enforcement might want to access without a warrant.

In lieu of any hope of direct transparency from Australia’s largest public infrastructure project, Crikey has filed a freedom of information request for the original application for data retention money.

Leyonhjelm explains himself, kind of. One of the strongest advocates for repealing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm was asked on Melbourne LGBTI radio station Joy FM on Monday night about what exactly he couldn’t say under 18C today that wouldn’t be allowed under the exemptions to the act in section 18D.

“Racial abuse, colour-based abuse, ethnic abuse, national-origin abuse is not fair comment. I mean the defence of 18D is essentially fair comment,” he said.

He claimed that Fairfax’s Mark Kenny’s column about him would not be able to rely on 18D because Kenny’s “angry white man” comment went beyond fair comment as allowed by 18D. Leyonhjelm said that people should be allowed to say those things, and then be “vigorously rebutted” and abused.

The free speech advocate also revealed he acknowledged that some limits on free speech in Australia were accepted:

“We do have impediments on freedom of speech in this country … where infringements on freedom of speech are agreed and accepted. They include things such as incitement to criminal offence and defamation. They are not in question here. 18C is all about feelings.”

He also said mental illness could not be blamed on racial abuse:

“Mental illness is a disease. It’s like saying getting cancer can be caused by being abused by your wife … to blame someone else for an illness of that kind is fanciful.”

He said it was a racist assumption to say that minority races in a predominantly white nation were less able to cope with abuse than white people.

Sky is falling? As Nine Entertainment prepares to sell its 33% stake in Australian News Channel, which operates Sky News on Foxtel, it has taken the opportunity to make another impairment of its book value. Nine owns a third of Australian News Channel (the other two-thirds are owned by Seven West Media and British Sky) and is about to sell that to News Corp (which will buy the stake held by Sky News of the UK). Seven Network will buy 17% of Australian News Channel to take its stake to 50%, equal to News Corp’s stake.

But buried in the Nine annual accounts, filed with the ASX late last month, was news of the further impairment of more than half a million dollars.

“Management has determined the accounting fair value less costs to disposal for Australian News Channel Pty Limited to be the likely net proceeds which it is estimated would be received on a disposal of the Group’s shares in this entity. This has resulted in an impairment of $512,000 being recognised on the investment in Australian News Channel Pty Limited during the current financial year.”

That was the second impairment in a row. In 2014-15, Nine cut the value of its one-third stake in Australian News Channel by $25 million. And the 2015-16 annual report reveals that the dividend paid to Nine by Australian News Channel fell sharply, from $2.333 million in 2014-15 to $1.3 million in the June, 2015 year. That’s a 42% cut in dividend payments. What will that mean for Nine and Sky News now?

Flying Heap of Crap Watch. OK so we haven’t mentioned the F-35 for a while, purely out of the goodness of our hearts, but we can’t ignore the latest bad news. In recent months, Lockheed, the US government and various F-35 boosters have been trying to play up the success of the grossly over-cost, decade-late aircraft that Australia is wasting billions on. Alas, the Pentagon, which is the chief purchaser of the aircraft, isn’t buying it. In a shocking memo obtained by Bloomberg, the Defense Department’s chief weapons tester has damned the project, declaring “the program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver”. And there is a “substantial risk” that full combat capability will not be obtained. This is despite the Air Force awarding the aircraft “initial combat capability” recently. The whole project “is running out of time and money to complete the planned flight testing and implement the required fixes and modifications”. Worse, problems “continue to be discovered at a substantial rate”. There’s also a minor ongoing problem of not having “a functioning and accurate gun”. So, all’s going well then.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now