From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …
Jobs for the boy. It’s standard in politics for both parties to hand out plum jobs to former MPs — usually from their own side, although Labor, during its six years in power, showed a commendable willingness to be bipartisan in its favouritism toward former MPs. But it’s rare that we see something as blatant as what Malcolm Turnbull has done for former Tasmanian MP Eric Hutchinson, who lost his job, along with two other Liberal MPs, at the election. We learnt at Senate estimates this morning that Turnbull gave Senate President Stephen Parry a new position specially for Hutchinson, who was given the job of representing Parry in Tasmania. Now, Parry is from Tasmania, so that makes sense, right? Except it was an adviser position, not an electoral position, which comes with a lower salary. Hutchinson’s new position comes with a salary of up to $133,218, with an additional $28,139 overtime allowance. Despite being an “adviser” to the Senate President, Hutchinson has yet to return to Canberra in his current role.
Unwarranted surveillance. One of the protections ostensibly provided against the chilling effect of data retention laws on whistleblowers and journalistic sources was supposed to be the “journalism information warrant”, a legislated requirement that if authorities want to identify a journalist’s sources using metadata they need a special “journalist information warrant” to be issued under a complex and highly secret process; if a journalist found out she was being targeted for such a warrant, she wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone, at risk of being jailed.
Anyway, with a large number of Australian Federal Police investigations into the colander-like leaking of this government to the media (including, most controversially, the revelation of highly embarrassing information about NBN Co’s disastrous planning, demanded by a humiliated Ziggy Switkowski, for which Parliament House email servers were “raided” by police), just how many warrants have police sought? After the AFP previously evaded such a question from Nick Xenophon earlier in the year, he put them on the spot in an estimates hearing this morning, and they ‘fessed up: there had been no journalism information warrants sought by the AFP.
So — good news? Hardly. In fact, the warrants are trivially easy to circumvent — if you want to find out who leaked to a journalist, you don’t obtain the journalist’s metadata, you get the metadata of every public servant who might have known the information that was leaked, and work backwards from there. There’s no requirement to get a journalism information warrant if you’re not seeking a journalist’s metadata — even if you’re trying to work out who a journo’s source is. No wonder the AFP hasn’t bothered with the cumbersome process of getting a special warrant.
Goodsir an unreformed Comic Sans criminal. On Friday, scribe Myriam Robin told readers of SMH editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir’s farewell to his deputy Judith Whelan. Whelan’s off to the ABC, and Goodsir’s send-off email to the editor, as she noted, was written in comic sans font.
We’ve since been told by several sources that there was nothing unusual about this — comic sans is, for better or worse, Goodsir’s preferred font when it comes to email. And not only that. Two years ago, the SMH put it on the front page. “I love the font,” he told BuzzFeed at the time. His own paper called him “an unreformed Comic Sans criminal”. All of which we should have remembered on Friday …
In a hole, Brandis keeps digging. As if we needed more evidence of Attorney-General George Brandis’ blunders, he bloviated his way into a trap of his own making in his appearance before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s hearing on the Solicitor-General direction on Friday, in an amusing exchange with Greens Senator Nick McKim, who wasn’t even in the room but phoning in from Tasmania. Brandis insisted on ostentatiously correcting McKim on what he thought was an error — and only succeeded in shooting himself in the foot. Here’s the exchange:
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Senator McKIM: Good afternoon, Attorney. Can I just check that you can hear me clearly?
Senator Brandis: I can.
Senator McKIM: Earlier in your evidence to the committee this afternoon you said words to the effect that your consultation at the meeting which occurred on 30 November last year was about substance not form.
Senator Brandis: Largely.
Senator McKIM: ‘Largely’ about substance and not form.
Senator Brandis: Because I think this comes from the statement that I read which is actually writing let me turn up what I said so that we will not be relying on your paraphrase of my evidence. Let us look at the precise words because this is all an argument about what precise words precisely mean. I am looking for it now, if you will just bear with me, Senator McKim.
Senator McKIM: Certainly.
Senator Brandis: Here we are. Paragraph 9:
The consultation that occurred at the meeting of 30 November 2015 was about substance not form. The notes of my staff confirm that I raised the issue of the legal services directions. Naturally the main focus was on a questions of substance: What processes should be in place to govern — amongst other things, the referral of questions of law to the Solicitor-General not primarily the question of form. How should those processes be enshrined in a legal instrument?
Senator McKIM: Thank you, attorney. So, the word largely was obviously not in the statement that was just read out. But nevertheless —
Senator Brandis: The word primarily was. I think primarily and largely are synonymous synonymous are they not?
Senator McKIM: In fact, the sentence with which you just started did not contain the words largely for primarily.
McKim left the matter there and moved on. It was the equivalent of a mic drop, entirely handed to him by an Attorney-General who can’t even be a pompous twit without messing it up.
Gender relations 101. The Australian has opened a new front in its battle against education programs that cover anything that isn’t the three Rs, taking on the Victorian government’s Respectful Relationship program (only two Rs), which aims to teach children about domestic violence. The program’s teaching and learning materials include classes on learning to name emotions, what empathy is, and also explore gender norms and male privilege and how these can contribute to gender-based domestic violence. Naturally, The Australian has trotted out sex therapist Bettina Arndt to write on the topic, where she labelled the program “nonsensical”, and that it “wastes millions on making little boys feel ashamed”. Arndt writes:
“Let’s hope parents are prepared to take on schools which subject their sons to this vile feminist posturing and put the Victorian government on notice for wasting millions on teaching little boys to be ashamed of themselves instead of addressing the real issues underlying domestic violence.”
Arndt is a regular writer for The Australian, having taken up the call of defending men from being misunderstood in relationships, and for years has prosecuted the case that men are also victims of domestic violence. She also argues that factors such as neglect, abuse, alcohol and drugs should be given more weight when combating family violence. But Arndt’s teaching on gender relations in heterosexual marriages makes us wonder if she really has anything better to teach teens about respectful relationships. She has previously quoted studies and came to her own conclusions that women should have sex with their husbands, even when they don’t feel like it:
“When I wrote about [Rosemary] Basson’s work in my book The Sex Diaries, most female commentators weren’t having a bar of it. The notion that women could gain any benefits from having sex without prior desire was dismissed as outrageous white-picket-fence thinking. The prevailing culture embraces the idea women are entitled to just shut up shop if they aren’t interested in sex. And the growing male sex deficit? Well, that’s their problem.”
In 2013, Arndt wrote that if one half of a marriage denies the other sex, they are not holding up their marriage vows:
“Athol has firm ideas about the problem with sexless marriages: ‘The spouse who denies sex is cheating the other out of their marriage agreement.’ He’s right, of course, but it’s so rare that anyone dares run with that suggestion.”
Now we know what we should be teaching teenagers for “respectful relationships”.
Back in the game. There’s been an interesting appointment at The Courier-Mail, with editor Lachlan Heywood convincing veteran journo Tony Koch out of retirement to work part time for the paper out of Brisbane. Koch retired in 2011 at the age of 60, with his most recent role as The Australian‘s Queensland chief reporter. He’s won five Walkleys and has covered issues like the 2004 death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island. It is understood Koch will be chasing up news stories as well as having a mentoring role with the very young newsroom in the paper. Our tipster says: “Politicians won’t be happy to hear the big bloke is back on the trail. But it is great news for journalism and a fine coup for the new editor.”