Derryn Hinch

It was actually quite bizarre. Almost surreal. The Hinch transformation. The journo who really jumped the shark.

There I was, only a few years ago, railing on Melbourne’s 3AW and on TV about Craig Thomson. The former union official (and Gillard government balance-of-power holder) who had used his HSU members’ money for $500 hookers.

To make it more surreal, between those editorial attacks on Thomson, I had been lying in a bed at the Austin Hospital. And one day I saw one of his union members — probably earning $15 an hour — mopping up the muck from a burst colostomy bag.

I thought: that middle-aged European woman’s annual union fees probably paid for one of Thomson’s union-funded assignations.

And here I was this week: Senator Hinch, moving an auditor control amendment to a piece of government industrial relations legislation that — if it had existed when the Thomsons and Kathy Jacksons and Michael Williamsons were running the HSU — could have saved millions of dollars.

Who would have thunk it?

It was an amendment of which I was proud. Almost as much as the amendment that Nick Xenophon (and his NXT trio) and I negotiated with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash for one of the best whistleblower protection laws in the world.

Right now it hits union whistleblowers. Soon it will hit corporate whistleblowers. In the Senate debate I quoted my grandma: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

And for those critics who derided Nick X and me for trusting the government over future whistleblower legislation to include corporate Australia — like banks and insurance companies — and the ADF, let me say: if you don’t trust them, trust us.

The new Hinch-Team X liaison is a new Gang of Four. We don’t agree on everything (and my cynical journalism background prepares me for Greeks bearing gifts), but we suddenly have a government genuinely talking to, listening to and negotiating with the crossbench. Can’t be a bad thing.

***

As I mentioned on the Justice Party Facebook page: this week I delivered one of the most important speeches in the Senate I ever will. It concerns a medical scandal involving Australian mothers that many, if not most, of you won’t have even heard of.

I likened it to the Thalidomide scandal back in the 1950s and 1960s, when women were innocently taking a morning sickness pill and started giving birth to babies with no arms or legs.

Drugs like Distaval were taken off the market and a shocked world asked: how could it have gone on so long? How could the drug companies in Australia have known for so many months and put so many pregnancies at risk?  How could they put money before morality? Profit before pain? How could our medical authorities and health protection agencies have been so ignorant? Or complacent?

Thalidomide became a dirty word. This week I put another word into that category: mesh. Transvaginal mesh. It is not crippling babies but has crippled thousands of mothers both here and overseas.

And once again, the drug companies and the so-called watchdogs like the TGA — the Therapeutic Goods Administration — are letting victims down.

For about 20 years, this plastic (or polypropylene) mesh has been permanently embedded as post-natal hammocks, slings and netting, for prolapsed organs and incontinence (a miracle treatment for male incontinence too, I’ve been told).

Over time, this “harmless” plastic netting can become brittle and start to break away in shards and splinters. They start to float around the body, causing inflammation and excruciating pain. No wonder these slings have been called “a torture device”.

There have been cases where a splinter has pierced a woman’s vaginal wall and injured her partner during intercourse.

I have read case histories and about some of the side effects: infection, bleeding, painful sexual intercourse, vaginal scarring, prolapse return, sepsis, immune system rejection, urinary problems, chronic pain. And the pain of daily living. Stabbing pain when sitting on the toilet, when crawling into bed, walking, sitting at a desk …

It just goes on. And on. It is a national disgrace.

I was not exaggerating when I linked transvaginal mesh to Thalidomide. This is one of the greatest medical scandals and abuse of mothers in our history. And I fervently believe a Senate inquiry is a must. We have to do it.

***

One of the banes and bugbears of a new senator’s life is question time. It should be called answer time but, on reflection, that wouldn’t be accurate. Ministers rarely answer questions.

To make it worse, even senators asking Dorothy Dixers get a question and two supplementary ones.

My patience was stretched this week when Victorian Senator James Paterson lobbed a lollipop to Cash about the virtues of the ABCC.

This was in the midst of protracted debate from both sides on the controversial industrial legislation.

“Can the minister inform the Senate of the need to reform the workplace culture in the building and construction industry?”

Rising on a point of order, I said: “Mr President, it may be my ignorance, but is it form for question time to be used to debate issues that are already in legislation before the Senate?”

The President: “Thank you, Senator Hinch. The question is certainly in order, and I call the minister.” Sit down, please.

***

Pot calling kettle? Overheard from a Senator Malcolm Roberts staffer discussing beleaguered Senator Rod Culleton: “He’s got to stop with the conspiracy theories.”

Peter Fray

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