It was a foetid August day in New York in 1973. It was before pooper-scoopers, so the hot summer pavements in Manhattan reeked of dog shit. Even on Fifth Avenue.

(By the end of August, you believed Johnny Carson was right when he claimed on TV that New Jersey folk would sneak across the Hudson River at night to let their dogs dump in New York.)

For me, that steamy August day was even shittier than usual. I was at the rundown, paint-peeling, New York City morgue to identify the body of my friend and colleague Lillian Roxon.

The extreme heat had brought on a fatal asthma-induced heart attack, and the Fairfax foreign correspondent and author of Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopaedia was suddenly dead at 41.

I identified her body and then trudged back to work to write her obituary. That’s what journos did, and do. No human resources officer. No counselling. Time for that in the pub, over umpteen drinks, but not until after you’d filed your story. Don’t be a sook.

That image of dear Lillian, on a slab under a grubby grey blanket, flooded back to me when the Oz tweeted that Bill Leak was dead.

So unexpected. So tragic. So soon. And I thought of his mates, gutted, but still geared to getting a paper out. Do it for Bill. Grieve later.

His colleagues, as my Gran would say, “done him proud”.

I’ll stay with my initial Twitter reaction: “Oh, no. Cannot be.” And what I tweeted during his disgraceful 18C persecution by the so-called libertarians who deserted him: “Je suis Charlie, but bugger Bill Leak.” What a loss.

***

I was in Brisbane earlier this week for a public hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, of which I am an avid participating member.

Nauru, Manus and refugees were again the issues under investigation/interrogation.

The Turnbull/Obama/Trump “people swap” deal is inching to a denouement.

Hinch’s Hunch (and it is purely that) is that the initial agreement with former president Barack Obama was for about 1200 detainees to be accepted into the US and we would take a similar number of South Americans currently held in Costa Rica.

The Trump demand for “extreme vetting” will cause that number to come down to about 900.  The anti-refugee Prez can claim his vigilance paid off. Would-be terrorists and Boston bombers weeded out. The PM can say the deal was honoured. Win-win.

I have supported the government/Labor policy of offshore processing. But. There is no legit reason why we have not had a Child Commissioner on Nauru, because there are still 45 children there.

I do not support a lifetime ban on people sent back to their country of origin or resettled elsewhere. That is cruel and unjust.

It is also a disgrace that some women, who were allegedly sexually assaulted on Nauru and were brought here to the mainland for treatment, must “return to the scene of the crime” if they want to be considered for resettlement in the United States. That is inhumane.

***

You’ve got to hand it to Mathias Cormann. He really is an Antipodean Schwarzenegger. (OK, he was born in Belgium). It’s not just the accent. He is a verbal brick wall. Just look at him on Insiders on Sunday. The Libs and Colin Barnett had just been flushed down the scheissen hausen, partly because of the preference deal with One Nation that Cormann had so cleverly negotiated. Cormann the core man.

Barrie Cassidy couldn’t lay a glove. The interview must have gone 12 minutes and we learned nothing, except that “contrition”, “whoops”, “my mistake”, and “we were wrong” are obviously not part of the WA Libs’ lexicon.

***

And on that misguided, desperate, ill-fated preference deal with Pauline Hanson. Talk about the perils of getting too close to Pauline. It obviously did hurt both parties, but  don’t forget her personal performance, in that final, giddy week on the ground, during which One Nation’s numbers plummeted.

Calling Vladimir Putin a hero, getting into bed with the anti-vaxxers and being caught telling lies about her support for siphoning some of Queensland’s GST to WA was all her own klutzy work.

***

A real treat in Brissie this week. The newbie arrived at Parliament House for that Senate committee hearing and went to the old edifice and not the Annex. An obliging security guard took me on a guided tour before ending up at the Strangers’ Coffee lounge. Morning, Helen. Best memory: the awesome sculpture of Neville Bonner’s head.

Peter Fray

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