Summary AB v Law Society of NSW  NSWSC 1975 is a decision of Davies J given on 19 December 2018, quashing the Law Society’s decision under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) to prosecute a former solicitor for falsely attesting a passport application form, having been told, and believing, that the signature was genuinely applied by the signatory, but not in the solicitor’s presence. The decision was quashed because the Law Society failed to disclose to the solicitor, despite demand, during the disciplinary investigation all relevant documents, in breach of the obligation of procedural fairness, and because its reasons for its decision to prosecute were not reasons at all, and so amounted to jurisdictional error. In this latter respect, the decision is an application of the law set out in Levitt v Council of the Law Society of NSW  NSWSC 834 (see this blog post) and the decision dismissing the appeal from that decision, reported at  NSWCA 834.
How the decision came to be anonymised is not referred to in the reasons. Can anyone tell me how that happened?
Detail In March 2016, a solicitor’s supervising partner asked her to witness a passport application for her daughter, and signed the form in her presence. She asked the solicitor to witness the father’s signature too, and the solicitor falsely attested his signature as well, having been assured by the partner, on her version of events at least, that she had had the father sign the form in her presence earlier that day. The form only had to be witnessed by an adult, not a solicitor.
The Passport Fraud Squad called the solicitor the next day and the solicitor confronted the partner who confessed to having forged the father’s signature.
The solicitor and her supervising partner changed firms. The solicitor spoke confidentially to another partner at the new firm about her supervising partner’s actions. Breaking that confidence, the other partner spoke to the supervising partner and then reported to the solicitor that the supervising partner denied wrongdoing.
In September 2016, the firm commenced an internal investigation into the solicitor, who retained an external lawyer to represent her. The supervising partner told the investigation that the solicitor had witnessed both her signature and the father’s on the passport form.
In November 2016, the solicitor made a self-disclosure to the Law Society of her false attestation of the father’s signature. The firm found the solicitor had not told the truth, and gave notice they were thinking about sacking her. In January 2017, the solicitor resigned to go to the Bar.
In late March 2017, nearly 13 months after the events in question, the Law Society initiated a complaint against the solicitor under the Legal Profession Uniform Law. They sought to investigate whether the solicitor had falsely attested the father’s and the supervising partner’s signature. There does not seem to have been any basis for the Law Society to investigate whether the solicitor falsely attested the supervising partner’s practising certificate. Maybe their stuff-ups began early.
Despite requests, the Law Society never provided to the solicitor a copy of the passport application form.
That month, the solicitor’s lawyer asked the Law Society to proceed with expedition because of the psychiatric distress being suffered by the solicitor. She was suffering an adjustment disorder arising from the Law Society’s complaint, and a psychiatrist said, more or less: resolve this urgently, otherwise she might well kill herself.
In June 2017, the solicitor applied for a barrister’s practising certificate. The Bar investigated the relevant events in the course of deciding whether to let her be a barrister.
Later that month, the Law Society wrote to the solicitor’s lawyer citing extracts from a statutory declaration given by the supervising partner which claimed that when she signed the form the solicitor had laughed and said to the supervising partner she knew the husband had not signed the form and that she had had to do things like this all the time at her last firm. The Law Society did not give a date on which the stat dec was given.
In July 2017, the solicitor’s lawyer requested a copy of the stat dec, to no avail. The Law Society said the lawyer had been provided with everything relevant and they would not provide irrelevant material. That was not true; there was a second statutory declaration made by the supervising partner in their possession which was in fact relevant. That statutory declaration of the supervising partner said that she had requested the solicitor to attest a signature which purported to be, but was not in fact, the father’s signature.
In late August 2017, satisfied she was a fit and proper person to practise, the Bar gave the solicitor a barrister’s practising certificate. (It is interesting that the Bar did not await the results of the Law Society’s investigation before making that decision. Perhaps they knew how glacially the Law Society typically moves, or in this case was moving.)
The Bar’s reasons adverted to two statements given by the supervising partner, including a statutory declaration of April 2017 which said (inconsistently with what the Law Society had said about the statutory declaration they had been referring to) that the supervising partner had not in fact seen the solicitor personally and properly attest the father’s signature. (The two accounts of the supervising partner apparently in play were, therefore: ‘I saw the solicitor in the same room as me and the father, I saw the father sign, and I saw the solicitor attest that signature,’ and ‘I did not see that.’)
The solicitor’s lawyer again asked for all the statements and was again rebuffed, but the rebuff referred to ‘the statutory declarations’.
In December 2017, the solicitor became suicidal and was hospitalised, and her lawyer advised the Law Society, and complained of the delay, contrasting the year long investigation into the solicitor’s self-disclosure with the Bar’s efficient investigation and resolution of the same question. Subsequently, the solicitor wrote directly to the President of the Law Society advising she had unsuccessfully attempted to kill herself by an overdose, begging for clarity on what was to happen in the investigation.
The Law Society advised in response that it was going to close the investigation into whether the solicitor had falsely attested the father’s signature but would proceed with the investigation of whether she had falsely attested the supervising partner’s signature. They had got the results of the investigation muddled up and their letter said the opposite of what they meant.
But it got its investigations right in a letter of 15 December 2017 (I find it uncanny how many decisions to prosecute are dropped just before Christmas; the decision to prosecute my latest client, for dishonesty which he vehemently denies, was given to him on Christmas Eve.) The Law Society said it would likely close the complaint about falsely attesting the supervising partner’s signature, but likely prosecute the false attestation of the father’s signature. They got it right this time.
The next day, the solicitor’s lawyer responded at length, and on 28 December 2017, a letter from the solicitor’s psychiatrist reiterating the psychiatric distress being occasioned by the investigation was forwarded to the Law Society.
But the Law Society did not get around to communicating a final decision until nearly six weeks later, on 6 February 2018. The decision, set out at , was pretty rubbish; it recited a whole lot of what appear to be relatively uncontroversial facts, presumably consistent with the solicitor’s self-disclosure, recorded the dates on which the solicitor’s lawyer had made submissions, said that they had been taken into account, and said it was ‘satisfied that the alleged conduct in the complaint may amount to professional misconduct as opposed to unsatisfactory professional conduct.’
It is a feature of the LPUL that it expressly states that reasons must be given for a decision following an investigation, which must be conducted according to the rules of procedural fairness. Whether the reasons provision applies in the case of a decision to prosecute professional misconduct, a matter which was controversial in the case, the Court found there was a common law obligation to give reasons for an administrative decision such as that following an investigation.
The Court found that the Law Society had failed to disclose to the solicitor information relevant to the investigation: that the supervising partner admitted that the solicitor had properly attested her execution of the form (so that the first limb of the Law Society’s complaint was radically misconceived) and that the supervising partner had in fact more or less admitted forging the father’s signature. The solicitor was robbed of the opportunity of making submissions that the supervising partner should not be believed by the Law Society about, for example, her story that the solicitor had laughed and attested the father’s signature knowing that the father had not in fact signed it. She was robbed of the opportunity of advocating forcefully that her version of events, which had never wavered, should be accepted, and that the conduct described by it ought to be regarded as unsatisfactory professional conduct rather than professional misconduct and so be dealt with by an internal sanction by the Law Society rather than by prosecution.
The Court found that the Law Society’s purported reasons were not reasons at all. They disclosed no path of reasoning (as to the duty to give reasons which disclose the decision maker’s path or reasoning more generally, see this blog post). How the exculpatory matters relied on by the solicitor in her lawyer’s submissions identified by date was not explained. Then the Court said at :
‘there was nothing inherent in the plaintiff’s wrongdoing that necessarily led to a conclusion that professional misconduct might be established “as opposed to unsatisfactory professional conduct” (as paragraph 15 of the reasons refers). Section 298 sets out conduct which is capable of constituting either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct. Paragraph (e) includes where the solicitor has been convicted of … an indictable offence, or convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, …. If being convicted of a serious offence or an offence involving dishonesty is capable of constituting unsatisfactory professional conduct, it follows a fortiori, that where the plaintiff has not been charged or convicted at all, her behaviour is capable of constituting unsatisfactory professional conduct.’
Accordingly, the Law Society ought to have given reasons justifying its conclusion that this conduct, which they said in their decision to prosecution justified a reprimand, was professional misconduct rather than unsatisfactory professional conduct.
The Court castigated the Law Society for its delay. As far as I can see, these regular castigations of disciplinary investigators have no effect at all. Delay is as prevalent and obnoxious as ever in disciplinary investigations.]]>
Summary The Legal Profession Act 2004 was repealed on 1 July 2015. But transitional provisions probably give it ongoing life in relation to all disciplinary investigations which commenced prior to that date (see this blog post), even where the resultant disciplinary prosecution post-dates 1 July 2015. This post suggests that such prosecutions in VCAT (of which there are still many) are now subject to VCAT’s usual costs regime under s. 109 where the presumption is that there will be no order as to costs, and there is no favouratism for the Commissioner.
That is a great improvement on the previous situation when costs were in practice always awarded to the Commissioner and never awarded against the Commissioner, with the Commissioner often getting full costs despite being unsuccessful in some respects. The costs of the Commissioner’s employee were allowed on County Court scale D, despite the remuneration under that scale greatly exceeding the wages paid to the employees on top of fees paid to counsel, on whom the Commissioner is extraordinarily reliant. My impression is that the average costs order in a simple matter which is largely uncontested is $10,000, but costs orders of $50,000 and up may attend upon contested matters which take several days to try (take VCAT’s most recent disciplinary decision, for example: $87,000 claimed by the Commissioner against a poor old sole practitioner out in the suburbs).
The previous position prevailed because of a provision in the VCAT Act 1998 which has been amended consequent upon the repeal of the Legal Profession Act 2004 so as no longer refer to that Act.
Mind you I have tried this argument out in VCAT twice already and made no progress with it, though VCAT has provided no reasons as to why it is incorrect.
Detail During the lifetime of the Legal Profession Act 2004 the VCAT Act 1998 had a provision (cl. 46D in sch. 1) which disapplied s. 109 of the VCAT Act 1987 (a costs provision providing that prima facie, there should be no orders as to costs in VCAT) and said that in disciplinary prosecutions under the Legal Profession Act 2004 where the practitioner is found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct, the practitioner must be ordered to pay costs unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the Commissioner must not be ordered to pay costs except in special circumstances.
This provision operated in the following way. Sections 39 and 58 of the VCAT Act 1998 explains that Parts 3 and 4 set out the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, functions, and procedure, and Schedule 1 sets out variations for ‘certain types of proceedings’.
Then Schedule 1 set out many variations to the norm provided by the Act depending on which enabling Act’s grant of jurisdiction to VCAT was in play. Variations when VCAT’s Legal Profession Act 2004 jurisdiction was invoked were in Part 13A of Schedule 1.
The Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 not only repealed the Legal Profession Act 2004 (the Legal Profession Uniform Law, Schedule 1 to the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 took over), but s. 160 and cl. 105 of schedule 2 amended Part 13A so that it no longer applied to proceedings invoking VCAT’s Legal Profession Act 2004 jurisdiction but instead applied only to proceedings invoking VCAT’s Legal Profession Uniform Law jurisdiction.
I cannot see any transitional provisions which preserve the operation of the old version of cl. 46D. Anyone have a theory as to how the Commissioner could legitimately use cl. 46D to claim costs in disciplinary hearings in which she has invoked VCAT’s Legal Profession Act 2004 jurisdiction?
If not, and costs orders have been made pursuant to the amended cl. 46D provision when it had no operation, those orders are nullities (see The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd v Victoria  VSCA 146 at ) and as a model litigant, one would hope that the Commissioner would repay costs paid under such orders.
In a recent case I did, the Commissioner said s. 14 of the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 justified its recourse to the old version of cl. 46D, in a proceeding instituted after 1 July 2015. Here’s a link to the provision so you can make up your own mind about the correctness of this argument which presumably relies on sub-s. (2)(e) (‘Where a provision of an Act is amended, the amendment shall not unless the contrary intention expressly appears affect any right or privilege acquired under that provision.’)
Murder and madness Violence and the courts’ response was prominent as an issue, because it was an election year in Victoria, and so was racism because of the Minister for Making Refugees Disappear and other senior government people. I liked John Silverster’s end of year article which celebrated the fact that crimes were down 7% and 3,000 extra police were in training. A miserable law and order scare campaign ill-executed by state and federal Liberals ultimately bombed spectacularly when Dan Andrews stared it down. For example, the shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto lost the seat of Hawthorn to a retired school principal who does not drive, John Kennedy (not the Hawks legend of the same name, or the Hawks legend’s Hawks playing son of the same name) and the Liberals held Brighton (Brighton!) by only 865 votes against a late-announced 19 year old Labor candidate who also doesn’t drive and who spent $1,750 on his campaign. The newly elected Liberal member then surprised many by railing in his maiden speech against duck shooting and expounding environmental concerns more generally.
But before that electoral catharsis which drained the South Sudanese gangs beatup swamp quite effectively and allowed Melbourne lawyer Nyadol Nyuon to garner 16,000 Twitter followers, indeterminate events of violence confounded debate amongst thinking people and it became a ‘Who’s actually the problem here?’ kinda year, at least in my little Twitter echo chamber. The local terrorists were sufficiently ineffectual, sufficiently un- or questionably jihadist, and sufficiently self-evidently nuts that those who wished to keep the focus on the presumably comparatively sane blokes who just kept plugging away at murdering their wives, children, mothers, mothers in law and grandmothers had much to work with. Current and former wives and partners alone, for example, have in recent years been killed at the average rate of one a week. This year, 69 women were killed in homicides in Australia, almost all of them by people they knew. And the thoroughly white, awfully mad Jimmy Gargasoulis, back in the news as his trial played out, frustrated for the time being anyone who wanted to paint a picture of terror being a refugee jihadist problem.
We learnt that Mr Gargasoulis was a schizophrenic Australian of Greek-Tongan descent on bail for family violence offences who had a history of drug use. He burnt a Bible and threw it into the face of the maroon Commodore’s owner before demanding the keys else he’d gouge the public housing tenant’s eyes out. Then he stabbed his brother, took his pregnant girlfriend hostage and went on a wild ride in a Holden Commodore (a Commodore!) mowing down 33 people in Bourke Street resulting in 6 deaths. In court, he said the ‘Muslim faith is the correct faith according to the whole world’, but also rambled about the illuminati and believed he was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings. He said he committed the offences so as to free himself of pursuit by the police the better to promulgate his Messiahship.
The main issue in Mr Gargasoulis’s trial was whether he was fit to stand trial. A jury answered affirmatively and Gargasoulas was subsequently found guilty of murder. While that was playing out, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali set alight a Holden Rodeo (poor old Holden!) with opened gas canisters in its tray in Bourke Street. Thank God they did not explode, but he managed to stab 3 people killing one (the much treasured Sisto Malespina, Pellegrini’s cravatted host, Melbourne’s original barrista, given a State funeral). Shire Ali, born in Somalia and a Muslim who did not attend mosque, is reported to have believed people with spears were following him, and had stopped seeing his psychiatrist. Someone set up a crowdfunding appeal to thank Trolley Man for his brave confrontation of Shire Ali netting him $136,000 before it emerged that he was allegedly a serial burglar and, inexcusably, allegedly a bike thief.
Twice the number of people killed in these headline terror events of 2017 and 2018 were allegedly murdered by 3 other men in less than half a year in south-western Western Australia alone:
Then there was the ice addict who thought drones were following him who allegedly stabbed his grandmother to death in Maryborough in Victoria.
One could go on. Indeed, though mental health doesn’t necessarily seem to have anything to do it, I cannot bring myself to omit the details of a murder in Kew (Kew!), belatedly resolved in 2018 following Katia Pyliotis’s fifth trial (five (5)!), in which the McDonald’s worker bludgeoned to death a widower wont to make suggestive comments when ordering his cheeseburgers. Her weapons of choice were a Virgin Mary statue and a tin of mangoes. DNA made the case very straightforward in the end, except for the fact that an alcoholic with an acquired brain injury whom the widower used to pay for sex falsely confessed to killing the widower with a paperweight.
It was a very mental health year in other words. The Victorian Premier bravely avoided panic even when the Shire Ali events occurred during the election campaign. Scott Morrison and Matthew Guy’s decision to hold a tough on crime press conference just down from Pellegrini’s soon afterwards went down like a lead balloon. Dan Andrews picked the mood of the electorate perfectly by announcing that he would hold a royal commission into the mental health system if his government was re-elected. And I tell you, I had a lot of dealings with mentally ill people in 2018 and my heart went out to them. Such (mainly) quietly suffered suffering and agitation of the mind I saw, and all usually hidden away from me.
Marriage, Sex, Births It’s not often one can speak of notable births in the year just gone. Notability at birth tends to be restricted to royalty, and Australia did get a new Prince this year (William and Kate Middleton’s third, Louis).
There was a proper royal wedding too: in a sign that things have moved on significantly since December 1936, Harry wed Meghan Markle, a black divorced American television actress with a messy relationship with her father who is yet to meet Harry and a mother descended from slaves who well remembers being called ‘nigger’. The Reverend Michael Curry, first black bishop of the American Episcopalian Church and also descended from slaves, shot to prominence, abandoning his comparatively brief pre-prepared sermon typed up on his iPad for a great gush of extemporised proselytization of love of a carefully defined kind, in what was, for me, one of the most surprising and amazing events of the year, even after I realised the ‘bomb’ in Gilead he kept sermonizing about was in fact a ‘balm’ (though I still have a very imperfect understanding of what the balm in Gilead actually is, except that it’s a negro spiritual). He spoke of slaves to a room of aristocrats some of whom are no doubt wealthy beyond imagination from slavers. The Palace did invite a posse of 1200 commoners to the wedding to sit on the grass outside the chapel for four or five hours (great for the tv coverage) but the invitation advised them ‘to bring a picnic lunch as it will not be possible to buy food and drink on site’.
But getting back to notable births, this year Sebastian Joyce was born not to his father’s wife but to his former staffer, after his father, who is no longer Deputy PM and no longer a Minister, blagged on about the virtues of traditional marriage during the same sex marriage referendum-not. ‘Australia’s most overrated politician’, as Chris Bowen called him on the Q&A episode when the former accountant with a man of the earth shtick, fantastically, seemed poised to have another go at the deputy leadership, really looked a right galah. He asked for privacy, but accepted $150,000 for an exclusive interview on channel 7.
He initially explained that the decision to advise the press that the paternity of the proto-Sebastian was ‘a bit of a grey area’ was jointly made between him and his former media adviser lover. That made me wonder about her media skills.
But later he blamed the outright lie on his mental ill health, explaining that he had been drinking heavily and wandering Canberra’s bars pursuing other women for years. Sebastian’s mum claimed that senior people within the parliament told her to get an abortion if she wanted a future, people Mr Joyce described as scum of the earth in the ‘mad boarding school’ that is parliament. Seb begat a ‘bonk ban’ which employment lawyer Josh Bornstein said was stupid and which just suggested to most that Turnbull was a twit.
The Ban ran counter to the trend of the year of querying prohibition: Australian Catholic priests asked if they could just get married; Ireland decriminalised abortion (Ireland!) after a referendum; India’s Supreme Court (which was fractious this year, and has 54,000 pending cases) decriminalized homosexuality and adultery in two separate decisions, told a Hindu temple to let in women of menstruating age (with this extraordinary result), and upheld a marriage of a Hindu who married a Muslim and converted to Islam, against her parents’ wishes; a NSW coroner brought over Portugal’s Dissuasion Commissioner to testify about Portugal’s traffic infringement like fines for drug offences, in an inquest into six overdoses, and police and doctors alike called for drug law reform; people smoked pot perfectly legally in Canada and various states in the US (Hint to the proprietor of CCs’ intellectual property: licence a ganja product to use the CCs trademark. Then: ‘
Just say No! You Can’t Say No’); Aspirant Premier Matthew Guy’s pledge to close Victoria’s injecting room was a disaster.
The bonk ban, which was not expressed to have extra-territorial operation, resulted in the loss of another hard working member in the bush, after (so it is alleged by that grand organ of investigative journalism, New Idea) another Nationals Minister sought non-staffer relief extra-maritally and extra-territorially, and resigned from Cabinet upon the allegation being aired (‘Broad Offboarded Over Broads Abroad’, as Annabel Crabb put it). This occurred, inconveniently, when it was assumed that the news for the year had ended, while ‘the grinning fool in a baseball cap’ as Wayne Swan described him, was trying to ‘debarnacle’ the Coalition.
This ‘sex scandal’ was ill-reported. It involved no sex. The real story, it seemed to me, was that a woman who seems to have believed she was entitled to her consideration of c. $1,500 (8,000 HKD) for accompanying Mr Broad to dinner at an expensive restaurant at his expense, brokered through a sugar babies website, decided to approach New Idea in the public interest to tell the world about their unrequited love. That was bizarre and must have worried many men of the world, until it emerged that Mr Broad had failed to pay the woman the abovementioned ‘allowance’ (in the argot of the sugar daddy world).
The Deputy Prime Minister appears to have suggested that Mr Broad take the matter to the police. Even if he believed the situation to involve blackmail rather than debt collection, that advice does seem to be monumentally stupid in comparison with ‘Consider paying her the $1,500’. Mr Broad offered his resignation from the front bench of the government to the Deputy Prime Minister 5 weeks prior to New Idea’s revelations and the PM knew two weeks beforehand. We don’t know exactly who knew what when, but an air of incomprehensible incompetence was given off by the handling of a scandal which may have arisen as a matter of principle over $1,500.
For the Minister Assisting the Deputy Prime Minister to send a text saying ‘I pull you close, run my strong hands down your back, softly stroke your neck and whisper “G’day mate”’ also seems right up there to my mind with Tony Abbott eating a raw onion. It is quite simply inexplicable (though Alicia Dawson of Balmain queried whether it was a typo and should have ended ‘… whisper “G’day! Mate?”’). It is said that many Australians giggled every time anyone greeted them with a G’day.
Remarkably, the proprietors of www.seekingarrangements.com who claim to have 700,000 Australian members (which would mean, if they’re all blokes, that about 3 in every 50 men are members), say that they do not judge their sugarbaby member for going to a gossip magazine with one of their daddy members’ private texts, and warn that it is up to their daddy members and sugarbaby members to take care of their own privacy.
State politics The Victorian election was held, and it was a Danslide, Matthew Guy never having managed to shake off the headline writer’s brilliance following ‘Lobster with a Mobster’ or disquiet about his antics as Planning Minister. Really, a meal with an alleged mafia figure whom Mr Guy had no idea was going to turn up ought not to have been such a big deal. But the punters were put on notice that something odd was going on by reports that the Opposition leader drank Grange with lobster (presumably the excuse was ‘I had no idea anyone was actually going to order lobster when Rupert ordered the Grange’) and that Mr Guy thought the topic of conversation was to be a new wholesale fruit and vegetable market (so, the punters asked themselves, why on earth would an experienced politician consider the possibility that no Mafiosi would turn up?). There were 4.1 million voters enrolled, but only 90% of that number appear to have voted. Four percent of those who did vote voted informally. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation did not field any candidates. ABC election coverage can be a bit same same from year to year, but on this occasion, watching the very decent John Pesutto lose the seat of Hawthorn, live, as a panelist on the coverage, was excruciating, while the technology simply did not work for Anthony Green.
I hope you will not consider it perverse of me in the hundredth anniversary of preferential voting to follow my whim to interrogate how many first preference votes people got. I was surprised by how many seats were won outright in the lower house.
Labor won 1.5 million primary votes (43%), the Liberals 1.1 million (30%), the Greens 375k (11%) and the Nationals 165k (5%). To look at it another way, the the Labor / Greens vote was 54%, while the Coalition vote was 35%, independents got 6% of the vote (and 3 seats), and everyone else got about 11%. Forty percent of people in Brunswick and Northcote voted for local doctor Tim Read, and local businesswoman Lidia Thorpe, Greens candidates. Read won while Thorpe, who won in a November 2017 by-election and so had a short stay in parliament, lost. In Melbourne, Ellen Sandell retained the seat for the Greens with a primary vote of 39%.
Labor won the following seats without recourse to preferences: Altona, Bendigo East, Bendigo West Bentleigh, Broadmeadows (68%), Bulleen, Bundoora, Carrum, Clarinda, Cranbourne, Dandenong (66%), Footscray, Keysborough (Martin Pakula), Kororoit, Lara, Mill Park, Mordialloc, Mornington, Mulgrave (Dan Andrews), Narre Warren North, Niddrie, Oakleigh, Polworth, Preston, Rowville, St Albans, Sunbury, Sydenham, Tarneit, Thomastown, Williamstown, Yan Yean, Yuroke, and it got >48% in many other seats. Thirty-three out of 88 seats won on a first past the post basis seems like a pretty amazing result to me, though I have never before made a study of this aspect of things. Only in Euroa, Gippsland East, Gippsland South, Lowan, Malvern, Murray Plains, and Naracan did conservative parties get more than 50% of the first preference votes.
The Coalition ended up with 27 seats, 11 fewer than in the previous election, Labor picked up 8 seats to get 55 and the Greens picked up one (or picked up two and lost one, to be precise) to have three.
Independents won seats from the Nationals in Mallee (Ali Cupper, a former councilor and Labor candidate), and Morwell (Russell Northe, who resigned in 2017 from the Nationals because of stress, depression and gambling issues including debts), held the seat of Shepparton (Suzanna Sheed, a trustee of the local hospital and local businesswoman). The Nationals must be really worried about this local conservative independent woman challenge.
Matthew Guy the Victorian opposition leader gave way to former barrister and Peter Costello acolyte Michael O’Brien.
Other states’ politics South Australia elected a Liberal government after a long innings for the Labor party. NSW got a new Labor opposition leader when Luke Foley resigned over some things he was alleged to have done to journalist Ashley Raper. So, at year’s end, there were 5 Labor governments (Victoria, Queensland, WA, ACT and the NT), and 3 Liberal governments (NSW, SA and Tasmania).
Federal politics Mark Latham joined Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Peter Dutton challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of the Liberal Party, with the result that, following an arithmetical error on the part of the number crunchers, Scott Morrison became Australia’s sixth PM in 10 years, we got a new Deputy Prime Minister for good measure (Julie Bishop out, Josh Frydenberg in) and a new leader of the National Party as well (Barnaby Joyce out, Michael McCormack in). But let it never be forgotten that 40 of Australia’s parliamentarians thought that the Minister for Making Refugees Disappear was the best person to lead the nation. Mr Turnbull named the plotters of the coup on Q&A as including Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt, Matthias Corman, Mitch Fifield, Michaelia Cash, Steve Ciobo, Angus Taylor, Michael Keenan. That was a nuts episode, but you don’t need me to remind you of that.
Fraser Anning, elected as a One Nation politician, gave a speech which Armando Iannucci could not have concocted. Mr Anning is descended from graziers of Charters Towers, but ‘drought and predatory banks’ drove him off the land. He said ‘I was always a Joh (Bjelke-Petersen) man and, to this day, I regard the Joh era as Queensland’s golden age.’ He said ‘I believe that the unfettered ownership of private property and the right to own and use firearms, including for self-defence, are the God-given rights of free people everywhere.’ Amazingly for a grazier turned Gladstone publican, he started quoting ‘Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’ to explain why suggestions that there are more than two genders was a form of Marxist revolution playing out before our very noses. One of his specific aims was ‘to build coal fired power stations’. He said things about Muslims that must have been made up. He described Melbourne’s South Sudanese gangs as Muslim which is highly unlikely (and if they’re Muslim, they’re kind of Muslim in the same way the people of Brighton are Catholic). He said there should be a plebiscite to decide whether we want Muslims to be allowed into the country, or whether we should have a European migration system like in the good old days before the Marxist revolution led by Goff Whitlam. Such a vote, he said was ‘the final solution to the immigration problem.’ By the time he gave the speech, he was a member of Bob Katter’s party. Mr Katter described the speech as ‘solid gold’. Pauline Hansen described it as ‘straight from Goebbels’ handbook’. Many people said it was unlikely that a man educated enough to analyse Gramsci would be ignorant of the use by the Nazis of the euphemism ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’. But Gramsci is the subject of chatter in US far-right circles, and Mr Anning’s speechwriter probably picked him up from there. In the end, what I reckon happened is this. Some speechwriter had a bit of fun and Anning ended up looking like a galah.
Malcolm Turnbull promptly left politics and kept quiet, for just a while, on a tour of New York. There was a byelection in his seat of Wentworth. Scott Morrison ineptly announced that he would think about moving the Australian embassy from the coastal administrative centre, Tel Aviv which swallowed up the ancient town of Jaffa, 70 km to the complicated capital claimed by both Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem, aping Donald Trump. This was just widely reported as a sop to the large number of Jewish voters whom Mr Morrison assumed would lap it up. But never let it be forgotten that Prime Minister Morrison is probably the most religious leader we’ve had for a long time, though increasingly he keeps his cultish Pentecostalism well under wraps. Of course, the embassy move has not happened, and the ploy (if it was not in fact God’s earnest work) didn’t work. Dr Kerryn Phelps, a former President of the AMA, ran as an independent and won, with a swing against the Coalition of 20%, a record in a byelection. The Guardian catalogued the government’s ineptitude well:
‘The Phelps insurgency in Wentworth did not start strongly, but the fortnight leading up to Saturday night’s result was entirely chaotic for the government – with the leaking of the Ruddock review of religious freedoms, a vote in which government senators first agreed it was ‘OK to be white’ before it was struck from the record because of the association of the phrase with white supremacist groups, Morrison’s signal that Australia could follow Donald Trump’s policy on Israel – a putative shift prompting criticism from our nearest neighbour Indonesia and a warning by the spy agency of a potentially violent backlash, and leadership stirrings in the National party.’]]>
Europe The peasants revolted in France, which seemed to take everyone by surprise. Seems President Macron’s honeymoon period, following his remarkable 2017 election, may be over. England thought about changing prime ministers but thought better of it, while it agonized over what sort of Brexit it should have, or whether they should vote on the whole thing again. New Caledonia finally had a referendum about whether to break away from France. Slightly more than half of those of the eligible voters who voted said ‘Non’, but they get to do it all over again in 2020, and maybe in 2022 too.
America The Trump story unfolded slowly. But once again, nothing much really happened, and I mentioned the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation in another post. What I mean is that President Trump and America, for all the hoopla, is still a subject for a future ‘Not Such a Good Year’, because I suspect (and hope) we ain’t seen nothing yet. And of course, it could all end rather wonderfully, and as I said in another instalment of Not Such a Good Year, it’s all covered brilliantly anyway by the ABC podcast ‘Russia If You’re Listening’.
Many separate investigations and lawsuits remain works in progress. The President reached 7,546 certified, fact checked misleading statements and lies on 20 December 2018, his 700th day in office. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller proceeded with maximum efficiency and minimal fanfare, jailing Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization and President Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, and George Papadopoulos (Trump’s former foreign policy adviser), convicting Paul Manafort (Trump’s 2016 election campaign chairman and consultant to Ukraine) of financial fraud, and obtaining guilty pleas from Michael Flynn (Trump’s former national security adviser who resigned after lies he told about contact with Russia were uncovered) and Rick Gates (an associate of Manafort and campaign official, guilty of financial fraud).
President Trump fired a lot of people, and a lot of people quit, and ‘quit’. In 2018 alone: the Deputy Director of the FBI, sacked; White House Staff Secretary, quit; White House Communications Director, quit; Chief Economic Adviser, quit; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, quit; National Security Adviser, quit; Veterans Affairs Secretary, quit; head of the EPA, quit; Ambassador to the UN, quit; Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, fired; Chief of Staff John Kelly, quit (then the hand-picked successor Nick Ayres turned the job down); Interior Secretary, fired; and most worryingly Jim Mattis, said to be one of the last adults in the room, who quit over Trump’s decision peremptorily and against all advice to withdraw all 2,000 US troops fighting in Syria.
The poor bastards imprisoned in Guantanamo continued to rot away. One bloke has been in custody since he was tortured by the Americans in 2003. (By way of excursus: the poor bastards in the Antipodean Guantanamo-lites of Nauru and Manus Island numbered at least 1,000 according to SBS at the end of the year. Most of them are certified, card-carrying refugees. The Federal Court excoriated Minister Dutton for opposing applications to bring critically ill refugees to Australia for medical treatment. The government lost all or nearly all of the applications. It had costs awarded against it. It paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars to its own lawyers. Dr Kerryn Phelps joined phalanxes of what the government calls ‘activist doctors’ (doctors! joining the activist Chief Justice, Justices of Appeal, former Dean of Sydney Law School: it’s starting to sound like Kampuchea), and proposed a bill requiring medical evacuations if two doctors opined it was necessary. And security guards started suing the government for negligently inflicting psychological harm on them.)
One of the more absurd pantomimes in the United States was Trump’s little pow wow with the artist formerly known as Little Rocket Man, which got a lot of coverage compared with Mr Kim’s three conferences with China. Never again are we likely to see a meeting of greater significance carried out by two individuals with more collectively amazing, in a bad way, hair. Great result: Trump managed to get a commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula! That’s cool because Kim Jong-un might have 60 nuclear bombs and devices to deliver them to Australia (or America, for that matter). Trump should really have taken a lawyer though, because a lawyer might have suggested defining ‘denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula’. Turns out what Mr Kim meant was that when the American nuclear threat to North Korea (which seems to include the 30,000 US troops in the South) was completely eliminated, he would get rid of some nukes. And the thought is that Mr Kim stopped testing for a while but continued developing.
India, China, and Tibet Whilst my children’s primary school merrily entertained delegations of Chinese pioneer youth (I told them ‘Don’t mention Tibet’ because that was before I understood the Xinjiang thing), news about China got astonishingly worse, and there was something of a kickback this year, in the West at least, which appeared to grow tired of China’s wholesale theft of secrets, interference in domestic affairs, extra-territorial repression of its diaspora, and construction of a digital surveillance state like the world has never seen before. We worried about its extraordinarily efficient purchase of influence by its infuriatingly comparatively legitimate exercise of soft power (maybe exercising power by invading people and assassinating them with drones wasn’t actually that smart after all?), affronted by the imprisonment of a million Uighers, and sheepish that we failed to notice the imprisonment of a million Uighers.
The kick back, of course, was partly because President Trump decided that Xi Jinping is just not his kind of strongman; perhaps he became jealous when Xi had himself appointed President for Life. (Trump’s kind of strongmen include Turkey’s Erdogan, the Philippines’s crazed Nazi Rodrigo Duterte, Kim Jong Un, Brazil’s new bigoted, anti-environment President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.)
I grew up thinking of China as a poor place where millions were starving, which explained why I had to eat my greens. China has experienced 40 years of economic growth and has an extreme poverty rate of less than 1 percent. (By contrast, poverty (though not extreme poverty, so the contrast is tres amateur) has soared in children in Britain over the last six years.)
The two extraordinary programmes of the faux-Communist totalitarian dictatorship which gained prominence in 2018 are:
If you’re feeling cheery about China, I cannot recommend too strongly that you read this outstanding social credit scheme explainer by the ABC here (or watch the full ‘Foreign Correspondent’ report here). Also worth watching is this report of a BBC journalist who got himself added to a watch list and timed how long it took authorities to catch up with him, as in approach him in person, (7 minutes). Time for a revolution in China.
The eyes in the sky social credit scheme, which is not secret, and most worryingly of all is according to Foreign Correspondent supported by many Chinese, is based on all the Party’s records about all its citizens, their neighbours’ reports, their spending and shopping habits, and all the information trapped by the cameras processed by amazingly sophisticated facial recognition and body mapping technology. There are more than 170 million CCTV cameras in China and Tibet, and it plans on installing another 400 million by 2020 (half a billion cameras watching within two years!). The official line is direct. The aim is to ‘allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step’, which latter scenario sums up a Chinese investigative journalist’s experience well, according to the ABC; he cannot even rent a car to get out of town. By contrast, ‘we’re all happy little Han Chinese’ get better interest rates and reportedly have their dating profiles promoted.
I watched half of an incredibly dull 2018 film called ‘Anon’ about a surveillance state in which the State tracks citizens’ every move using body mapping and facial recognition. I had not been keeping up with the news very well and thought it rather far-fetched and certainly futuristic. But it was absolutely contemporary.
At least we can be confident that it would never happen in a democracy, or a proper democracy at any rate. But wait! Britain and Denmark (Denmark!) have been developing this stuff and sending it to Arab leaders to help them crush the Arab Spring and its sequelae. That’s not so open, but was exposed by the BBC doco ‘Weapons of Mass Surveillance’ which you can watch here for $4, and which was aired by 4 Corners during the year. And the ABC has also reported that Australia has installed some of these smart CCTV cameras made in China by the two biggest players in the market for police state surveillance, Hikvision (42% owned by the Politbureau) and Dahua at some of our nation’s most sensitive installations. Some worry that their feeds are going straight back to Chinese military intelligence, or might one day be diverted there. The US has banned the technology.
One hopes India, which unbeknown to most people I speak with, has rolled out a biometric database of all its citizens – as in the State has conducted over a billion iris scans and succeeded in putting them into an operational database which now governs citizens’ lives – doesn’t get any ideas. Its Supreme Court upheld the legality of this Aadhaar system this year, in which Narendra Modhi announced that every one of India’s villages had achieved access to electricity. (Though India still accounts for a third of the global population of people without access to electricity: 300 million. A further 100 million have access to fewer than four hours a day.)
India’s relations with China were thawing this year (surprisingly at first glance, since they were at war last year), and Tibetans worry about the sustainability of their home in exile should the giants get too cosy. The Chinese certainly did not let up in their grotesque repression of the Tibetans. For example, they threw into jail for five years a bloke, Tashi Wangchuk, whose only crime, adjudicated in a closed ‘trial’, was to suggest that Tibetan should be taught to Tibetans a bit more. When Tibetans get together to study Tibetan, they get arrested for holding ‘illegal associations’. All this outraged America’s State Department and Human Rights Watch.
Tibetans continued quietly to self-immolate in Tibet, a practice discouraged by the Dalai Lama, though ‘only’ two are known to have done so this year, bringing the total of self-immolations to 154. Think very hard before viewing the images in this article about Tsekho, one of the deceased. (Unusually, an American lawyer also self-immolated as a protest against inaction against environmental degradation.)
America passed a law, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018, requiring travel sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for limiting access by diplomats, journalists, and independent tourists to the quarter of what China considers to be its territory which are the Tibetan regions. America started arresting Chinese notables, notably Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of China’s largest private company, Huawei. That company says that it operates in more than 170 countries, has 180,000 employees and serves more than a third of the world’s population. Australia and New Zealand banned it from participating in future roll outs of technology infrastructure because our intelligence community was worried it’s a front for the Communist Party’s spying, or may become one. American began untangling itself. Hardly surprising given that China’s 2017 national intelligence law requires that ‘any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work’. Australia passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 to tackle the corruption of the Australian polity and education system by Politbureau agents.
In further evidence of a kickback, the Australian government, which has shunned the Dalai Lama and representatives of the Tibetan parliament for 7 years, met rather publicly with the Tibetan Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay, through a cabinet minister at Parliament House in the company of 23 parliamentarians including Labor’s Lisa Sing, the Nationals’ George Christensen (qeh?), Richard Di Natale, and Derryn Hinch, along with former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, now Chancellor of ANU.
Whilst on the subject of the intersection of China and Tibet, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reminded us in 2018 of the appalling environmental degradation the Politbureau is imposing on the Himalayas, bad news for Asia, many of whose rivers are sourced there, and indeed for the rest of the world.
But the repression of Tibet is old news, and the Tibetans’ message had become stale because no one thought there was any chance that anything would change, and only international lawyers and Hollywood starts continued to bang on about the illegal conquest of peaceful Tibet by the Godless Communists after the post WWII prohibition on territorial acquisition by conquest.
What really pricked up ears in 2018 was the filtering out of the true extent of thought control being exercised by the Politbureau in Xinjiang, where a variety of mainly Muslim minority people (mainly Uighers) live, and the outrage at China’s outrageousness translated into the beginnings of traction for Tibetans.
Urumqi, a fabled ancient silk road city like Ashgabat, Samarkand, Kashgar and Tashkent, is a city where a hell of a lot of people need serious repression if the ‘We’re all happy little Han Chinese’ path to happiness is to be accepted sustainably. The serious repression is being effected by millions of CCTV cameras and the incarceration in gulags of a million Uighers.
Given the ubiquity of CCTV cameras in Lhasa when I visited in my 20s, I reckon this programme has been under development for a long time. Indeed, the party chief appointed to Xinjiang in 2016 was previously head repressor of the Tibetans. You can read (for US$1) about the horror of Urumqi in an excellent analysis by the Wall Street Journal who actually went there. Suffice it to say that if you buy a knife, the Politbureau requires the vendor to laser engrave a QR code into the blade which when scanned by the unsecret police brings up your secret police file, and entering the city is like going through airport security. Australia’s Strategic Policy Institute did important work, reported internationally, on this issue in 2018. It was well reported, again by the ABC, in this long piece.
The gulags are, in the tradition of Nazi propaganda, given absurd names and have dreadful inscriptions above the gates. Luopu County No 1 Vocational Skills Training Centre, for example, sports a jaunty banner declaiming ‘Safeguard ethnic unity’.
A kind of Apartheid is practised: ‘While Han Chinese are waved through security checkpoints, Uighur commuters register their ID cards, do full body scans, have their vehicles searched and their faces scanned.’
Some households whose inhabitants are sufficiently supine are given red stars: ‘In a village in Luopu county, almost every home has a plaque on the door marking it a “model red star family”. These are families who have met requirements, including demonstrating “anti-extremism thought” and a “sense of modern civilisation”.’
Get a bucket by you before you watch this video which features a Uigher recounting the confiscation by the Chinese State of her baby triplets, and, at 3’47”, footage of Uighers singing with broad grins a Chinese version of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands’ during a stage-managed tour of these free self-improvement facilities for foreign journalists.
Africa Peaceful protests in 15 of Sudan’s 18 provinces against the kleptocracy of Omar al Bashir persisted in Sudan for 10 days, definitely about high prices and probably about three decades of corruption. He responded with police and army killings, beatings, tear gas, mass arrests and death squads, calling the protesters from all sectors of society including doctors ‘foreign stooges and infidels’, and throwing the opposition leader into jail for good measure. The President is a soldier who took power in a military coup, is indicted for genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (the only serving head of state to have been charged with crimes against humanity), and is said to have US$9 billion in London banks. It sounds like the plot of a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Unfortunately not.
An under-reported battle kept on in the Sahel, with French boots on the ground fighting IS and Al Qaeda affiliates along the Niger River, alongside the world’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission and increasing expenditure by America. Well explained by the BBC here. There are many reasons to wish that the French will succeed, and to be grateful to France for risking mass boots on the ground in such a difficult theatre of war. First, there is otherwise a risk of a new Caliphate being declared by the nutjobs who set one up for a while in Iraq. Second, I’d really like to attend the Festival au Desert, and get back to Timbuctoo, one of my favourite towns.
The best news story of 2018 happened in one of my favourite countries, Ethiopia, which I visited in 2009. The changes are big news because there are 110 million Ethiopians, and the population is growing at the rate of about 2.5% a year. Things were pretty dire in both Eritrea and Ethiopia for a while, with appalling government and human rights abuses in Eritrea (the country has never had an election) and poor human rights observance indeed in Ethiopia. For a start, they were at war; things were pretty tense up in Axum, home of the Ark of the Covenant (though no one is allowed to look at it …). And man was that a grotty war. I tell you, I have never met a people as touchy about another country as the Ethiopians, who are collectively apoplectic about becoming a landlocked country upon the independence of Eritrea. The French and the Algerians are nothing compared to this.
But then this guy called Abiy Ahmed came to power after the last PM resigned following what the press describes as ‘ethnic unrest’ in the west of the country, where Oromia is. That violence has uprooted and displaced nearly 3 million people. He is, helpfully, a child of a Christian and a Muslim, himself a Pentecostal, as opposed to an adherent of the very dominant Ethiopian Orthodox Church (so he should get along famously with Scott Morrison). It was a decent position he inherited: his ruling coalition (the rather wonderfully named Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) has every seat in the parliament (but he’s promised proper elections in 2020) and it has held power these last 27 years. He is of the majority Oromo people who have not traditionally been well represented in government, but importantly speaks Tigrinya, the language of the minority Tigrayans who have had disproportionate power (as well as the urban lingua franca Amharic, English and, naturally, Oromo). He has a pretty good CV: fought against the Marxist Derg, has a doctorate of peace and security, and a masters of transformational leadership, Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, cyber security tsar then briefly science and technology minister.
In a strongly patriarchal country which is nevertheless full of strong, educated women, half his cabinet, including the Defence Minister and the Minister for Peace are women. The latter oversees the federal police, the intelligence services, and the information security agency. He nominated a female president and head of the Supreme Court. He invited a dissident whom his government had jailed for 18 months back from exile in the US to head up the country’s electoral bureau. He released the political prisoners, freed up the press, embarked on an anti-corruption campaign. He’s 42 years old (as I said at the start of this extensive review of 2018, I’m beginning to feel old), five years younger than Canada’s Justin Trudeau, but four years older than New Zealand’s Jacinda Adern. He’s the youngest leader on the continent. Troublingly, he did go on to arrest a human rights lawyer. Whether all these reforms, which include a kind of truth and reconciliation commission to deal with ethnic grudges, can succeed in bringing peace and prosperity to the nation is an open question, but I wish him and his government all the best.
One undoubted achievement was the ending of the 20 year war, the first phase of which was described in Thomas Keneally’s Towards Asmara, with ‘the North Korea of Africa’, as the BBC describes Eritrea. Napalm was dropped into crowded markets in that war. Hundreds of thousands of people died, 70,000 between 1998 and 2000 alone. Ethiopia reversed 15 years of policy by agreeing to accept the determination of a border commission set up under the auspices of the International Court of Arbitration, so that Eritrea takes possession of the disputed land. Tigrayan people on both sides of the border were separated from family like India after Partition and like the peoples of the Koreas. There were no telephone lines connecting the two countries. You could not fly from Addis Ababa to Asmara, and you certainly could not cross the land border. Now, the two nations maintain embassies, and a craziness in international relations has been resolved.]]>
Sport The third World Nomad Games in the Kyrgyz Republic were a great success.
In other news, Westcoast Eagles smashed Collingwood’s hopes of their 16th trophy (on their second attempt since their last trophy in 2010), so that they were not taken to the equal top of the all-time ladder with Essendon and Carlton. It was a nail biter with 4 points the difference at the final siren.
Apparently the Commonwealth Games were held on the Gold Coast, though I have no memory of any such event. Having researched them, I now know that a Georgia Lear showed her rear to the Prime Minister and Prince Phillip during the Opening Ceremony, explaining that she was aware that she had developed ‘a bit of a wedgie‘ during her dance routine, but not the extent of it. Only a day or so later, she said she had put the whole thing behind her. Official records suggest the Winter Olympics also occurred in Pyonchang. Who knew?
Australia regained the Ashes at the start of the year, and at the end of the year, the Boxing Day test provided two days of the most excruciatingly boring cricket I have ever seen (nothing at all happened), followed by a day on which, India having declared for 443, Australia lost 7 wickets for 62 runs, bowled out for 151.
Chennai Superkings made a fairytale return after a two year match fixing ban to win the Indian Premier League Big Bash competition.
France won the World Cup in Russia, beating Croatia, 4-2, Tim Cahill wearing the gold and green for the last time. Australia did well, but not well enough to win a game.
A Welshman won the Tour de France, a Dutchman placed second, and an Englishman third.
But the big news was that wearers of the baggy green cheated by sandpapering a ball to make it swing, and then conducted a public relations disaster of a humiliating cascade of lies which foreshadowed that orchestrated by the King of Saudi Arabia. One was about a test match in South Africa, and involved growing men crying, and the other was about flying a kill squad into a foreign state to execute a dissident. But each was, to an Aussie cricket fan, approximately equally excruciating. Then Prime Minister Turnbull rang the then cricket people to tell them that it was just not cricket, and ‘Off with their heads!’ Consequently, Steve Smith was banned for 12 months and excluded from leadership positions for another 12, David Warner was banned from playing for 12 months, and Cameron Bancroft, who actually did it, was banned for only 9 months and returned to cricket at the end of the year. The ban cost Smith (who knew of the plan and did not step in to prevent it) and Warner (who devised it and schooled Bancroft in its technicalities) IPL fees of $2.4 million each.
So not only did we get a new Victorian Opposition Leader, and a new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, but we got a new captain of Australia, Tim Paine. And heads rolled at Cricket Australia too: Mark Taylor quit as Director; Chair David Peever was forced out; CEO James Sutherland, who has been somewhere near the helm since I was a boy, stepped down. Darren Lehmann finished up as the team coach.
Arts Someone paid more than $125 million for a David Hockney painting of an upper class swimming pool, a record price for a painting by a living artist, and surely they now feel very silly. Hockney sold the painting for £18,000.
On TV, I enjoyed ‘Killing Eve’, ‘Das Boot’, ‘Wild Wild Country’, ‘Godless’, series 2 of ‘Fauda’ and ‘the Crown’, ‘the Night Manager’, ‘Collateral’, ‘Bodyguard’, and the excellent Australian drama ‘Mystery Road’. Series 2 of ‘Making a Murderer’ was a disappointment, no spoilers here though. Netflix released its first Indian drama, Sacred Games (and it also filmed an action movie in, and set in, India, given which its name Dhaka is odd). ABC Radio National’s Matt Bevan’s podcast ‘Russia, If You’re Listening’ was amazing in its ability to go deep into the drama of America and Russia and Presidents Trump and Putin in a way accessible to the ordinary Joe Bloe.
Behrooz Boochani published an extraordinary book, No Friend But the Mountains; Writings from Manus Prison. It was Readings’s 20th best selling book of the year. (The best seller was, deservedly, Yottam Ottolenghi’s Simple. It’s a great book, but one of his definitions of ‘simple’ is ‘fewer than 10 ingredients’, most of which are barberries and orange blossom water.) Boochani is a Kurdish journalist and philosopher who fled Iraq for Australia before Prime Minister Rudd announced that no one who arrived in Australia en bateau would ever be allowed to have any fun or come to Australia (or anywhere else vaguely suitable for the resettlement of Middle Eastern refugees). He got to Christmas Island after the first boat he boarded sank and he very nearly drowned, like many of his fellow passengers. He has been illegally imprisoned ever since in a concentration camp on Nauru. He says emphatically that it’s torture. He is not necessarily speaking as an international lawyer, but his book vividly evokes the ‘twisted and extremely complex system of rules and regulations [that] entangles the refugees – an absurd labyrinth that functions as its own cruel form of incarceration. Imprisoned refugees are absorbed into a highly mechanised system – the all-powerful kyriarchal system – and they begin to experience the deterioration of their human identities.’
It is fierce, free-thinking, literary, wringing the fantastic out of mundanity, like no other book you have ever read. He casts his critical gaze equally on his fellow refugees, the smugglers, the New Guineans, and the Australians. For some reason, rather than calling to mind other practitioners of prison literature (Boochani wrote the lengthy book in instalments of Whatsapp messages from a mobile phone kept in credit by Australian supporters), I kept on being reminded of the Italian literary author Italo Calvino, only partly because of the Marcovaldoesque passages about the solace of residual nature.]]>
The stats were not good. The world’s population grew by more than 80 million, with over 140 million births, taking the total to 7.7 billion, of whom 41% live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly part of India), China and Tibet.
The combined population of China and Tibet still exceeds India’s, but only by 56 million. Their combined population was up .41%, while India’s was up 1.11% (both growth rates much less than Australia’s).
Australia’s population ticked over 25 million, increasing by a person every 83 seconds. According to Worldometer, Australia’s population increase of 1.32% is higher than just about any other wealthy country outside the Middle East. More than two-thirds of us live in the capital cities (but more Queenslanders live outside Brisbane than live in it). Victoria accounted for 37% of Australia’s population growth, more than that of NSW, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT combined.
By the time my kids are about my age, Melbourne’s population is predicted to be between 12 and 14.5 million and high temperatures of up to 50C are predicted. Melbs has been growing faster than any other Australian city since 2011, and the second fastest growing city is Geelong. Melbourne ticked over 5 million residents in 2018. No wonder both parties had prominent rail infrastructure policies in the election, and the Liberals proposed to relocate folk to the countryside.
Of course the world’s population is also getting younger, even in the west. In 2019, millennials (aged 23-38) will overtake baby boomers (55-77) as the single largest group in the United States, a generational shift echoed around much of the western world. More than a quarter of the people in the world are 14 or younger.
Very alarming figures were published about the mass deaths of the world’s fauna (which make the tens or hundreds of thousands (or millions) of fish, including century old Murray cod, that died in the Murray Darling three years after the abolition of the National Water Commission and the appointment of Barnaby Joyce as Water Minister, pale into insignificance). The numbers of insects collected in strictly standardized traps in protected areas in Europe over the last 27 years is down by nearly three quarters, vindicating the anecdotal experiences of motorists whose windscreens are no longer splattered by bugs and those who lament the disappearance of Christmas beetles (though I can attest that one showed up in Lerderderg Gorge just a few days ago). Scientists say this mass death of insects is an ecological catastrophe in the making. Presumably the King of the Insects would say that the catastrophe has already happened. The paper is here.
It was reported that humans have killed 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants. A tiger in India seemed to have had enough, and killed 13 humans before being taken out by a government contracted sharpshooter. India has 3,000 tigers, 60% of the world population. Only 4% of the world’s mammals are wild. Only 30% of the world’s birds are not caged. We have wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. More than three hundred species are at risk of being eaten into extinction, chimpanzees included.
Though former Liberal minister turned Radio National personality Amanda Vanstone tried to reassure a youth on Q&A that carbon emissions were coming down in Australia, that was untrue. In fact, they’re still going up (though they are below our record level). Not everyone’s emissions are going up by any means. The UK’s and the US’s are generally falling (though the US’s rose a little this year). Indeed global emissions are (unbelievably) increasing, 1.2% this year. Believe it or not, they reached a record high this year. I think it was in that episode of Q&A that a referendum was proposed on responses to climate change, in which only people under 35 should be allowed to vote. A postal ballot, perhaps.
What good news there is on climate is well summarised here. The size of the renewables industry doubled over the last two years. The US and China are going gangbusters on developing renewable energy industries.
Not surprisingly, the earth does not seem to be cooling. Marble Bar, Australia’s hottest town, set a new high temperature record during a hot Christmas (48C on the 25th, 48.5 on the 26th, and – the record – 49.1 on the 27th). (The highest temperature ever recorded in Australia is 50.7C at Oodnadatta. The highest in the world is 56.7C in California after Libya’s 58C claim was debunked.) The previous month, record temperatures were smashed from north of Townsville to Cooktown. It was Australia’s third hottest year on record for maximum temperatures, the fifth hottest for mean temperatures. It was New Zealand’s hottest year ever. Most of the United States experienced its hottest ever summer.
Globally, it was the fourth-warmest year on record, and temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees above the pre-industrial norm. (Incidentally, my meteorologist mate explained to me what these measurements are an expression of: when we talk about ‘a degree’ in these conversations, it is an aggregation of the mean of daily maximums and minimums. So if more of the days were hovering in the vicinity of the maximum temperatures, the warming would be more pronounced than it sounds.) That’s more than half way to the 2-degree upper limit of warming almost 200 nations agreed to work towards under the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015. Every year since 1978 has been above the 1961-90 average for mean temperatures, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
It is estimated that Australia has contributed 1.1% of all greenhouse emissions though today, even after our population has exploded, we only account for 0.33% of the world’s population. In 2014 terms, Australia was the 15th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, emitting more than Saudi Arabia, the UK, South Africa, France and Italy amongst many others, and ours have been going up while some of theirs have been going down. We have one of the highest emissions per capita in the world, even though that metric has been decreasing for most of the past 28 years as our population has grown rapidly through migration and manufacturing processes have become more efficient.
The only good news the government tries to spin is this decrease in per capita emissions, an irrelevance to our Paris targets. It’s a risky business, that bit of spin, because ‘even after all this reduction, Australia still has the highest per capita emissions of any developed country’ should be a relatively easy retort. The federal government simply lies to its people that we are on track to meet the commitments we made at the Paris conference (we are in fact on track to get nowhere near them). It drops the climate data just before Christmas each year, having hung onto it for months. The whole question of how to count Australia’s climate emissions is bedevilled by an accounting trick negotiated by us into the Kyoto Protocol and carried into the Paris Accord. The Guardian explains it well:
‘Rather disgracefully Australia is allowed to count [credits for chopping down fewer trees than in the base years on which reductions figures are based] towards its Paris agreement to reduce emissions by 26% below 2005 levels. The reason this is disgraceful is because it means we are able to take into account the high amount of forest clearing that was occurring at the time, and to bank improvements merely due to us being less bad now than we were, not because we have actually improved our emissions. We did the same thing for our Kyoto commitment, which had 1990 as the base year – a year in which we had a massive amount of land clearing.’
The Australian states are taking the lead on climate. By way of example, Victoria’s government has promised to install solar to 650,000 households at no up-front cost, paying half the price itself and allowing the other half to be paid back interest free over four years. Indeed, my local government had already taken up the C02 cudgels and have promised to install solar at my new place with a ten year interest free loan.
Meanwhile, the federal government is looking for an energy policy following the collapse of the in fact rather pathetic but too-something-or-other for the right wing of the government to stomach National Energy Guarantee. It is certainly doing nothing positive to advance renewable energy which might be switched on any time soon. (Snowy 2.0 is predicted to first produce power in 2024, 6 years before our 2030 deadline under the Paris Accord), and is talking it down a great deal. Yet a study published in 2018 showed that renewable energy had decreased rather than increased electricity prices, even in South Australia, which has some of the highest power prices in the world.
As Sir David Attenborough warned that ‘If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon’, work began on the Adani coal mine.]]>
It was not a year of celebrity or otherwise notable deaths. The Grim Reaper must have saved them for a year sparse of spectacular executions by Trump buddies, which this year was not.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of soul and a civil rights activist, and Stephen Hawking, both of whom lived amongst the stars, probably topped the international list of regular passings. Hawking was a great supporter of British Labor, of universal health care, nuclear disarmament, Al Gore’s presidential campaign, and anti-Brexit. He actively championed action against climate change.
Cartoonists did not fare well. It was farewell to Jeff Hook, author and illustrator of a book I loved as a child, Jamie the Jumbo Jet, and long time editorial cartoonist at the Herald Sun, the far right’s Larry Pickering at The Australian and The Bulletin (‘I can’t stand Muslims. If they are in the same street as me, I start shaking. They are not all bad [because] they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings,’) and The Age’s Ron Tandberg. Mark Knight’s reflection on US Open runner-up Serena Williams’s hissy fit at the umpire did not go down well in America (or Melbourne). The Herald Sun doubled-down and republished the cartoon the next day on its front page. Meanwhile, The Age’s Michael Leunig anchored Melbournians, like the Queen, and like Playschool, amongst the tumult of change generally, in Fairfax, and at the ABC.
Writers Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence was, in 1989, the original which spawned so many imitators, 5 years earlier even than Eric Newby’s A Small Place in Italy), Ursula Le Guin (an American exponent of high quality young adult fantasy), Melbourne historian and author of Cliff Hardy crime fiction Peter Corris, another Melbourne crime fiction writer Peter Temple responsible for Jack Irish, New York novelist Philip Roth, and Sir V.S. Naipaul the Trinidadian-English novelist and travel writer (including India; A Million Mutinies Now) came to a full stop. The poet Judith Rodriguez died in the same year that Melbourne’s poetry bookshop Collected Works, closed down (like Thomas’ [sic.], the Collins Street record store, and like how the Lygon Street Foodstore, no doubt one of the first non-pharmacies to stock olive oil in Melbourne, went into administration). Also the Israeli writer Amos Oz.
English historian, travel writer and media personality John Julius Norwich became history himself. He was the son of the rather wonderfully named Lady Diana Manners, a descendant of William IV, a hereditary peer, 2nd Viscount Norwich, an alumnus of Eton, Oxford where he took French and Russian, the Royal Navy, the Foreign Office and the BBC. He had a daughter with an American ballerina with whom he had an affair. He wrote many books about Venice and presented ‘The Fall of Constantinople’ and published a history of France shortly before his death. Not a bad record.
South African photographer and chronicler of Apartheid David Goldblatt, who moved from black and white into colour following the fall of Apartheid, died. So too painters Charles Blackman, famous for his Alice in Wonderland series, and Melbourne’s Frida Kahlao: French born Jewish Mirka Mora famous for family restaurants The Mora Café, Café Balzac, and Tolarno in St Kilda, whose hotel restaurant today features Ms Mora’s distinctive murals featuring her naïve fantastical figures.
Fashionistas Count Hubert de Givenchy who dressed Audrey Hepburn and founded one of the great fashion labels, and Carlo and Gilberto Benetton, two of the four Italian siblings who founded United Colours of Benneton with its daring ads celebrating diversity, departed.
French superchef Paul Bocuse died in the room he was born in, in his principal restaurant in Collonges-au-Mont-d’or. His fine dining classical cuisine restaurant empire once extended to Melbourne’s Daimaru. Anthony Bourdain took his life causing the whole world to scratch their heads at this unexpected turnup in the life of such a kind, apparently contented gentleman. He was a writer (Kitchen Confidential) and chef, but principally a television presenter who travelled the world using food as a vehicle to explore the human situation. His Ethiopia episode was beautiful. He even went to the Democratic Republic of Congo, up the Congo River, like Kurz, which is keen. (Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, son of the previous president Laurent Kabila, allowed elections to occur, 2 years after his final term ended. There were more than 15,000 candidates. Millions were unable to vote. Both the government and the election have claimed victory. The government switched off the internet and banned a key news organisation in the days after the poll. Here’s hoping we see the first democratic Congolese transfer of power.)
Miscellaneous notable Australians passed: Dr G Yunipingu, the subject of an amazing documentary ‘Gurrumul’ which came out in 2018. Ron Walker, who was a Lord Mayor of Melbourne, chairman of the Major Events Corporation and promoter of Melbourne’s Grand Prix, a chairman of Fairfax, and with Lloyd Williams the original operator of Crown Casino; Hugh Wirth, the public face of the RSPCA, and the resident vet on 774 for 30 years; Ian Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia which spread to 120 nations and involved tens of millions of volunteers around the world; Bonita Mabo, Aboriginal education activist who represented her late husband Eddie at the High Court’s decision.
Ted Mack, the ‘father of the independents’ who now play such an important role in politics, and who started out selling the mayoral Mercedes getting about instead in a 1951 Citroen at no expense to the public. Australia’s Grand Mufti died four months into the job; and Dame Beryl Beaurepair, establishment feminist (n.b. Melbourne University’s pool was named not after her but after her Lord Mayor husband’s Lord Mayor father).
David Goodall, a scientist who was still working well into his second century, took his own life aged 104. He was not terminally ill, nor suffering particularly insufferably by the standards of discourse on voluntary dying, but he no longer enjoyed his life and wished to end it while he was still in control. He could not have availed himself of Victoria’s newly passed assisted dying laws, the product of a long campaign by the Greens and Fiona Patten’s Reason (nee Sex) Party. But he went to Switzerland to die with an outfit called Eternal Spirit, which may have irked him since he believed not in the afterlife. Surrounded by his family, having been interviewed by Swiss police, he pushed a button, beginning the flow of the barbituates which killed him the moment the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony concluded.
(Incidentally, Fiona Patten narrowly held her Senate place in the Victorian election despite eschewing the services of Derryn Hinch’s employee Glen Druery, the so-called ‘preference whisperer’. Voters must have responded to the humour of her campaigning (‘Don’t miss your chance to put one in my box.’) There was a long time when it was being reported that she had not been re-elected. During that time, Premier Dan Andrews offered her a job in the Labor government, by way of a thought bubble in an ABC radio interview, demonstrating the high esteem with which her parliamentary colleagues held (and hold) her.)
Professor Bob Baxt, one of the late Alan Goldberg’s readers, and an early chairman of the Trade Practices Commission, passed on. As did Brian Bourke QC, one of the best loved, oldest, and the longest standing active member of the Victorian Bar. His father was a publican, he started his career at Brew & McGuinness, and he wrote Liquor Laws.
Patrick Atiyah, the Sudanese born crown counsel of Ghana, and professor of law at the University of Khartoum died too, never having realised his ambition (in Australia or England, at least) to abolish the law of torts and replace it with a no fault compensation scheme (see The Damages Lottery). (He also had some other jobs, e.g. at ANU.)
Commodore Sir Laurence Whistler Street, AC, KCMG, KStJ, QC was permanently stayed. He went to the Cranbrook School, a place of such privilege as does not exist in Melbourne. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was Chief Justice of NSW. His son, Sandy Street, is a Federal Circuit Court judge, as is his daughter and her husband, Silvie and Arthur Emmett, and all his daughters in fact graduated from Sydney Law School. He was a leader in the field of alternative dispute resolution, and his nickname was Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Alec (‘Ginger’) Southwell QC, a long-term Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and sometimes member of the Full Legal Profession Tribunal, passed away. Associates on Twitter nominated for inclusion in this list NSW judge Bob Toner (that is an obituary worth a read) and Qld judge John Muir, an outspoken critic of the appointment as Chief Justice of Tim Carmody by the ill-fated Liberal government. And I commend to you The Guardian’s obituary of English advocate and law journalist Sir Louis Blom-Cooper.
Evan Whitton, schooled at Truth and an editor of the National Times, died having exposed and reported on much corruption (including that the subject of the Royal Commission presided over by Sir Laurence Sreet, his report on which is here). The corruption by which illegal abortion was tolerated led to its decriminalization. He trained David Marr, Richard Ackland, Wendy Bacon, Anne Sumners and others. He was a unique voice on the Australian legal system (The Cartel: Lawyers and their Nine Magic Tricks; Serial Liars: How Lawyers Get the Money and Get the Criminals Off; Our Corrupt Legal System) and was well known to readers of Justinian. He was a pioneer of longform journalism.
Other great journalists who died included the aforementioned Jamal Kashoggi and the ABC’s Liz Jackson. She was a former barrister noted for work on ‘4 Corners’ and ‘Media Watch’. She reported on Somalia, winning a Walkley, and memorably documented her own deterioration with Parkinson’s disease. The Age’s Michael Gordon, the first journalist to voyage to Manus Island, also died prematurely, from a heart attack while surfing, not long into retirement.
It is in fact tempting to list The Age as a death of 2018, since it was swallowed up by Channel Nine in the biggest media shake up in Australia for 30 years.
Stephane Audran (Babette in that very early foodie movie ‘Babette’s Feast’) had her last meal, as did Bernardo Bertolucci while controversy lingered over him for not telling Maria Schneider of Marlon Brando’s plan to use butter in ‘Last Tango in Paris’.
It was a big year for deaths of Africans: Winnie Mandela; Pik Botha (the foreign minister during the height of Apartheid, not to be confused with President PW Botha); Girma Wolde-Giorgis, a long-time president of Ethiopia who saw peace declared between Ethiopia and Eritrea before he died, something he had worked hard for; former UN Secretary-General and anti-poverty worker Kofi Annan. Also Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first civilian leader to take office under a US-style constitution. Not to mention the Ugandan refugee Geoffrey Oryema, a star of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World’ label, and Algerian-French rocker Rachid Taha.
Barbara Bush, husband of President George H.W. Bush and mother of George W Bush died, as did her husband. American preacher Billy Graham, who used to receive 10,000 letters a week, made a point of never meeting alone with a woman and preached at meticulously organised ‘crusades’ (e.g. to a crowd of one million in Seoul), may have gone to heaven. ( I watched series 2 of the excellent ‘The Crown’ in 2018 in which the Queen’s fascination with Billy Graham was a feature.)
Finally, two great Tibetans died in the Dalai Lama’s home in exile, Dharamsala and San Fransisco respectively. Palden Gyatso’s story is more remarkable in some ways than that of Nelson Mandela (which was featured in a Melbourne Museum exhibition this year), as this extract from his obituary in The Age begins to explain of his torture between 1959 and 1992 in Tibet by the Chinese:
‘His captors made political prisoners pull ploughs as if they were “human yaks,” he said, and then beat them when they were too exhausted to work. He spent long periods shackled at the ankles and hanging by the arms from chains. Guards beat him with metal bars, whipped him and shocked him with cattle prods, he said. One guard jammed a cattle prod down his throat, shocking him unconscious and knocking out many teeth.
All Gyatso had to do to end the torment, he said, was to agree with his captors that Tibet was historically a part of China, and that it should remain so. “Of course, I would never say that Tibet is not independent,” Mr. Gyatso said in an interview with Peace Magazine in 1998.
Before he was released, he contacted a friend outside prison and asked him to bribe an officer for examples of the torture implements that had been used on him. He slipped out of Tibet for India that October, with the tools of torture hidden beneath his clothes.’
Lodi Gyari, a Buddhist Rinpoche, died without having achieved any success as principal negotiator of the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’, by which Tibet proposed from 2002 to abandon its objection to China’s illegal occupation of the nation, offering instead to accept a degree of autonomy within the state of China. China murdered his brother and fatally tortured his grandmother.]]>
Oh what a year for professional misconduct:
Michael Cohen President Pussygrabber’s lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, exposed incidentally by the Mueller investigation as an outright crook, was sentenced to three years in America’s particularly unpleasant slammers for (amongst other things) inexplicably paying off women who allegedly falsely claimed to have had extra-marital relations with the President, a violation of campaign finance laws. One of the women, ‘Stormy Daniels’, sued the President for defamation over one of his tweets ‘A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!’ She said it insinuated that she had lied about the man whom she sketched having threatened her against going public with her allegations. The President had the suit struck out under a law designed to protect against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), the judge ruling that the tweet was ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ protected by the first amendment. Ms Daniels is to pay the President’s legal fees (the claim was for 580 hours at up to US$840 per hour) fixed at nearly US$300,000.
Brett Kavanough The misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanough must not have been established to the satisfaction of the senate committee which confirmed President Pussygrabber’s nomination of the arch-conservative whose appointment imperils Roe v Wade. The hearing was excruciating in its hopelessness (highlights here); senators have no idea how to cross-examine.
It is widely believed that whatever the truth about Professor Ford, Kavanough lied on oath about many matters (here is one excellent analysis). Professor Christine Blasey Ford from Stanford, and Palo Alto University alleged that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when he was 17 and she 15, holding her down on a bed at a small party and groping her, lying on her and grinding so hard she thought he would accidentally kill her, and that he intended to rape her. One of Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were likely lying: she was 100% sure he did it and he was equally sure he never went to the party. (Deborah Ramirez, a Yale alumna, Julie Swetnick, a Georgetown alumna, and a fourth anonymous complainant also detailed sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh in his youth.)
President Pussygrabber himself tweeted, before the hearing, ‘I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!’ He told a rally that Judge Kavanaugh was ‘a perfect person’, and at another, mocked Professor Ford. He called one of the women’s lawyer ‘A sleazebag. Sleazebag. Sleazebag.’
More than 2,400 American law professors signed an open letter arguing that Kavanaugh’s testimony, whether or not he told lies, was so un-judicial that it demonstrated his unsuitability to sit on the Supreme Court. Didn’t matter. He sailed through.
Professor Ford was subjected to a hate campaign which saw her move home four times and has prevented her from returning to work at the university. A Go Fund Me campaign raised $647,000 for her, and she was shortlisted for Time’s person of the year (which was won by ‘The Guardians’, a swag of journalists including Jamal Khasoggi fighting the War on Truth). To think that this man will share a bench with Ruth Bader Ginsberg, about whom two fan movies were released this year, is astonishing. ‘RBG’ is the 26th most financially successful documentary of all time. The New York Times is writing a book called ‘The Education of Brett Kavanaugh’. I kid you not, and I must say I look forward to it.
Lawyer X, informer 3838 The details of informer 3838’s conduct sprang from a fog of suppression orders so effective that even this blog had dozed off and thought little about Lawyer X since the Herald Sun headlines a few years ago. Here is the Court of Appeal’s judgment and here is the High Court’s. She alleged in a letter to the police chief that solicitors were perverting the course of justice, and will possibly tell all in the Royal Commission, while the Herald Sun alleged that the Gelobar’s Pascal Acquaro, a lawyer who sometimes represented alleged Mafiosi, may also have been a police informer, explaining his assassination. His alleged murderer was charged recently.
Saud al-Qahtani The former legal adviser to the King of Saudi Arabia, a gentleman with a Masters in criminal justice, seems to have directed the execution of dissident journalist (his last column is here) and media proprietor Jamal Khashoggi as it played out live in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Turkey taped the Skype call in which the lawyer is said to have ordered the 15 man kill squad which had flown in hours earlier on private jets (including an autopsy expert equipped with bone saws) to ‘bring me the head of the dog,’ rather Medieval, like his kingdom. All this occurred as Mr Khashoggi’s fiancée waited outside for him to return with the papers that would facilitate their marriage, and as they were murdering him, po-faced embassy staff told her that he had already left through a back entrance, which is what they told the rest of the world for weeks afterwards.
But Turkey’s Islamist strongman President Erdogan did Mohammad bin Salman (MBS in the argot of 2018) exquisitely slowly, forcing the Kingdom to retreat incrementally, from bald lie to bald lie by leaking details of what he knew from the tape without immediately disclosing its existence, until all that was left was to deny that this was an MBS project: 3 October, ‘he left after a few minutes or one hour’; 7 October, Reuters tours the consulate (nothing to see here); continuous denials of any death ensue and Trump tweets reassuring things while Erdogan leaks details, drip, drip, drip; 19 October, actually it seems there was a fist fight and 18 have been arrested; 21 October, it’s coming into focus now: a rogue group travelled to Istanbul without the slightest knowledge of MBS and accidentally strangled Khashoggi, then a staffer dressed like him and walked around to suggest he was still alive, the body was disposed of, and Riyadh was lied to; 15 November, no actually, we topped him by lethal injection (but the tape allegedly has his last words as ‘I can’t breathe’…). It is hard to think of a worse public relations disaster.
It is alleged that the lawyer Saud al-Qahtani was also involved in the torture of women for campaigning for the right to drive and go outside without a male relative. The women were allegedly made to kiss male detainees while Mr al-Qahtani and his henchmen giggled, a bit like how the Chinese in Tibet used to make monks copulate with nuns. And they were groped, and electrocuted. The women won, in the limited sense that the Kingdom opened its first cinema, women were allowed to drive for the first time, and even to congregate in groups of 2 or more at the soccer, or get a job or open a bank account or travel without the permission of a male guardian (who might be your son if your father and husband are dead). You still can’t have sex outside marriage, have a beer, or get into debt though. And one of Khasoggi’s points was that these concessions were in fact just distractions from an increasingly oppressive state.
As the Washington Post put it, ‘For decades, the Saudi government has routinely violated human rights — barring Jews, prohibiting free religious practice of Christians, permitting slavery, subjugating women, persecuting journalists, arresting clerics and princes, and locking up feminists for “treason”.’ But then, in 2017-2018, the royals continued their campaign of arresting dissidents, including ‘dozens of clerics and intellectuals, then dozens of princes and billionaires, and eventually 19 feminists’.
Con Kyriackou Hawthorn GP Dr Con Kyriackou, aged 79, was charged with rape. That resulted from complainants to medical disciplinary authorities becoming frustrated with the glacial pace of investigations of their complaints. So they took them to The Age. The publicity generated more complaints. Dr Kyriackou’s lawyer says he is unfit to stand trial. There is also a disciplinary prosecution in VCAT.]]>
If you want to read a real journalist’s wrap of The Year, see The Age here, another from The Age here, 7:30’s, the Saturday Paper’s here, or for a cheerier wrap, see The Guardian’s Brigid Delaney here. And this New York Times wrap of the year in photojournalism is great. I must acknowledge the heavy debt of what follows to Wikipedia, without which extraordinary resource much of which follows could not have been written by me.
Me, myself I had a lovely year, though I must be getting old: a child from my reader’s course became a QC (congratulations Dr Button QC); a kid below me at school is the Dean of Law at the University of Singapore (Professor Simon Chesterman); a youth I used to have morning tea with in Law School, Professor Carolyn Evans, is already an ex-Dean of the Melbourne Law School; her boyish husband who was admittedly quite good at mooting is the Solicitor General of Australia (Stephen Donahue QC); my body got grumpy.
Given how young I thought I was, in other words, it does seem remarkable how prominent in grown up public life are my cohort from Law School: to most of the above, add into the mix the Institute of Public Affairs’s John Roskam, federal health Minister Greg Hunt, Victorian opposition leader, former barrister Michael O’Brien, 774’s Raf Epstein, John Daley (CEO of the Grattan Institute), and Melissa Conley-Tyler, who used to recite from memory as a party trick the Rubiyat of Omar Kayam and is now ED of the Australian Institute of Public Affairs.
I sold and bought a house, moving from the bánh mì belt to the haloumi pie zone, acquiring in the process a bicycle commute to die for down the Merri Creek and the lovely bicycle super-highway that is Canning Street past the Exhibition Gardens and onto the Copenhagen-laned Latrobe St.
Generally speaking the year was professionally satisfying. Some wild rides for four exceptionally different lawyers with serious mental health issues, all of whom were appreciative in their own different ways, kept things interesting and rewarding.
War, terror But for many, it was not a good year. Here in Australia, the schadenfreude of watching the government put its foot in its mouth time after time was entertaining, but most of us do not live in a place where the public service is so robust and the polity so uncorrupted that who is and should be the prime minister this week is mainly an entertainment for dinner parties. I write these posts not to be pessimistic but because I feel that the very least one can do is be aware of the awful suffering of others; to pretend it does not happen, or put it out of your mind is cowardly, and far away from it all as we are down here at the bottom of the world, it is too easy for Melbournians to do so.
The most prominent good news story of the year involved a soccer coach getting his team of youngsters stuck in a Thai cave and the death of a rescuer. A South Australian anaesthetist was key to the successful rescue of the boys.
Those who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in the realm of rape as a weapon of war achieved no peace at all, super-worthy as they were. I wrote quite a lot about Nadia Murad here. She shared the prize with Dr Denis Mukwege, a Pentecostal minister and surgeon who repairs Congolese women torn apart by being raped by soldiers. A few years ago a group of armed men entered his very secure home, held his daughters at gunpoint, and were about to kill him when his security guard created a distraction, giving his life in the process. The police did not investigate. Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were also nominated.
Incredible grottiness characterized some of the ghastly wars which ground on in 2018. Over 35,000 people died in the war in Afghanistan, nearly 5,000 in the war in Iraq, more than 30,000 in the war in Syria, more than 25,000 in the war in Yemen, more and than 13,000 in the drug wars in Mexico, according to Wikipedia. Granted, this is not a particularly high level of fatalities compared with previous years, so there is that, but then that is only the tip of the iceberg. Many more were horribly injured in places with dreadful medical systems and little support for the disabled. And none of these wars should be happening at all. Most of them are proxy wars with foreign-supplied weapons. I had keyhole surgery in one of Melbourne’s best private hospitals in 2018, by a surgeon who was once head of Royal Melbourne’s trauma unit, beautiful Irish nurses, and synthetic morphine whenever I needed it. That was bad enough. It really made me think about the people who die slowly, their blood running out into the dust, from shrapnel distributed by meatheads in helicopters armed by foreign states, or choke to death by chlorine gas.
I was appalled to read that Saudi Arabia used child soldiers from Sudan’s Darfur region armed with American supplied weapons in the war in Yemen against the Iran-aligned other side, referred to in the media as Houthi rebels. Seriously, you could not make this stuff up; for some reason I just find this particularly ghastly (and the fact that the other side are no saints doesn’t really affect me). The New York Times reported that:
‘To keep a safe distance from the battle lines, their Saudi or Emirati overseers commanded the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat through radio headsets and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.’
In Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death in the last three years by virtue of a land, air and sea blockade by Saudi Arabia, backed by America, and fighters armed by England. Once again, it was an image (this one) which brought home the reality of 1.8 million kids being severely malnourished on the way to what will become a man-made famine of Biblical proportions if things keep on as they are. A kid is dying every 10 minutes, and there are 5,000 new cases of cholera a day. That is completely not ok, and my heart goes out to the parents of those poor children (and the widows) caught up in in a kind of cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the men.
Assad continued to use chemical weapons against his own people. Most notable was a 7 April helicopter drop of chemical weapons, e.g. onto a residential apartment tower, in Douma which killed 70 people in a particularly ghastly fashion and injured 650 others. But there have probably been 85 chemical weapons attacks in Syria in the last three years without much response from the rest of the world. Mind you the Russians, who vetoed an on the ground UN investigation, pointed out that the whole thing had been faked by British intelligence. The attack, assuming that it was not faked by MI6, was entirely successful; the next day the rebels gave up the territory they controlled in the area. The New York Times did amazing work on this story using 3D modelling and augmented reality using images of the scene of one of the bombings.
In Afghanistan, America participated in two ways. First, the regular army, with its nation building pretensions. Secondly, an Afghan crack force commanded, in fact if not in theory, and with less fastidiousness about the rules, by the CIA. In this long piece in the New York Times how well this is all working is queried.
There were terrible incidents of terrorism: a Taliban suicide bomber exploded an ambulance in Kabul killing 103 others and injuring 235, prompting the Mayor of Paris to turn off the lights on the Eiffel Tower; an Islamic State suicide bomber exploded himself at an election rally attended by at least 1,000 people in Pakistan, killing 149 others and injuring 186; multiple suicide bombings and gun attacks by Islamic State killed 255 (and 63 attackers) and injured 180, also taking hostages, in Syria; in Nigeria, Boko Haram, attacked a military base, shooting 118 soldiers dead and leaving 153 people missing, and seizing tanks, armoured vehicles, ammunition and weapons the better to continue their ongoing terror campaign. And that’s just the incidents involving more than 100 deaths. There were terrorist attacks every day of the year. To give some further examples: in February 45 people were killed and 36 injured in Mogadishu in two car bombings and 12 people were killed and 50 injured in bombings in Bolivia; in March 30 people died and 85 were injured in terrorist attacks on the French Embassy in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso, a city I remember fondly from my trip on the Ougadougo – Bobo Dialassou Express; in April, 47 people were shot dead by terrorists in Mali; in May, gunmen equipped with grenades attacked the Notre-Dame de Fatima church in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, killing 26 (the same number as died in a shooting, stabbing and arson attack in Burundi the same month) and injuring 170; in July, Abu Sayyaf exploded a van in the Philippines, killing 9 and injuring 12; in September, Islamic State killed 25 people and injured 70 in an attack on an Iranian military parade; in October, Robert Bowers killed 11 and injured 7 when he shot up a synagogue (‘[the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.’). In December, 5 people were killed and 21 injured in a Muslim’s shooting spree at a Christmas market in Strasbourg.
Americans kept shooting each other up. For example, an ex student of Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida shot 34 students in February; in May a student shot 24 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas; in November a man shot 25 people who were line dancing. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. See the full, mind-boggling, list here.
Kids got active in 2018. One million kids walked out of school in the Enough! School Walkout to advocate gun reform in the US in response to the shootings. (Then March for Our Lives involved 1.2 to 2 million people. Report here.) Then conservative politicians excoriated 5000 high school kids in each of Melbourne and Sydney, and more in other cities for protesting the politicians boiling their futures in the Big School Walk Out, initiated by three urchins in Castlemaine. They demanded: 1. Stop Adani; 2. No new coal mines; and 3. Transition to 100% renewables. Resources Minister Matt Canavan dutifully read out what he was presumably told to by the coal people: “Taking off school and protesting? You don’t learn anything from that. The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.”]]>