Capital offences
Monday, December 12, 2005
Justinian in Deja Vu

Fabulous Phil Ruddock works his magic on the family law amendments, and talks about his 34 years with Mrs Fabulous ... He also gave a marvellous lecture to the C.E.W. Bean seminar warning that right now the next Lord Haw Haw is probably lurking in the ranks of the press gallery ... Bunter Downer lays the ground for a few more executions of Australians by our friendly neighbours ... From Justinian's archive, December 12, 2005 

I’ve often wondered whether Phil Ruddock can get any more Fabulous. 

On Thursday (Dec. 8), the attorney graced the airwaves of Adelaide with his soothing tones for the second time in just over 24 hours. This time, he was indulging 5AA’s Nicole Haack, after having joined the previous morning our favourite southern shocker, Leon Byner (also 5AA). 

Fabbo had just introduced the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Bill 2005, which seeks to shift the focus from parents to the best interest of kiddies. 

A presumption of shared parental responsibility is part of the scheme and if equal time with both parents is thought to be inappropriate, then the court has to consider if “substantial and significant” time is possible. 

Naughty parents who don’t face up to their responsibilities face tougher penalties and costs can be imposed on those who make unfounded claims of abuse. 

Fabbo explained to Nicole: 

“I mean, it’s amazing isn’t it? ... my wife works, and by the way we’re still together and have been for 34 years, but her employment was pretty important to her. My employment is very different. Sometimes as a member of parliament rather than as a minister, your time is a little more flexible. I used to write the children’s engagements into my diary like they were electorate engagements, so that I could turn up on the important occasions and be with them.”

It’ll be fascinating to see if that handy little tip will work in those domestic situations which are not quite as honky dory as the attorney’s own 34-year romance. 

Still, I’m more curious about what Fabbo was hinting at when he took this call from an enthusiastic listener: 

Valerie: “Hello Mr Ruddock. Happy New Year and blessings for the New Year.” 

Attorney: “I need those.” 

Why does Phil need Val's blessings? Despite a fun-filled year as the number one law officer of the nation this requirement for blessings really boils down to two possibilities. 

Either the attorney general feels, because of the numerous instances of rottenness he has unleashed upon the Australian community, he needs sanctification, or he is about to embark on a new and untried adventure and wants all the support he can muster. 

I think it is the latter and not long into the New Year we’ll see Phil installed in a new portfolio. Just imagine what improvements he could perpetrate on Australia’s international standing if Bunter went to immigration, Amanda “Vautin” Vanstone to AGs and Fabbo to foreign affairs. 

Anyway, after consuming numerous Christmas cocktails that is my considered prediction. 

Still, on the Haack show our man did seem pretty devoted to his current shtick. Nicole helpfully said: 

“Attorney, I appreciate that you are between meetings and have a very busy day.” 

“Off to question time. Off to question time, Nicole,” said the Fabulous One. 

Sometimes you think there might be a little more lightness in the world if Phil didn’t show up for work quite so conscientiously. As it turned out, he had a slayer of a position-line regarding the regulation of family life. He told the honourable members:

“We want to move away from the culture of Dreamworld dads and Movieworld mums.” 

Labor’s Tanya (“I’m a Mum”) Plibersek rose on a point of order: “Attorney, we have all read the press release; you do not have to go over it again in here.” 

Thank God it was not a point of order, according to the Speaker, and the attorney could continue to make his points with the deftness we have come to love. 

He noted there had been a “lone voice” opposing his bill and he could “hear it again” in the chamber from that pest, the shadow attorney general, “Lillian” Roxon. 

Nonetheless, he’s going to give Labor “plenty of time” to get itself in order, after three ALP backbenchers supported the attorney’s family reforms at the committee stage. 

Fabbo rasped across the chamber, “this government knows where it stands on this question”. He sounded like a pale imitation of Little One, who himself is a pale imitation of his lovely wife Janette, aka Mrs Buckett. 

But then nearly everyone on the government benches, and more and more on the opposition side, has total faith in the tiny PM. 

By any standards, the attorney general was setting a frantic pace on the last day for the Reps (Thursday, Dec. 8). He also conducted a press conference in Parliament House’s Mural Hall, currently his most favourite backdrop. 

One hack wanted to know Phil’s intentions amid the latest re-shuffle speculation. 

“I do whatever I’m asked to do,” said the grey pillar of chalk. 

Wasn’t the Nuremberg defence found wanting? 

*   *   *

Fast overtaking Fabulous Phil as my most lovable member of the government is Bunter Downer, a real marzipan man. And you can see why with the answer he gave to Fairfax’s Connie Levett while he was in Kuala Lumpur for the East Asia Summit (Dec, 10). 

Would the foreign minister be raising the death penalty question with his Vietnamese counter-part, given two Australians are on death row there and an Australian had just swung in Singapore? 

“Well, you know I could only raise it if I sat next to him,” replied Bunter. 

*   *   *

Mr Marzipan: raise it sitting downIt’s my last column for the year and I am not going to leave the final word to the foreign minister, much as he’s shooting up my popularity stakes. 

Fabulous Phil makes up for what Mr Marzipan lacks in fibre. And there was no better occasion for the AG to display his meatiness than at the C.E.W. Bean seminar last Thursday (Dec. 8) at the War Memorial’s Telstra Theatrette (which, as I reported previously, was the venue for a talk by Tubby Callinan during the Canberra literature festival). 

C.E.W. as a World War 1 correspondent, said Phil, “accepted the need for censorship during war time and he understood the need to keep information confidential even after the war was over”. 

Clearly, he was AG’s sort of reporter. 

If Bean accepted censorship, why can’t the present day motley collection of hacks buckle down and accept the same thing? This was Fabbo’s theme for the evening. 

And make no mistake about it, Fabulous is a war-time attorney general: 

“We are engaged in a protracted war of a kind we have never had to fight before. It is a war against a shadowy, mobile enemy, that despise [sic] what we value”. 

Anyway, he told the increasingly nervy audience, there are plenty of restrictions on our freedoms already, like having to drive on the left hand side of the road, so what’s so terrible about a few more? 

He then proceeded to misrepresent the force of his own sedition laws, saying they were only designed to stop people advocating overthrowing our wonderful institutions by advocating force. 

What he failed to mention is that the law also stops the reptiles reporting about anyone spouting a bit of overthrow. 

But don’t let’s have this dangerous stuff of journalists thinking they are above the law. 

“I don’t think any of us are naïve enough to believe that someone describing themselves as a journalist could never be directly involved in assisting the enemy.” 

Look at Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw Haw, then there was Kim Philby and Guy Burgess – who once were journalists. 

“Journalists should be held accountable,” said the AG his voice rising in a Dr Strangelove sort of manner. 

He was so carried away by all of this that it was too late to rescue himself with the caveat: 

“Of course, I’m not suggesting anyone in this room tonight is the next Lord Haw Haw.” 

As one TV news man used to sign-off during troubled times in America: “Good night and good luck.”

Polly Peck

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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