Diary Australia


5 April 2014

9:00 AM

5 April 2014

9:00 AM

I’ve recently rediscovered the lost, forbidden pleasure of the smoko. My earliest memories of enjoying a smoko were back at school, when my friend Simon and I would scurry across the manicured lawns of Canberra Grammar between lessons, packets of Park Drive or B&H at the ready, for a quick ciggie to see us through the morning. Sometimes, if the cravings were sufficiently strong, we’d head off midway through the lessons themselves, particularly if it was Mr Cardell-Oliver’s French class. Apart from being a delightful, charming old man ‘Coddly-Oddly’ as we called him was conveniently short-sighted and it was a doddle to duck out the back for a quick fag whilst he was busy écrivant sur le tableau noir.

Smokos were also a critical part of my teenage job at the Cotter Kiosk, a milk bar servicing a beautiful picnic spot outside Canberra. Apart from dog-hair-garnished gelatos and insect-poached snags, the kiosk also sold cigs; in those days displayed on the (shock horror!) open shelves like any other products, rather than being hidden under lock and key like explosives or syringes of morphine. The packets were in eye-catching colours free of any visual portrayals of diseased organs so naturally this is the reason I couldn’t resist hopping in to as many packs as I could.

In the last year or so, I’ve been reintroduced to the delights and joys of the smoko thanks to my appearances as a guest panellist on several shows at Sky News. Even though I no longer smoke, the Sky Smoko is something I highly recommend. After all, following an hour or two of heated debate with three or four highly opinionated individuals in front of the cameras what could be more relaxing, rewarding and enjoyable than regrouping outside with the same highly opinionated individuals and saying what you really thought?

Last week it was Ross Cameron, Paul Murray, myself and 2UE’s delightful Sarah Morice who gathered for the post-discourse smoko. I’d love to tell you what was said but, according to the complex rules of chat show panellist etiquette, I’d have to shoot you afterwards if I did.

Paul, Sarah, Ross and I found ourselves broadly in agreement on most topics, both on and off air. Which is more than I can say for my fellow highly opinionated commentators at Radio 2SER. If you’re unfamiliar with this particular station, it’s because you are no longer under 23 and convinced the world is about to be destroyed by, in no particular order, climate change, Manus Island and Andrew Bolt. 2SER thoughtfully provides Sydney’s uni population with ‘a stimulating forum for learning and the expression of alternative ideas, informed by and promoting principles of social justice’. The talented Michael Koziol runs a great show called Fourth Estate on a Monday evening, where I sometimes get to be the nasty right-wing dude. This week, my fellow panellists are the SMH’s Marcus Strom and New Matilda’s Adam Brereton. New Matilda is a website that boasts of being ‘independent journalism at its best’. (I once submitted an article to it, until the then-editor got back with over 20 suggestions on how to rewrite it; at which point I politely withdrew from the relationship.)

Adam and I immediately and consistently disagree on everything. I take great offence (I don’t really, but with those of a leftish persuasion this is by far the best way to get their attention) at his suggestion that journalism is a ‘traditional working-class profession’ that has been corrupted by ‘the middle classes’. Or I think that’s what he was saying. Anyway, I took great offence and that seemed to do the trick. Marcus and I should also have disagreed on everything, him being a union heavyweight and all, but strangely we found ourselves breaking bread on free speech, which was lucky, seeing as the four of us were all speaking freely. We were supposed to be discussing whether a journalists’ union that I have absolutely no interest in joining will be better served by having an elected or an appointed CEO. As far as I was concerned, the union didn’t need either and should instead hand back the $10 million in assets it owns to the people who stupidly gave them the money in the first place. Marcus and I sadly parted company around that point, just as I thought I’d found a new bosom buddy. Afterwards, Michael tells us his fantastic secret news. I’d love to tell you what it was, but, well, it’s a secret.

Ferocious disagreement was also the theme behind the excellent dinner at Thai Nesia put on by Parnell Palme McGuinness and Leonie Phillips, who run a firm called Thought Broker. Highly recommended, these dinners see lively debate with speeches by terrific guests; in this case Alan Tudge, parliamentary secretary to Tony Abbott, and Kerryn Pholi, who writes with piercing honesty about her indigenous background and experiences, discussed the legacy of Helen Hughes. Best of all, Helen’s son and writing partner Mark was there. I have always believed Tony Abbott is (to use a phrase popular with Alan Jones) the ‘hope of the side’ when it comes to dragging remote Aborigines out of the socialist hell-hole that is the legacy of all the idiotic, patronising Nugget Coombs/ Whitlam policies that have blighted so many lives. The challenges, as explained by Alan, are horrendous. Home ownership is one of the keys, although a maze of competing regulations and laws has to be negotiated first. What’s needed, I suggest, is Operation Indigenous Ownership.

The event was filmed by Sky to be shown on A-PAC. After the cameras have a-packed up the discussion gets even livelier. I’d love to tell you what was said, but…

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