Not enough quirk

Michelle Grattan ain’t glamorous. So what? We all know that Coke bottle bottom glasses, a hairdo that hasn’t changed since Dylan went electric and a journalistic style to match won’t get you a job on commercial TV. Now, it appears that it might mean you don’t qualify to write for one of the country’s more smugly self styled “quality” papers. Gallery gossip says the Sydney Morning Herald has warned one of Canberra’s most experienced political correspondents that her copy needs to be “quirkier” this year.

The Herald likes to think it’s the bible of Balmain, the pride of Paddington, the darling of Darlinghurst and – well, you get my drift. Sure, it’s read in the inner city. But if the Herald also aims to cause heart attacks across the upper north shore every morning – let alone the rest of the state – it won’t have many readers left.

Put a fork in them, the election is almost done.

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Michelle Grattan’s reporting isn’t flashy, but that doesn’t mean it’s stolid. Grattan still breaks stories that help set the daily agenda of politics.

The Herald should remember that it is already very well served in the quirk department.

Margot Kingston managed to out-loon Pauline Hanson as she followed the One Nation leader on the 1998 campaign trail for the Herald. Mike Seccombe parliamentary sketches just stay above talk radio rant standard thanks to his idiosyncratic – and inventive – use of bile. And Alan Ramsey, the Herald’s other big name, seems to have given up writing virtually altogether, preferring just to assemble cut and paste jobs of speeches, transcripts, Hansard extracts and offcial reports with the minimum words needed for the lot to make sense.

In fact, the Herald might find that a bit of straight reporting in there probably doesn’t do any harm.

Wishful thinking?

Just why were senior DFAT staff telling attendees at the recent Asia Pacific Parliamentary Conference that Alexander Downer was seriously ill and about to resign?

Spot the difference

It’s amazing what can happen once a referendum is out of the way:

“I respect (politicians), but I think we should know our limitations.”

Tony Abbott, The Australian, 22 October 1999

“Politics is “a hard and unforgiving business”, but it is also `”the highest and noblest form of public service” — as John Howard affirmed at a low ebb in his prime ministership. To those contemplating it from the outside or from the bottom of the political ladder, it must sometimes seem like the career equivalent of a suicide mission. The fact that there are a dozen volunteers for every place shows that those with faith, courage, vision and ardour will always seek to leave their mark.”

Tony Abbott, The Australian, 14 January 2000

The Senator for Victoria Street

If Democrat princess Natasha Stott-Despoja’s constituents in South Australia want to see their Senator, where can they go? Well, on Sunday mornings, Fez Café at the heart of the latte belt in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney has been the place to go. She looks just like a local.

Natasha’s never been that good at remembering who preselects her – unlike Redgum propagandist turned press secretary John Schumann, who is gunning for her Senate spot – but at least she’s now remembering who elects her. She’s been telling journalists that her New Year’s resolution is to spend more time in the state she’s paid to represent.

South Australians are sensitive to her plight. They know that there are a lot fewer photo-ops in Adelaide – let alone chances for some serious starf…ing (Crikey, this he/she columnist doesn’t pull any punches, Ed). But at least they know that their Senator is thinking of them – or patronising them, at least.

The Canberra Nostradamus club January is a lean, lean time for journos stuck in the Gallery. Parliament doesn’t sit, Ministers are on leave and the public service is asleep – but still they have to file stories.

Normally, this is the time to phone round the shadow ministers, to try and persuade them to pull some stunt or release a dodgy story that wouldn’t otherwise get a run.

The only other option is to write a spec piece, and that’s what happened – spectacularly – this year.

Paul Cleary from the Financial Review started the ball rolling with a masterful effort on Monday January 10 on a looming Cabinet reshuffle that reached a crescendo with the news that Treasurer Peter Costello and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer were about to swap portfolios.

After these revelations, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age just had to leap on board, and through the week we heard about all sorts of moves – Bishop, Moore out; Wooldridge to swap portfolio; Mal Brough (who?) in – about to take place before Parliament resumed.

Parliament is back this week and, oddly enough, no reshuffle has happened. I guess the Gallery boys and girls are lucky that “Hindenburg” Hockey came along…

Hillary Bray is a former or current Coalition staffer.