At last week’s Midwinter Ball, host Bob Downe greeted Peter Garrett in the audience and told him he was going to perform one of his favourite Midnight Oil numbers — then started belting out Down Under. Senate President Alan Ferguson turned to a fellow audience member in confusion and said “I never knew Peter Garrett was in Men At Work”.

My girlfriend works in a Victorian government department overseas office and reliably informed me they received a request from Minister Theo Theophanous for meeting with Barack Obama in the US this October. With a month to go in a tight election, I am sure Theo will be able to provide Obama with just the wise advice and counsel he needs. A third-rate State Minister from Australia will be just the thing Obama needs at that point of the campaign.

Rio Tinto are stalling the opportunity of developing a major solar power field in the Northwest of Western Australia by preventing access to land held by them, without any deemed mineral potential. Considering the gas crisis in Western Australia at present, the State Government needs to wrestle some control off the big miners to enable projects that benefit the greater good.

Is the PM’s chief of staff, David Epstein, skating on thin ice? On Saturday night at a large dinner which included a few press gallery journos, political staffers and public servants, the topic was John Lyons’ explosive piece in The Weekend Australian on the chaos and turmoil inside the PM’s office. Inexperience, heavy-handed tactics, disorganisation and a love of the 24-hour media cycle was discussed. The best offices in the government are Gillard and Swan. They outrank Rudd’s on experience in government, organisation, political strategy, media management, speechwriting, policy advice, basic administration. Many wonder how long Epstein will stay in the job. He’s not the most trusted in the PM’s eyes and the chaos reflects poorly on him. When he replaced Simon Banks a year ago, nothing changed. Not only is he out of his depth, he’s being outplayed by other offices who just can’t believe how chaotic it is down the corridor. Time will tell. Lyons is on the money.

Ageing Minister under attack from her own staff? He mightn’t be doing it deliberately, but Walt Secord, former Bob Carr and Kevin Rudd staffer, who was passed onto neophyte Ageing Minister, Justine Elliot, as her chief of staff seems to be getting Justine into all sorts of trouble with a major part of her constituency. Last week she invited a group of Queensland aged care providers who were in Canberra lobbying for extra funding, to see her. When she was called away for a division, Secord took over and abused the group over their demands. The following morning the Courier-Mail ran a piece accusing Qld aged care of being the second most inefficient mob in Australia, despite making a profit of $10 a day from each resident and receiving the biggest funding increase of any state. To make the message clearer, Elliot issued a media release with more facts and figures backing up her charges. The industry reps were “stunned” by her attack as they say they weren’t blaming her, but previous governments for a long term funding problem. Walt’s “sic em Justine” may not be all that smart, as it worries the new Qld backbenchers who don’t want a concerted aged care industry campaign against them next election. Their concerns will be heard by fellow banana benders Rudd and Swan who are considerate of their own local aged care interests. Meanwhile a putative Ageing Minister awaits in the wings. The Queensland lobbyists were invited out to dinner by the Assistant Minister on Disabilities, Bill Shorten. He has been spruiking a national disability scheme which could be revved up as a national long term care scheme, helping solve aged care funding problems.

The story has it that former lobbyist Roger Cook, now preselected by the ALP for Kwinana in WA ahead of the popular local mayor, has not been slow in seeking campaign donations. Perfectly legal of course. But should the people of Kwinana really be happy when a former lobbyist — who used to take money from companies to do the company’s political bidding — then runs for parliament, while continuing to seek money from companies, though now as “campaign donations”?

Regarding Crikey’s story on Monash Law’s relocation to the Caulfield campus, I wanted to confirm your last paragraph: We basically had no choice. We (the staff) were presented with the proposal at a meeting and voted in favour of it by a fairly solid margin. When your choices are “stay in this sh-thole (and it is genuinely a sh-thole)” and “go to this brand spanking new building with all mod cons” your choice is pretty simple. We were told in no uncertain terms that a new building on the Clayton campus would not be happening. The presentation went for an hour and they spoke about combined degrees for less than five minutes. They said it would all be really easy for students and nothing would be adversely affected, but they didn’t really say how. Incidentally, I read recently that Monash was initially going to be located at Caulfied racecourse to take advantage of the train line but that Bolte, being scared of the VATC, caved in and put the thing at Clayton instead, vowing to extend the train line there. Now it looks like Burnum Wood is slowly coming to Dunsinane.

These should be the happiest days for Queensland Labor, but after talking with party members at the Labor Conference over the weekend, they are not. Bligh’s poll lead has been cut to a wafer-thin margin and the smell of defeat is in the air. This is not helped by the ongoing criticism of Beattie on a number of fronts, and scandals, even though he is as ex as an ex can get. Then there is the new PM. Yes, he got a standing ovation and thunderous applause when he arrived to speak to the conference, but his speech was pretty unexciting. Lots of thanks and cheers and then his usual list of things followed by another list. He lacks the ability to turn a phrase, to tell a story, to explain what his government is all about. Buggered if I know. He probably wrote it himself. At dinner and in outside the conference people were talking about Swan doing well and Emerson too. One union leader told me to look up Emerson’s speech to the Sydney Institute as the kind Rudd should give. Rudd also had to deal with ETU protesters saying he’s not doing enough. Things could be better all round.

You should check out how many Qantas planes have had faults recently. Just flew back from London QF002 after flying for about an hour we had to turn back: apparently two staff went to hospital because of the smoke fumes and some passengers complained of nausea. We were put into a hotel the staff there commented that this was the second Qantas flight in two days that had had to do this. While waiting the next day for our flight another (different) Qantas crew were being briefed that the engine in their plane had failed a test — “didn’t pass muster”. A passenger I was sitting next to mentioned that her husband had had similar problems flying into Asia; he was pretty much gold ff but they were considering changing airlines.

Members of the most recent and present Qantas board are facing an interesting time. With the “holier than thou’s” calling for Dick Pratt’s head on a platter and resignation from all positions outside his company there might well be some other heads keeping well below the radar. Qantas has three major price fixing cartel cases running against it here, in Europe and in the US. Whilst Dickie’s company managed only to offend little ol’ Australia, the Qantas team has managed to bring down the wrath of the international heavyweights.

Flying on Qantas last Saturday night aboard QF 89 from Hong Kong to  Melbourne over the equator, the 777 suddenly went upwards seemingly nearly vertically and under my feet at the emergency exit, I was red hot. We then came down quickly after about 60 secs and nothing was said. apparently has had server troubles. In fact the emails to agents (that they pay a lot of money for) from interested buyers around April and May just didn’t work properly. The backlog has only been clearing in the last day or so. Lots of VERY unhappy agents and the class action word has already been mentioned as there is potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost commission.

Several public schools in Sydney have been told they are no longer needed to house the Catholic pilgrims in July. It seems there a fewer visitors than anticipated. Perhaps there were not enough Catholic school teachers to act as site managers in the public schools for 10 days in the school holidays. The trouble is that thousands of taxpayers dollars have already been spent on “upgrading” facilities in the poorly resourced public schools, including temporary hot water systems, portable toilets and showers, numerous fire services inspections, such a monumental and indefensible waste of money.

For university students the cost of textbooks continues to rise, costing upwards of $700 per semester, more often than not, written by the unit coordinator. I was recently having real trouble working through a particular subject and went to see the lecturer for some ideas. She told me not to use the textbook at all as it was written for practitioners specifically, and thus not suitable for student, instead i should read only cases in studying the subject (I’m a law student). Well, be nice to have known that before spending $250 I don’t have on a book she had written. In another instance also this semester alone, the author of a textbook was clearly a friend of the lecturer, and no doubt this is the only explanation as to why the textbook was prescribed. It cost $200, and did not cover the two central themes within the subject, we were told to print numerous journal articles, and photocopy significant chapters from another book, making the prescribed textbook virtually irrelevant. Small issue yes, but enough to continue the erosion of faith for students in the integrity of their universities, and enough to make you wonder why students, as supposed consumers, have so few mechanisms in which we’re able to hold universities accountable.

In addition to your observation about The Age‘s Top 10 list of articles, recently on the online edition they have been using the main photo to “sell” — I think last Friday they had a “looking for something to do on the weekend?” picture which linked to their entertainment section… surely there was some newsworthy images to go there…