From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Skywhale of a time. What’s that in the skies above Parliament House? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the weird and wonderful Skywhale, a mythical beast balloon dreamed up by sculptor Patricia Piccinini and commissioned to celebrate Canberra’s 100th birthday.

Already there’s a furore going on in Canberra about whether it’s “ugly” or a “waste of public money” (it cost $170,000) or whether something with “mass appeal” should have been chosen, rather than an artwork that examines beauty in relation to evolution.

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Haters gonna hate, and Kiff Saunders, founder of Global Ballooning and Skywhale‘s pilot, understands that better than most. “When I first saw it, I went, ‘my god, it’s ugly’,” he told Crikey. “But having spent time with these people and the depth of thought that’s gone in to it, it’s really interesting. It’s really directed at the people that go, ‘That’s ugly, that’s a waste of money’, because … it’s all about how we perceive beauty and what is love.”

Canberrans might be freaking out now, but Saunders hopes that not everyone makes a rash judgement. “Don’t just look at this thing on face value, go to the website, do the research and then hate it. But don’t just hate it without giving it any thought.”

Global Ballooning now “owns” Skywhale — “I own a whole lot of fabric in a bag, she [Piccinni] owns the ability to determine where her art is seen,” explained Saunders — however it’s expected the balloon sculpture will tour globally, with trips already planned for Melbourne and over Hobart for Mona’s Dark Mofo festival.

But it’s got us thinking about Canberra’s centenary celebrations and what locals are making of it all. Are you a Canberran who wants to spill about the festivities? Are we all distracted by Skywhale, when we should be horrified by some other overspend of public money or some cheesy celebration? Let us know …

Budget dramas. Ah, the leaves are turning red — must be budget time in Canberra. Some smart public servants pop into work after a coffee at Manuka and produce a nice document on time for the big day next Tuesday, right? Might be harder than that, according to governance expert Stephen Bartos, who gave Crikey an insider’s peep yesterday at the process of putting a budget together:

“… in every budget there is last-minute tweaking by the treasurer and prime minister, to the frustration of Treasury and Finance officials. A full update of the estimates takes days, and the budget papers have to be printed. One day there will be a budget when last-minute changes push the system over the edge and the updates just can’t be processed in time. Treasurer Wayne Swan will be hoping it is not Tuesday’s.”

Tips is calling on all current and former Treasury employees who’ve had something to do with drawing up a budget to tell us what it’s like from the inside. Have there been any major behind-the-scenes dramas? Racing USBs to the printers at the last second? Dramatic changes from a sleep-deprived treasurer? Be aware you could get in trouble for filling us in — but then you can stay anonymous, can’t you …

Lawyer’s pay freeze heats up. Yesterday Tips covered the intriguing case of the nicely worded pay freeze happening at Herbert Smith Freehills law firm. Seems that no one in the community legal centre is offering much sympathy, with Angela Pollard, the manager of NSW’s Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre, telling Crikey:

“Ha — pay freeze? Here at Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre we’ve lived in the Arctic zone for years. There was recent equal pay case for community workers but it will take eight years to kick in, and will still be lower than most junior lawyers get in private practice.

“Look at the salaries paid to lawyers in Community Legal Centres. We are funded by government and paid according to the SCHCADS Award, Cl 15. Top salary for a Principal Solicitor? $40 an hour…

“No beach house in Batemans Bay but we can afford a shipping container overlooking the Pacific Highway!”

Got any more goss on legal pay? Let us know

Combing through Hockey’s brow history. And this finally this burning tip straight from an observant Crikey reader: “Is Joe Hockey plucking his eyebrows now?”

After extensive research, Tips concludes that Hockey has always had a pretty groomed set of brows (below photos are from 2010-2013), but might be ramping it up a notch lately as part of Operation Make Me Treasurer.

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