From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Bolt a ‘sook’. At the Prime Minister’s Melbourne media drinks at Treasury Place last night, a prominent and respected member of the Herald Sun’s reporting team was heard criticising his conservative colleague Andrew Bolt. Our scribe, with a couple under his belt, declared that Bolt was a “sook” after yesterday’s “woe is me” column in News Corp papers, in which Bolt wrote about being criticised on Q&A.

Bolt produced a column with no fewer than 50 references to “I”, “me” and “my,” complaining about the very thing he claims to want: the ability to speak frankly and aggressively about race and racism.

Our outspoken scribe’s perspective is shared by many, but you wouldn’t know it after reading a full page of Bolt letters in today’s Herald Sun. Of the 40 emails and letters published, only five opposed Bolt and not one of them used the word “sook”, as his colleague did last night in front of the cream of Victoria’s political media such as Shaun Carney, Michael Gordan, Jon Faine and Barrie Cassidy.

Milne staffer pops up at Australia Institute. Former Greens svengali Ben Oquist is back on the scene after that falling out with Greens leader Christine Milne. Media scuttlebutt back in September had it that Milne asked for Oquist — her most senior staffer — to resign after claims he supported a push by Adam Bandt to take the leadership from Milne. At any rate, he left.

Now, after a break and some travel, Oquist has landed a gig as strategy director at left-leaning think tank The Australia Institute. He told us he’ll be “helping the institute better communicate its research and build stronger linkages with NGO’s and business,” and said he was “enjoying moving to the big ideas space rather than the day-to-day political churn.”

Oquist is a much-talked-about figure within the Greens. He was Bob Brown’s right-hand-man (i.e. the Green version of Peta Credlin), and many within the party credit him with being a big part of the Greens’ federal success. Some party members resented his influence and thought he was trying to concentrate power on the federal branch (the state Greens branches can be rather bolshie).

Oquist’s shift to the Australia Institute makes it quite the academy for former Greens staffers and candidates. Executive director Richard Denniss was an adviser to Bob Brown (and Democrat Natasha Stott Despoja). Chair of the board Lin Hatfield Dodds was a Greens candidate, and research fellow Kerrie Tucker was a Greens MP. If you know of other movements within the Greens and ex-Greens, be sure to tell Tips. It’s challenging times for the Tasmanian Greens and WA Senator Scott Ludlam as they face re-election soon …

Rudd’s latest move. No, Kevin Rudd is not solving the crisis in Ukraine any more. He’s telling the US how to manage the rise of China. A podcast has just come out of him chatting to the Harvard Kennedy School about it — tune in here.

Mirabella comeback? We noted with interest a report in the Oz a few days ago that failed federal Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was putting her toe back in the water of politics by nominating to the Victorian party’s policy and decision-making forums. “Hot rumour in Indi: Sophie Mirabella hoping for a spot on Senate ticket in 2016. Risky play by conservatives given balance of power issues,” a tipster told us today.

Could she land a Senate berth in 2016? The Victorian Coalition has not done too well in the Senate. After July 1, they’ll have just four senators. Mitch Fifield and Scott Ryan held their seats last year, so won’t be up for re-election in 2016. Two Coalition senators will; fresh face Bridget McKenzie from the Nationals (she’s in her first term) and Michael Ronaldson (a party veteran and low-profile minister for various things, including Veterans Affairs). So if Mirabella is to land in the Senate in 2016, she will either have to convince McKenzie or Ronaldson not to run, or beat them in the election, or win a third seat for the Coalition. That’s not impossible by any means, but is Mirabella the person to do it? Senate voting is perhaps less dependent on the individual candidates because the state votes as a whole, rather than one electorate voting in one MP.

There are also rumours Mirabella may consider a fresh tilt at the lower-house seat of Indi, although she’d have to turn around low public support for her there. Mirabella is an Abbott favourite, but doesn’t command strong support within party ranks.

The Project gets a facelift. Talk in TV circles is that outoing host Charlie Pickering is glad to be out of Ten’s nightly current affairs show The Project, which insiders think is going to be reworked by Ten’s new head of current affairs, Peter Meakin, and the network’s new programming consultant John Stevens. Pickering and his wife are starting a family. That’s the same reason comedian Dave Hughes gave for leaving the program late last year. There is another theory …

The Project’s ratings have slid this year, and Ten has started coding the program into two half-hour blocks at 6.30 and 7pm to make it clear the 7pm bit does a lot better. The Project is produced by Rove McManus’ company Roving Enterprises. Rove is without a US gig, so could he return to reappear on Aussie TV fronting The Project with host Carrie Bickmore? Some think poor programming by Ten over the last three years has ruined the audience’s appetite for The Project, which showed considerable promise as a ground-breaking Australian TV current affairs program with genuine appeal to younger viewers.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey