From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Shorten sweet. As today is the last day that the House of Reps will sit for the year, it gave our leaders the opportunity to change the tone a bit in their valedictory speeches. Prime Minister Tony Abbott looked a bit uncomfortable as Bill Shorten decided to bench the zinger and revealed that they had had a nice moment when the PM offered condolences to Shorten on the death of his mother:

“I thanked him for his thoughtful words and his message about my mother. I said that every so often, just when I’m at the point of complete frustration with the Prime Minister, he does something nice to surprise me. I think the Prime Minister was sufficiently surprised at this comment, but he paused and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll find a way to frustrate you soon’.

“Prime Minister, thank you for your generosity. Please send my very best to your remarkable wife, Margie, and your clever and capable daughters. I’m sure as you savour a shandy or two this summer, pondering your year of achievement, you will miss us, but don’t worry, we’ll be back, we’ll be here, ready for the political battle in the year ahead whatever it may bring.”

We’re sure the government will miss us too. We sure will miss them.

Into the hands of his enemies. A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith was at an Uber function when the crowd-sourced taxi-company’s senior vice president Emil Michael said the company should hire a team to dig up dirt on journalists asking critical questions. Smith promptly reported what was said, to, um, great commotion. If such a hit list on journalists exists at Uber (and we’re not saying it does), surely Smith would be atop it. But how did he get home from said Uber function? Asked about it yesterday at Storyology, Smith made a startling admission. “I took an Uber,” he said. And does he think the company is keeping a dirt file on him? “Probably.” We wonder how he’s getting around Sydney …

New High Court Justice the unexpected pick. The announcement of Victorian Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Nettle as the latest High Court judge has surprised but not shocked members of the legal community. The scheduled retirement of Justice Kenneth Hayne and the slightly expedited retirement of Justice Susan Crennan left two upcoming vacancies on the High Court, and the smart money was on a certain Melbourne judge to take at least one of the two spots. A Sydney legal insider told Ms Tips the Melbourne legal establishment would go into meltdown if it was not represented on the High Court. Both Crennan and Hayne are from Melbourne, and a failure to replace them with Victorians would mean no Melbourne judges on the court for the first time since 1906. The appointment of Nettle fulfills the unofficial Melbourne criteria, but he was not one of the names expected — most thought it would be Justice John Middleton of the Federal Court. According to our tipster Middleton is most likely disappointed. Nettle keeps a low profile, but he presided over the high-profile Jill Meagher murder trial last year. It’s unusual for an appeals court judge to be given that kind of case, so it indicates Nettle is seen in Melbourne as a safe pair of hands – a “pretty ordinary, straight-laced guy”. He has a similar legal background to Attorney-General George Brandis; he’s a “former silk who did the whole Oxford master’s thing — came back and had a commercial practice”. Maybe Middleton will get lucky next time.

Just pretend it never happened … A tipster has pointed out to us that the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party has deleted all videos relating to last weekend’s election from its YouTube channel — no mention of Daniel Andrews, cage fighting, or the CFMEU. The most recent video that now appears is from a membership drive five months ago. It’s like the election campaign never happened. If only wishing made it so.

Holidays on hold. The government is still trying to extend Senate sitting hours into tomorrow, which we expect will ruffle a few feathers on both sides of the aisle as Senators and staffers pack their bags for the Christmas break. We hear that Senator Dio Wang has a family holiday to New Zealand booked to start tomorrow — maybe that’s why Clive Palmer announced today that the Palmer United Party would support the government’s migration bill. We’re sure the Wang family isn’t the only one who will be watching proceedings closely. If you know of anyone else with packed bags at Parliament, let us know.

Sky News. A few eyebrows were raised last night when this tweet appeared in the Sky News feed, which usually sticks to fairly straightforward reporting of the news:

We asked Sky News about the tweet — would it be the new style for the channel’s social media? We were told: “It is well known that Paul Murray Live is an opinion program on Sky News. This tweet is a preview to a topic he discussed on-air last night and is no different to other tweets Paul has done in the past.” Guess it’s up to us to distinguish between news and partisan opinion then.

One, two, three, four: I declare a poet’s war. The smaller the stakes, the higher the drama? Every month Southerly Journal selects a blogger in residence, and last month’s selection, conservative poet Geoff Page, rather ruffled some feathers through a long post on the role of obscurity in poetry. Most of Page’s thesis concerns the eight levels, or reasons, why poems are obscure. And while metre, rhyme and lyrcism force some level of obscurity, he notes, today’s “young” poets are obscure for its own sake.

Poets have used obscurity to shock the reader for a hundred years, but today’s young Australian poets think they’re all that, Page writes. Comparing young Australian poets unfavourably to dadaists like Kurt Schwitters, Page concludes that the current crop of Aussie poets have “a lot more work ahead of them”:

“Is it just the jaundice of the aging to think the avant gardists’ motivations may simply be to render themselves impervious to traditional criticism? Should one resist the fable of the little boy and the naked emperor? What a pity our naive young onlooker didn’t yet have the experience to know that the splendid new garments not being worn by the emperor were a hundred years old already.”

Tut tut. The young poets being written off have responded in the comments secction of the post, delightfully penning what must be the most high-brow, well-written comments section Ms Tips has ever seen. While we mostly avoid online comments, rebuttals written in rhyme are quite riveting. Successful, young Australian poet Astrid Lorange had some rather cutting words for Page:

“Page is cited in the ABR (Australian Book Review) referencing an old homophobic joke in order to argue in favour of clarity, quality and accessibility in what what he calls the ‘reader friendly’ poem. So let’s read this frankly ancient polemic against obscurity for what it is: a dismissal of anything other than the straight, family-friendly, genealogically-correct (due service to predecessors) poetry of the male canonical fantasy.”

Many of the other comments continued in a similar vein. Perhaps the funniest thing about the whole blow-up, one poetry insider remarked to Crikey, is that most of the young poets dismissed by Page aren’t that young at all, but 30-year-olds with PhDs and published collections. Oh well — it’s all been marvelously good fun for Ms Tips anyway.

Thanks to the opposition. Bill Shorten’s valedictory speech wasn’t the only one that caught our eye — Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and his hair made a very nice speech thanking the opposition to the government — and he doesn’t mean the ALP.

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

Peter Fray

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