From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Brandis hearts micro-parties. It looks like new leader of the government in the Senate George Brandis is taking a much more friendly approach to the crossbench than Mal Brough did last week, with Brandis telling Barrie Cassidy on Insiders yesterday that the government had made no decision on Senate voting reform to make it more difficult for minor parties to get elected. “These people all played by the rules,” he said. “I mean, all eight of the Senate crossbenchers were elected fair and square under the existing rules. And it’s not as if it’s only minor parties and independents who try to calculate where their advantages — best advantage lies when it comes to Senate preferences.”

Crossbench Senator David Leyonhjelm has said that the government will suffer if it moves to change the rules, and we hear that the suffering could also be felt at the ballot box for both the Liberal Party and the Greens, which have also voiced support for changes. Preference whisperer Glenn Druery says a deal between the majors to lock micro-parties out would “wake a sleeping ‘combined minor party’ giant”. Micro-parties on both the left and right of politics could direct their preferences away from the Liberals and Greens in order to make their displeasure felt. Minor parties on the right could even run lower house candidates in up to 10 marginal seats, including Boothby, Hasluck, Petrie, Deakin and Brisbane in order to push preferences away from the Liberals and towards the ALP, which is opposed to reforms.

The Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon could also be targeted for their support for changes, with minor parties preferencing Labor before the Greens in Senate seats and a “special effort” made in Adam Bandt’s lower house seat of Melbourne to direct preferences away from the Greens.

Border Force and alcohol testing. The Australian Border Force’s draconian practices when it comes to passports and attempts to check people’s visas on Melbourne’s streets are well known, but the restrictions on employees at the new para-military agency are also tougher than for most public servants. Under the Border Force Act, employees can be subject to random or targeted tests for alcohol or drugs. A tipster tells us that testing, along with other “integrity measures”, could soon apply to external contractors to the department as well:

“The Integrity Branch of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is taking implementation of the Australian Border Force Act to the extreme by attempting to collate every single services contract of the department in order to amend each contract to insert the obligations of the ABF Act. These excessive policies require not only drug and alcohol testing of contractors but also oblige contractors to comply with mandatory reporting requirements (ie dob in your colleague) and integrity testing.”

We asked Border Force’s media department if the rules would apply to external contractors, and were told:

” Measures in the Integrity Framework include random and targeted drug and alcohol testing, mandatory reporting of serious misconduct or criminal behaviour and integrity testing. The Integrity Framework applies to ‘Immigration and Border Protection’ (IBP) workers, who are employees, contractors and service providers who have access to Departmental premises, information, assets and systems.

The implementation of the Integrity Framework is established through a range of mechanisms which can differ depending on the employment relationship. Elements of the Integrity Framework are being implemented on a risk basis, and the Department will work with service providers. Where service providers already have drug and alcohol testing programs in place the Department would not ordinarily seek to duplicate testing.”

Abbott’s big hose. Ex-prime minister Tony Abbott looks like he’s loving his life without responsibility, posting this photo on Facebook yesterday, his first post since being ousted as PM two weeks ago. The photo shows Abbott volunteering with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade, pointing a hose into the bush. Abbott will have a bit of spare time now he’s on the backbench, looks like he is putting it to good use.

A fine bromance. Today’s News Corp tabloids carry a heart-wrenching tale of a jilted prime minister and a populace that didn’t know how good they had it. Andrew Bolt bares his soul for all to see in a tribute to Tony Abbott in today’s column, in which he tells us he is not only heartbroken, but he fears for the country:

“See, I don’t think Abbott is a great man because he’s my friend. He’s my friend because he’s a great man. Greater than the people who tore him down.

He’s my friend especially because he’s not those things that so many journalists wrote — including some who must have known what they wrote were lies.

Truth is that Abbott is not a thug, bully, racist, fool, liar, woman-hater, homophobe or bigot. He’s not cruel or lacking compassion.

If he were any of those things he would not be my friend. Those are deal breakers for me. Those I love best are people of honour, warmth and kindness.”

Ms Tips is practising playing the world’s smallest violin. The piece was illustrated in the Herald Sun with a photo of Abbott depicted as his favourite vegetable — an onion. It’s a nice metaphor, showing that Abbott has layers (like a parfait?). Bolt writes:

“Your mistake was that you couldn’t look behind the flim flam — the way Abbott looked, the way he spoke, the way he walked, the way he ate an onion — to see what he’d actually done for you and for your country.”

Ms Tips couldn’t help but notice that the image looked very similar to another representation of a former Prime Minister as fresh produce, when the Liberal Party used Kevin O’Lemon in the 2013 election campaign.

Both ex-leaders look like they have jaundice, and we can’t help but wondering if the photoshop wizards at the Hun have given Labor’s election strategists some ideas.

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

Peter Fray

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