From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

How can we sing when the earth is turning? When former Midnight Oil frontman-turned-politician Peter Garrett got to Canberra, he figured joining the unofficial parliamentary choir, known as the Parliamentary Poets, might be fun. The Poets hold a sing-off against the press gallery choir every Midwinter Ball, and while the journos were usually the better performers, Garrett thought it was the politicians’ turn, despite the journos’ “semi-witty” musical putdowns — an extension, he wryly notes in his recently released autobiography, of their usual occupation.

But Garrett wasn’t to last long among the Parliamentary Poets:

“[The journalists] were beatable, but not so long as my choir mates, without a hint of self-awareness, continued to instruct their new star recruit and de facto choir leader in how we should sing. Most struggled to hold a tune, so what we needed to do was practice, plain and simple. Yet, strangely, people would rarely make themselves available for rehearsals. I eventually gave up on this harmless yet surreal extra-curricular activity.”

Another interesting revelation from Garrett’s memoir: he has an allergy to cold water. Yes, Ms Tips was sceptical too, but it sounds legit. In 2004, Garrett was in the news after blacking out while surfing. Doctors were puzzled about why it had happened, but after the media misreported it as a surfing accident, Garrett got an email from a specialist in rare allergies in California suggesting the allergy might have developed. Further tests in Sydney confirmed it — cold water can be fatal for Garrett. He carries an EpiPen at all times.

Shots fired!  In leaving the office of prime minister after being taken down by Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott warned the press gallery to not play the part of the assassin’s knife, but it seems the gallery is now being encouraged to pick up a gun. Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has invited the press gallery to a “clay target shooting” and barbecue lunch at Canberra’s International Clay Target Club at the end of the sitting week next Friday. The event is being held by McKenzie as the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting Club, which “aims to connect like-minded individuals who have an interest in recreational shooting”.

The group launched in March in an attempt to “change negative perceptions about shooting”.

“We know our licensed firearms owners are seldom responsible for any of the horrible gun crimes such as the recent Martin Place Siege, yet if you picked up your newspaper or listened to the constant harping from Greens senators such as Penny Wright you may think otherwise,” McKenzie said in March.

The group has a regular newsletter that allows members of the group to get the latest information on competitive shooting and “national issues concerning pistols, rifles, clay targets and hunting”. Far from being just the territory for the Nationals or noted gun fan David Leyonhjelm, the deputy chair of the group is Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon.

Transfield’s public relations problem worsens. Transfield Service’s running of the Nauru and Manus offshore detention centres has made it a deeply unpopular company, with some shareholders and super funds divesting from the company over the past year. Lobby group No Business In Abuse is leading the charge against Transfield for running the offshore detention centres. The company’s chair, Diane Smith-Gander, told the Australian Financial Review earlier this month that she rejected the claims of human rights abuses in detention, and said she had a “real sense of pride” in the work Transfield was doing in the centres when she visited earlier this year.

Smith-Gander, a respected business director, works across a number of companies, including being a non-executive director of NBN and a non-executive director of Coles’ parent company, Wesfarmers. Wesfarmers is having its annual general meeting on November 12, where Smith-Gander is up for re-election as a director of the board. She may now face opposition from shareholders for this appointment for her work at Transfield. A Wesfarmers shareholder has told Ms Tips that the shareholder has voted against Smith-Gander’s reappointment, and has written to CEO Richard Goyder arguing against Smith-Gander’s reappointment because of Transfield’s role in offshore detention.

Dastyari’s yoof credentials. Ms Tips was not surprised at all to see Sam Dastyari, one of six Labor MPs to get promotions yesterday in Bill Shorten’s slightly reshuffled shadow cabinet, appointed as, amount other things, parliamentary secretary for the youth.

She assumes Dastyari has been angling for the role for some time. After all, the 32-year-old Dastyari’s commitment to youth culture goes back far. He recently went on the Canberra press gallery’s most popular podcast, The Silent Majority, to regale its hosts with tales about growing up cool in western Sydney.

Or, well, maybe not so cool.

“I can break dance,” he admitted. “I was a wog growing up in the suburbs of Sydney. We didn’t do sport — we did break dancing. You either break danced or hit the gym, and I was never very good at hitting the gym.

“The goal of being a professional break dancer is certainly a career goal I have not reached.” Vid or it didn’t happen, we say.

And Dastyari is comfortable as any 15-year-old quoting Taylor Swift. Recently in the Senate, he used a deadpan reading of Swift’s “poetic, beautiful and — I think — touching song Blank Space” to slam the Liberal Party (“Magic, Madness, Heaven, Sin. Saw you there and I thought, oh my god. Look at that face, you look like my next mistake …”)

Ms Tips should point out she was impressed Dastyari’s Swift knowledge extended beyond the uber-popular Shake It Off. Blank Space is the far better song.

With Twitter friends like these .. As Crikey noted yesterday, data retention is officially the law of the land. Yesterday Parliament’s biggest opponent to data retention (and Crikey‘s Sexiest Politician of 2014), Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, asked Attorney-General George Brandis during question time in the Senate why approximately 80% of telcos were not yet considered compliant with the new scheme.

In a back and forth between Brandis and Ludlam, in which Brandis also revealed that while he doesn’t have a Twitter account he does monitor Twitter, the Attorney-General said that telcos would have until April 2017 to have their data retention systems in place. Ms Tips is wondering whether Brandis in all his Twitter monitoring caught the attempted defence he received from fellow Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald. He’s helping!

The exchange between Ludlam and Brandis did shed some light on another issue, though. Yesterday, Bernard Keane reported that the government had previously promised to legislate this year so that if a company, like say a telco forced to retain data on behalf of the government, suffered a data breach, that company would be obligated to report it. There was no sign where the legislation was, and with just over four sitting weeks left, it was getting a bit tight for the legislation to pass this year. Brandis confirmed to the Senate yesterday that while the legislation would be introduced this year, it was unlikely it will be passed in 2015.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey