From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Making a mess of a media release. If legislation is like making a sausage — deserving to be kept out of sight of those who’ll end up consuming it — the process of creating media releases is even less elegant, perhaps akin to making dog food. Courtesy of the office of Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, yesterday we got to see how the Nats try to conjure the appearance of rural and regional opinion. An adviser sent out what’s known as a “shell media release” — a template to which local members can add their names and then distribute under their own letterhead as their own work. “Senator McKenzie has asked me to send you the attached suggested Shell Media Release on calling for submissions to her in inquiry in to by the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on what local residents think and how they believe the current ABC can improve its services to regional and rural areas,” the adviser said. McKenzie currently has a private member’s bill before Parliament, under consideration by the Environment and Communications committee, that would force the ABC to allocate more resources to regional journalism (although as her colleagues would tell her, it’s commercial media that have been cutting resources in regional journalism). Either because of an errant email address or of a suitably broad-minded approach that Labor MPs might want to encourage support for McKenzie’s bill as well, the template went to all senators and members. Oddly, McKenzie’s office also omitted any reference to the recent work of ACMA showing more than 90% of people in regional communities being satisfied with access to local content.

Leaving on a jet plane. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was spotted on a Virgin flight from Sydney to Melbourne on Sunday afternoon — slumming it with the plebs in economy class. Shorten at the back of the plane wouldn’t be that remarkable, except that his wife, Chloe, and his staffers spent the hour-long flight in business. Did Shorten draw the short straw, or did he want his face in front of more possible voters? Either way, it was definitely noticed.

Cunneen’s new gig. Next month marks Commonwealth Day (we hadn’t heard of it either), which is held on the second Monday in March every year and is “an opportunity to promote understanding on global issues, international co-operation and the work of the Commonwealth’s organisations, which aim to improve the lives of its citizens”. This year the Commonwealth Day Council of NSW is promoting its lunch with an address by “controversial lawyer” (its words) Margaret Cunneen.

“A brilliant lawyer who has achieved celebrity status for her ground breaking work in protecting the rights of victims of crime will be the guest speaker at this year’s Commonwealth Day lunch at Parliament House, Sydney on Monday, 14 March, 2016,” the release reads.

The theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day is “An inclusive Commonwealth,” and the NSW Council believes that Cunneen fits the bill:

“This theme resonates well with Cunneen who states that inclusivity requires a mature and empathetic approach to those who have fallen victim to the uncompromising neoPuritanism that has engulfed our western society.

“She will challenge the guests and society in general to resist the moral guardians of the ‘twitter sphere’ and the erosion of individual privacy.

“This, Cunneen says, encourages the public shaming of people who represent something the chattering classes deem ‘temporarily unpopular’.”

The release makes no explicit reference to Cunneen’s recent and long-running battes with ICAC over secretly taped phone calls in which she told a tow-truck driver that she had sent a message to her son’s girlfriend telling her to fake chest pains to avoid a breath test after a car accident, but as it promises discussion about “the uncompromising neoPuritanism that has engulfed our western society,” we are keen for tickets.

Click go the shears? Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has long been renowned for his beautiful head of hair (Ludlam’s hair has several times come close to winning Crikey‘s prestigious Sexiest Pollie of the Year award all by itself), but his luscious locks could be in danger — in the name of charity, of course. Ludlam’s hair, nicknamed “Gary” by First Dog on the Moon in Crikey three years ago, has been the Greens’ best policy offering in years, and it even has its own Twitter account. Now Ludlam is taking part in Shave for a Cure to raise money for leukaemia research — except that he might not actually get the clippers out. Donors have the option to pledge their dollars to “save Gary” or “shave Gary”, meaning that the $5000 target could be met without touching a hair on his head. The pledges so far seem skewed towards saving the hair, but that doesn’t seem like fun to us. Ms Tips agrees with the donor who argued: “Shave Gary. We need to know the hair is real and can grow back.” It’s all in the name of transparency — the people deserve to know.

Ewen Jones’ hand grenade. It was former treasurer Joe Hockey who told Australians to “have a go”, a message that Queensland LNP backbencher Ewen Jones seems to have taken to heart. At a photo opportunity at Lavarack Barracks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday, Jones picked up a hand grenade and started throwing it up in the air, catching it deftly a few times. The fun ended when Turnbull said “we’ll leave handling of weapons to the professionals,” at which Jones placed the grenade back on the table looking like his Christmas present had been taken away.

ewen jones hand grenade

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Peter Fray

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