From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Ohio Joe just happens to avoid Bishop. Some eyebrows were raised by our ambassador to Washington Joe Hockey’s attendance at last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland. Hockey is attending both the Nuremberg rally Republican convention (from where he enthusiastically tweeted) and the Clinton coronation this week in Philadelphia. All well and good, except … that proved awfully convenient for Hockey, since he missed the arrival of his boss, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and former colleague Marise Payne, now Defence Minister, in Washington. Both went to DC last week to attend the Counter-ISIL Coalition Foreign and Defence Ministers’ meeting.

It’s customary that when the foreign minister visits a country, the ambassador is on hand to greet them, and with the meeting based in Washington, the resources of the embassy would have been deployed to support the Australian team (the DC embassy has a substantial military and intelligence representation in addition to DFAT staff). But being in Cleveland meant Hockey missed out on his meet-and-greet duties for Bishop, which Hockey might have been pleased about given Bishop’s role in relation to the ouster of Tony Abbott and Hockey last September (imagine the icy atmosphere in the car).

According to a Crikey tipster, Hockey insisted on the embassy’s senior media officer and a team of junior officials spending the week with him in Cleveland, leaving a junior public affairs officer to look after Bishop and Payne. What’s more important: Hockey personally witnessing Trump’s nomination speech and gladhanding the decidedly lightweight GOP representatives at the convention (remember, no Mitt Romney, no Bushes, a lot of state and federal GOP figures staying away) or fighting Islamic State? We asked DFAT for comment and were told by a spokesperson:

“It has been the long-standing practice for the Australian Embassy to the United States to engage with the campaigns of leading presidential candidates and to observe major campaign events, such as the party National Conventions. Ambassador Hockey, accompanied by staff from the Embassy, attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio (18-21 July) and is attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (25-28 July) to engage each campaign on their foreign and trade policy priorities.

It is standard practice for a Head of Mission to greet a Minister’s party on arrival but there are many occasions when Heads of Mission have other competing commitments in their countries of accreditation. On this occasion, Ministers Bishop and Payne were met by a senior official of the Embassy which is standard practice in these circumstances.”

Downer’s downer on former business. There was an interesting snide insult hurled by former foreign minister Alexander Downer, currently Australian high commissioner to London, at his former spin doctoring business partners Ian Smith and Andrew Butcher in a ritzy lunch interview with The Australian Financial Review over the weekend:

“Before moving to London, Downer sat on a number of corporate boards and worked for high-end corporate advisory firm Bespoke Approach alongside influential lobbyist Ian Smith and one-time Murdoch spin doctor Andrew Butcher. It seems there are no plans to return to the private sector.

‘It’s nice to make money and that business certainly made good money but I just didn’t find it very rewarding,’ he says with another laugh. ‘How about that — I didn’t find making money very rewarding. No, I didn’t find it intellectually stimulating enough … ‘”

The art of diplomacy really seems to suit the former failed opposition leader.

PFLAG polls on plebiscite. LGBTI lobby group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is currently polling LGBTI people on whether the group should focus its energy on continuing to oppose the plebiscite or begin focusing on the yes campaign. It’s one of several LGBTI groups having to decide whether to stop worrying and learn to love the plebiscite or fight it until the bitter end.

It comes after last week the group released the results of a Galaxy poll that showed that, contrary to the government’s line that the plebiscite has popular support, when the plebiscite is actually explained to people support drops significantly.

Labor is still pushing for a free vote in Parliament when sitting resumes at the end of next month. But Attorney-General George Brandis told the ABC yesterday the plebiscite would be the only way to progress the issue in the near future. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote to Malcolm Turnbull today calling the plebiscite “harmful” and asking for Turnbull to abandon the policy. The government is getting advice on the timing of the plebiscite from the AEC, and the question is likely to be put to cabinet in the next few weeks. It’ll be a majority vote, most likely, but there will still be electorate-by-electorate reporting, meaning that right-wing MPs who want an excuse to ignore the majority opinion can back out if their electorates say no.

Keep calm and carry on, comrades. There were ructions in the Labor Party last week as leader Bill Shorten saved Kim Carr from being dumped from the frontbench, after Carr’s own Socialist Left faction decided it did not want him among their number to gain a portfolio in the shadow ministry. Carr kicked up a stink and even started a breakaway Left faction, meeting with Gavin Marshall and others separate to the main faction. Victorian Socialist Left secretary Matthew Hilakari wrote to “comrades” on Friday afternoon, saying that despite “challenging times” there was nothing to worry about:

“This week several members of the Federal Parliamentary Left split to form a separate group within the broader Federal Parliamentary caucus.

“The events in Canberra have have no bearing on the Victorian SL.

“The contingent of Victorian SL members to the Parliamentary Left is nine with four now caucusing separately.

“We have seen over many years a tendency for the National Left to fragment and reunite as they work through differences. During these challenging times members participating in these national forums still remain members of their state left affiliates.

“The SL members in the Shadow Ministry remain the same: Brendan O’Connor, Catherine King, Jenny Macklin and Kim Carr.”

New slop on offer. As MPs and senators return to Parliament House and newbies learn the ropes, there’s at least something to look forward to. The APH dining room, otherwise known as “the Trough”, has told staffers that it is “responding to feedback” after changes to the menu and that it is bringing back the $9 roast, which sounds impossibly cheap to Ms Tips. One tipster shared his feedback with Ms Tips, saying the Trough was “highly commended for availability of chicken salt”. But another staffer complained about the lack of vegetarian options. In very important work, the Department of Parliamentary Services has also promised “clearer presentation of menu options” and an attendant to help people deal with the new menu.

The Trough is where former MP Clive Palmer was heard speaking with former Senator Dio Wang, saying that Senator Jacqui Lambie, then a member of the Palmer United Party, was “not very bright”. The gossip, often, is much better than the food.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey