From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

The messy business of preselecting Liberal women. In Victoria, one of the key proponents of getting women into Parliament has been retiring Liberal politician Louise Asher. That is why eyebrows were raised when her state seat — Brighton — went not to a woman, but to former Napthine government staffer James Newbury. Those in the running included upper house MP Margaret Fitzherbert, as well as former Bayside mayor Felicity Frederico. But Asher, proud proponent of women in the Libs, threw her support behind Newbury instead.

The reason for her doing this has prompted a massive amount of speculation in Victorian Liberal circles. Just what was she thinking? Well, we’ve heard a few theories.

One Crikey tipster reckons it was all part of a deal to get Georgina Downer up in Goldstein. When Downer’s support didn’t look strong, the tipster said, Asher convinced Newbury to drop his support for his long-time ally Denis Dragovic, who was also running in the seat with the support of former contender Marcus Bastiaan (who withdrew his bid for the seat early) as well as Newbury.  Newbury dropped Dragovic and decided to back Downer. There was supposedly a trade-off: Asher would back Newbury at his preselection in exchange for Newbury backing Downer. The factional dealing wasn’t enough to get Downer in; the seat went to Tim Wilson instead.

Another informed tipster, however, said Asher’s support for Downer in Goldstein was always rather strategic. She had always intended to support Newbury for her seat and figured supporting a woman in Goldstein would give her an out when she backed a man a few months later, this source said.

Yet another source — who voted in the Brighton preselection — said Asher really had no choice but to support Newbury, as she couldn’t vote for the two women running for various reasons. Fitzherbert narrowly won preselection to the Victorian upper house in the lead-up to the 2014 election, and at the time, this source said, promised not to run for a lower-house seat in return for support. Putting her name forward for Brighton was seen as as turning her back on this promise. And Frederico, this source said, wasn’t as good a candidate as Newbury. “Both Felicity [Frederico] and Margaret [Fitzherbert] didn’t end up with a lot of votes because everyone knew this,” the source said.

Asher took to local ABC radio earlier this week to downplay the impact of any one preselection on the Liberal Party’s efforts to get women into Parliament. She told Jon Faine:

“The party has had a lot of problems in getting women into safer seats. [But] I don’t think you can say the party is anti-women over one Brighton preselection.

“What we’ve done as a group — I didn’t vote, MPs don’t have votes on these things — is select in Brighton’s case a 38-year-old outstanding man, and I think he will go far.”

Age staff told to shut out the ‘white noise’. As The Age bids farewell to a tumultuous week, the man in charge now the dust has settled is Alex Lavelle. Lavelle, who’s quite popular in the newsroom, is now acting editor-in-chief following Mark Forbes’ very brief reign. In an email to staff sent yesterday, he tried to steady the ship, as well as spruik the masthead’s credentials on gender equality, which are now somewhat tarnished. Lavelle urged his newsroom to shut out the “white noise” (is that what sexual harassment complaints are called these days?) and “celebrate who we are and what we do”:

“You have great colleagues, a great job and you are doing great work. Work that makes a difference every day. Sure there are frustrations. There are in every workplace. There are uncertainties here, as there are in life.

“But rather than dwell on the things that we can’t control, let’s concentrate on what we do best — producing top quality journalism that our audience wants to read, watch and listen to. Negativity is unhelpful and, frankly, boring.”

And anyway, he added, progress was being made by the gender diversity group, started at The Age earlier this year with a focus on “the gender pay gap and career progression”.

“We have also been working towards 50% of the articles on the opinion pages in the paper being by women.”

An analysis by Women in Media of coverage from Feb 1 to Feb 21 this year found 88% of The Age‘s columnists were men — the worst gender breakdown among the newspapers studied. Though perhaps the figure has improved since then. Lavelle continued:

“We need to recognise and break down unconscious bias. And we need to raise awareness of the issue of gender equality and diversity wherever possible.

“Equality and diversity are not things that just happen. We need to work hard together to achieve them.

Lavelle’s “top priority”, he added, “is to do all I can do to fight for gender equality and diversity in our news room”. Which is an interesting statement, given the growing calls for The Age to break a 162-year tradition by appointing a female editor-in-chief. Lots of people in the newsroom are hoping Lavelle’s position is made permanent. But could he step aside for a woman? We’ll wait and see.

The Age‘s editorial Christmas party is tonight. We bet it’s a highly respectful affair.

Poor Peppa. The cartoon pig can’t seem to catch a break. First she was preaching radical feminism, then Mark Scott threatened to sacrifice her on the altar of ABC budget cuts, and now the Muslims are out for her. At least, that’s what the Oz said yesterday, prompting a global media frenzy, after National Imams Council head Shady Alsuleiman threw his support behind a maker of Islamic cartoons.

But the Sheikh, one of several Muslims who are, the Oz implied, are out to get Peppa, hit back, saying he’d never even heard of her. “This ridiculous media frenzy about the Peppa Pig cartoon is based firstly on a misleading headline and secondly on an insatiable appetite by some media outlets to misrepresent and embellish the reality for sensationalist propaganda purposes,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Today is the first time I came to know of the program.” Oh, don’t say that, Peppa’s suffered enough!

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Keeping out the riff-raff. The submissions are piling up for the 2016 federal election inquiry, and we thought we’d use the opportunity to regale you with one of our favourites. The Australian Monarchist League, that band of populists, has thrown its support behind voter ID. Citing a Fairfax report that said 18,343 people had been contacted by the AEC about their names being ticked off more than once on polling day, AML national chair Philip Benwell writes:

“I am writing to express the concerns that the Australian Monarchist League has in regard to what seems to be an endemic problem within the Australian voting system where certain miscreants appear to fraudulently vote on more than one occasion.”

The United States has widespread voter ID laws, which are an effective tactic for preventing the poor, young or otherwise disadvantaged people from voting. But the Monarchists insist that isn’t their intention: if you’re poor or in poor health, they say, maybe you could get a letter from your doctor, or from Centrelink. Because making the unemployed line up for hours at Centrelink for a letter allowing them to vote isn’t going to discourage them from doing so …

centrelinktovote

The Monarchists aren’t the first on the conservative side of politics to talk of voter ID in recent days. The NSW parliamentary report on the 2015 state election recommends that NSW voters be required to produce photo ID before casting their vote.

One Nation’s punctuation-challenged support. Stray apostrophes have gotten all the attention on One Nation’s latest campaign

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Peter Fray

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