From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

PM’s secret press conference. The Prime Minister’s Office usually sends out media alerts in advance of any of Malcolm Turnbull’s radio or TV interviews or media events in order to allow the media to organise to cover them. This morning, however, interviews on an FM breakfast show and on AM were not announced in advance, except via the PM’s Twitter account, and a subsequent doorstop in the Mural Hall (a rarity for the Prime Minister) came with no media alert. However, word spread through the gallery quickly enough for a large contingent of the press to be there.

In any case, after Turnbull continued to refuse to endorse or condemn the Fair Work Commission’s decision on penalty rates, the member for Wentworth confirmed he would not attend the largest event in his electorate — the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras — on Saturday due to commitments interstate. Turnbull has frequently attended the event in the past, but it is not surprising he is suddenly too busy, considering the AGM at Mardi Gras attempted to uninvite him. Because he has failed to allow a free vote on marriage equality, he would likely face a somewhat hostile crowd.

Plus it’s not clear if he would have had permission from George Christensen, anyway. He did send his well wishes in LGBTI rag Star Observer, in the most bland way possible.

Abetz’s war on rainbows. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz claimed on Tuesday night, in a very cosy interview on 2GB with far-right columnist Miranda Devine, that he had received lots of emails thanking him for complaining about the rainbow flag erected in the Department of Finance.

Devine, like Abetz, believes the rainbow flag is only about marriage equality (it isn’t) and complained about a rainbow pin Defence had allowed officers to wear.

“I would have thought Defence personnel might have been engaged in the genuine task of defending our nation rather than being heavily involved in trying to promote the Mardi Gras, which is a highly political — and might I add — a highly divisive and obnoxious event,” Abetz opined. 

Abetz said “without trying to get the Governor-General involved” that he hoped “these things might not occur again”.

Abetz also complained that Finance was pressuring people into participating in Wear It Purple Day, which he said was a form of “reverse bullying”. Crikey understands Finance is not even the first agency to fly the flag, and that it was approved because it is a community flag.

It is worth pointing out that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Reserve Bank, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and (gasp) the Australian Human Rights Commission will also have floats in the “divisive and obnoxious” parade, not to mention members of Abetz’s own political party. The Liberal Party float has been positioned right behind one devoted to leather, so Ms Tips suspects Liberal members marching will face many arseless chaps as they walk up Oxford Street.

Spotted. It was the opening night of Mark Colvin’s Kidney at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney last night, and no, that doesn’t mean the important organ was out on display. The play, written by Tommy Murphy and directed by David Berthold, tells the true story of how business consultant Mary-Ellen Field came to donate a kidney to ABC broadcaster Mark Colvin. Opening night was an invitation-only event, and our tipster tells us it was a who’s who of the ABC and the chattering classes in Sydney. Spotted in the crowd was writer Benjamin Law, comedian and former ABC host Tom Ballard, Crikey alum Luke Buckmaster, writer Debra Oswald and broadcaster Richard Glover, and commentator Janine Perrett. Our tipster tells us Colvin himself was there with his wife, trying to blend into the crowd at the back of the theatre, as was Field herself.

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock was also in attendance, the audience learned that it was Ruddock whom Field called to ask about Colvin before granting the interview that set off the whole story. Field was a victim of News of the World‘s phone-hacking in 2005, and the play included a few digs at the Murdoch media and Rupert Murdoch himself.

The illustrious history of decentralisation. It hasn’t been a good week for National Party pork-barrelling, with estimates hearings teasing out the bizarre circumstances of Barnaby Joyce’s insistence that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority be relocated from Canberra to his own electorate. The regulator is losing staff hand over fist and the few who have moved to Armidale — one of the few regional centres in the country even colder in winter than Canberra — have been forced to work at the local McDonald’s in order to get wi-fi while an entirely new building is constructed. To distract from this debacle and as part of his plan to fend off One Nation, yesterday Joyce called together Nationals MPs to launch a push for yet more decentralisation of public service departments away from Canberra (Labor left some Macca’s nearby, which photographers loved).

As with most things in politics, we’ve been here before: the great decentraliser wasn’t a Country Party leader but Gough Whitlam, who brought together the NSW and Victorian governments in 1973 to declare that Albury-Wodonga would become a new Canberra, with 300,000 people and a major university, as part of his agenda of decentralisation. Little of the ambition was ever made reality, but an Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation was set up and a significant chunk of the Tax Office still resides in Albury to this day as a result. And what happened to the AWDC? It got abolished by, um, the Abbott government, on January 1, 2015. Will Armidale make it to the 40-year mark?

[Insert your headline here]. After reading Crikey‘s coverage of the minor and micro-parties contesting the upcoming WA state election, a curious tipster decided to google a few of the candidates but found the information on independent candidate Julie Matheson’s website left a lot to the imagination. Matheson’s disregard for titles and labels is in many ways refreshing — she describes herself as “the {Whatever Your Title Is} of {Your Company Name}”. But particularly surprising is seeing the “proudly parochial Western Australian” be so ethereal and abstract about a sense of place, saying that she loves, lives and works “here in {Where You Live}.”

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

Peter Fray

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