In a typical burst of frankness, Jacki Weaver once confessed that, when she was a struggling young actress in Sydney — decades before becoming a Hollywood doyenne — she once stole a bottle of milk from a neighbour’s verandah.

She was a single mum with a young son. She’d haul him along to auditions and often babysitting duties would be with musicians in the orchestra pit.

There was no such thing as a single mother’s pension nor childcare benefits.

How things change. I thought of that when confronted by the massive Omnibus Bill this week and as, I’ll admit, I helped give the vehicle a couple of flat tyres.

Don’t get me wrong. I supported most of the changes to the childcare subsidies — especially with the lowest wage earners, including many single mums, getting 86% of their childcare subsidised.

But (not having any young children) I was shocked, absolutely stunned, to look at an impressive government graph that showed wealthy Australian families, earning between $350,000 and $500,000 a year, had been getting a 50% rebate on childcare. That is Noddyland.

It is true, the Omnibus Bill tapered those benefits after $250,000 but it still gave some taxpayer rebate dollars to people earning half a million a year.

This was one cross crossbencher. I held out and the government finally agreed to support my amendment cutting childcare subsidies to zero at $350,000. I would have liked the kick-in level to be lower but I’m learning that 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

***

I’m glad Insiders picked up on a rather telling vignette from Bill Leak’s memorial at the Sydney Town Hall last Friday.

Tony Abbott was one of the last to arrive. He had that jaw-clenched, cycling-into-the-wind look as he searched for his seat in the front row where Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull, John Howard and Barry Humphries were already sitting. Studiously avoiding eye contact with the Turnbulls, he shook Bazza’s hand, couldn’t find his seat and then realised he had to double back.

On the return run he again avoided the PM and lunged for the hand of the editor-in-chief of the Oz, Paul Whittaker.

I can sympathise a bit. At the huge head table for the AFL Grand Final Breakfast one year, I had my invite but no place card. After a couple of embarrassing trips up and back, in front of 1000 people, I spotted Ron Barassi’s tag so grabbed his seat. I figured he was so famous they’d find him a spot. Never admitted that before. Sorry, Barass.

***

After a goshgolly tour of Sky’s new whiz bang CNN/Fox/London SKY-style studio in Sydney — and a fascinating first time appearance with a new TV media star Adam Giles on PM Live — I bumped into One Nation’s Senator Malcolm Roberts.

He was there for the second hour of the Paul Murray talkfest — which actually is rating better at times than the first hour. Both are much better raters than Bolt, who doesn’t even hit 30,000 to make the Foxtel Top 20 and is beaten by the upstarts Credlin and Keneally. But that’s another media story.

I had just been surprised, on air, by a clip of Pauline Hanson, alongside tireless justice crusader, Bruce Morcombe, announcing her support for a national public register of convicted sex offenders. I was tempted to say “what took you so long?” but, on this issue, I’ll take (because I need) all the support I can get, and was gracious about it. I just wish the government or the Labor opposition would embrace it.

To be fair, I have had the PM pull out his mobile phone and activate an American app to find a convicted sex offender whose details — name, photo, address, crimes, sentence — are required under Megan’s Law, which has been in effect in the US since 1996.

When I mentioned the sex offenders’ register and his leader, Senator Roberts looked at me strangely. Aghast wouldn’t be an exaggeration. 

“Oh, I thought you meant Pauline was on the sex offenders’ register.”

Wouldn’t be dead for quids, as my father would say. When he was really enjoying himself in some mundane fashion, Dad would smile and say: “I wonder what the rich people are doing?” 

***

In a 50-plus year career in newspapers, radio and television I filled a few executive positions and, when a staffer left, the cry would go up at their farewell drinks: “C’mon Hinchey, give us the train speech.”

A member of my senatorial team, Sarah Mennie, left us this week for sunnier (if not greener) pastures. I nicknamed her “Ms. Formal Occasion”. Sarah Mennie — ceremony. Get it?

Time for the Train Speech. 

“If a train pulls into a station and you don’t get on it and it goes to somewhere where you discover you’d have liked to have gone — then it’s your own fucking fault.” 

Peter Fray

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