Mad monk bags a model for book launch

Tony Abbott, Sarah Murdoch and her husband Lachlan at the Battlelines launch.
Tony Abbott, Sarah Murdoch and her husband Lachlan at the Battlelines launch.

THE DIARY

When Sarah Murdoch checks her phone messages she might expect one from her husband, Lachlan. Or her agent. Or one of her protege models. But Tony Abbott? The host of Australia’s Next Top Model revealed Abbott’s call yesterday.

"He left me quite a long message which went something like this: ‘Hi Sarah, um, well I’ve written this book, and it might be controversial, or – not controversial in the negative sense, although there are some people who don’t like me, or some of my ideas anyway …’’

Murdoch, like Abbott, is a strident Sea Eagles fan. She is counted among the Eagles’ Angels, a group of noted women who barrack for Manly. But unlike Abbott she is not known for her strident conservatism.

Nevertheless she launched Abbott’s book Battlelines at the Wharf Restaurant yesterday. More obvious choices for the role, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull, cheered from the sidelines over lunch at Lucio’s later.

Murdoch said she was pleased to launch the book. ‘‘Not only because I’ve known you for some time, but because I have read Battlelines and, in fact, I couldn’t put it down. It’s striking what a good writer Tony really is."

For Abbott, there may be a simpler explanation. "My children only became interested in this book when they found out you were going to launch it,’’ he told her.

He praised her "beauty, grace and character", while Murdoch spoke of his "strength of character", his "subtleness" and his status as "one of the intellectual heavyweights of the Liberal Party".

Abbott said: ‘‘I now feel like I could be a finalist in one of your coming programs, Australia’s Next Top Politician.’’ Ahem. That would be Turnbull, wouldn’t it?

At lunch, Abbott thanked Murdoch’s husband, who was there, for "allowing" her to launch the book, a gesture that provoked splutters from the Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler, then apologies from Abbott.

But any awkwardness was forgotten as Abbott’s newborn volume was enthusiastically toasted. "And John and I will toast the Queen," he added. And they did.

ALL FIRED UP

From shark-infested waters to lost bushwalkers, the foreign media does little to counter Australia’s reputation as a dangerous land. Hollywood gossip websites and British tabloids are reporting that Tom Cruise’s missus, Katie Holmes, ‘‘narrowly escaped disaster’’ in Melbourne at the weekend when a car she was in burst into flames. It was minutes after she got out, they reported, but still …

Paparazzi had followed Holmes to Melbourne, where she is working on a horror flick, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, also starring Guy Pearce. A ‘‘source’’ told The Mail Online: ‘‘Katie was very shaken by the ordeal … She took the rest of the day off.’’ But a spokeswoman for the production company Miramax said it was nowhere near as dire. ‘‘The special-effects crew were working on one of the cars … when the battery short-circuited and melted.’’ Holmes was not on set at the time and ‘‘was totally unaware it had even happened. It was such a non-event.’’

I’M NO PATSY

Bryan Wiseman is furious. The former Home and Away actor is dodging calls from London reporters who want to know all about his revelations of ‘‘commonplace’’ drug abuse on the show. The problem, Wiseman says, is that he never said it was happening now.

‘‘How on earth can I comment on people I have never met or worked with?’’ he told The Diary yesterday. ‘‘I was on the show between 1998 and 2003. I don’t know the current cast and, of course, they don’t know me.’’

Wiseman said he was ‘‘railroaded’’ into a story by The Sunday Telegraph that devoted half a page to his first-person account of young actors snorting cocaine, popping pills and snorting again at work so they could perform while hungover. ‘‘It makes it look like the present tense,’’ he said.

Wiseman told The Diary he had been led to believe he would be one of four actors, including three still on the show, commenting on the ‘‘culture’’ at Home and Away, which may serve as a positive warning about drug abuse.

The Sunday Tele editor, Neil Breen, replied: ‘‘If he was railroaded, why did he pose for a photo for us in northern Queensland?’’ Because, Wiseman says, he had no reason to believe he would be made to look like a ‘‘patsy’’.

HEALTH WAITING LIST

When the report on the future of Australia’s health system came down on Monday, it was supposed to be available online from ‘‘approximately 10.30am’’. If midday is approximately 10.30am, then it all went to plan.

But doctors, nurses and health administrators – and hundreds more who were eagerly awaiting their most important news since the introduction of Medicare – did not think so. When they finally got the report, it came without page numbers or an index to guide them through the 300-odd pages and 123 recommendations.

The IT people at the Federal Department of Health and Ageing are said to have had a ‘‘bleeding and graphics’’ problem, which prevented them launching the document as a PDF. That gremlin was eventually sorted out, but we’re told they still have a bleeding ears problem. (For those who don’t know, PDF stands for ‘‘portable document format’’. We’re assured that the IT people at Health know this.)

WITH BIG IN JAPAN

THE Gold Coast will become an audition hot spot next month for Universal Studios Japan, which is on a worldwide recruitment drive for singers, dancers and actors. Auditions will also be held in Melbourne, but not Sydney. More than 150 performers are expected for the Gold Coast audition, competing with 3500 other hopefuls for just 220 jobs at the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka, where Australians account for up to 30 per cent of foreign entertainers at any one time. Successful candidates receive return air fares, a fully furnished flat, a monthly salary in US dollars, a daily living allowance in yen, medical insurance, train passes and a gym membership.