It was by all accounts a fabulous night at the Mosman Club on Friday as the Liberal Party held one of its first major fundraisers in a campaign to win back the seat of Warringah from Zali Steggall.
The seat’s former occupant Tony Abbott was there with his wife Margie to introduce the guest of honour – newly-promoted assistant defence minister Andrew Hastie, who hails from Western Australia.
Abbott called former SAS commander Hastie “the hope of the side” and heaped praise on Gladys Berejiklian for being “the one premier who hasn’t believed in locking down the state at the first sign of trouble”, according to people in the room.
He also joked that three attempted political assassinations had occurred in the vicinity – Arthur Phillip, Prince Alfred and Arthur Calwell – “so you’ve come to a politically dangerous place”.
Hastie spoke on “Australia’s security challenges in Asia” and took questions, though he mostly deflected when asked about the big political issue of the week – the alleged 2019 rape of Brittany Higgins inside the office of his now-boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
There was a long queue to get into the $80 two-course dinner, which was an alternate drop of lamb or fish (“not particularly fabulous”, according to one guest).
Also in attendance: Liberal senator Hollie Hughes, former Woolies boss and Warringah campaign chairman Roger Corbett, state Liberal MP Felicity Wilson, Indigenous leader Warren Mundine and every aspiring candidate for Warringah including Alex Dore, Jane Buncle, Sasha Grebe, Tim James and Natalie Ward, who all asked questions of Hastie.
While the invitation promised the event would be held “under strict COVID-19 social distancing protocols” in the Mosman Club’s function room, guests had to be reminded not to stand or mingle later in the night.
As fate would have it, Emerald City was sitting downstairs quietly watching the tennis when one of the club’s directors appeared and told a staff member: “You might need to go upstairs and tell them all to sit down.”
Unaware he was next to a journalist, he went on to say that “a lot of them are parliamentarians” who should be more careful because “it could end up in the newspaper”. Indeed.
Notes on a scandal
Hardly a day goes by without a scandal in well-heeled of Double Bay. The latest residents to be plagued by relationship drama are Israeli businessman Eitan Neishlos and his model fiance Lee Levi who Emerald City hears have quietly split.
The glamour couple, eager to connect with the who’s who of the Harbour City, made quite the entrance to Sydney society when they hosted a lavish surprise engagement party at the Opera House in December 2019, hiring publicist Sally Burleigh to compile the guestlist.
Now the rumour mill has gone into overdrive that despite living with Neishlos, Levi has called off their engagement and is now dating celebrity personal trainer Sam Karam, cousin of deceased Kings Cross stand-over man and gang leader Danny Karam.
Emerald City hears the pair began a relationship after training together at the Intercontinental Hotel’s gym where Neishlos was also a previous client of Karam’s.
The Danish-Israeli beauty laughed off the rumour as “nonsense” when contacted for comment, but wouldn’t talk about the status of her relationship with Neishlos. However, several sources within the eastern suburbs social set have spied the couple looking loved up in Double Bay and Potts Point.
One well-placed source suggested Levi may have tired of Neishlos’ obsession with taking down his former friend, Cecilia Summer. Last week it emerged Neishlos launched a lawsuit against Summer alleging she was behind an anonymous email smear campaign.
Once a regular fixture in gossip columns like this one, Summer now tends to keep a lower profile.
Mum’s the word
The severity of Facebook’s news purge really hit home when Sydney’s beloved North Shore Mums page became collateral damage on Thursday morning. Luckily Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was on the case, assuring reporters at lunchtime he had spoken with the page’s administrator and its demise was of “significant concern” to the government.
Onlookers assumed this must have been one very persistent mother to reach the minister in the midst of such a busy day.
But North Shore Mums founder Rachel Chappell told Emerald City it was actually Fletcher who phoned her. In fact, she was rung twice – first by his office, then by the minister himself.
“I spoke to him for 10 or 15 minutes to explain the impact [the blockage] had on my business,” Chappell said. “He was quite empathetic and wanted to make sure that the smaller businesses weren’t caught up in the crossfire.”
By about 7pm Thursday the North Shore Mums page had magically reappeared. Chappell says she hadn’t lodged an appeal and Fletcher didn’t raise the page with Facebook either. But no doubt Facebook’s operatives were watching the minister’s press conference – so maybe speaking to your MP really does work wonders after all.
Lucy Manly is a reporter and gossip columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald.