TOPICS: Lay off rich guys’ puff on pre-budget gasper

BREAK: Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann light up cigars. Picture: Nine News GO easy on Joe Hockey and his cigars, says Bob Baldwin.

The Treasurer was seen this week savouring a pre-budget gasper with Finance Minister and gifted Arnie impersonator Mathias Cormann. Two rich guys lighting up. It was hard for some critics to inhale.

Lay off, said Mr Baldwin. The Paterson MP, who used to share a house with Mr Hockey in Canberra, pointed out that ‘‘we all have our little vices’’ and it’s ‘‘not a nanny state’’.

‘‘I also took up the odd cigar after a 20-year break, but I gave up in October,’’ he said.

Your body will thank you, Bob. Curious, we asked a Newcastle tobacconist: what’s the going rate for a cigar? The kind a Treasurer might buy?

Dominicans are a bit cheaper, but Cubans start at $18. Or: two-and-a-half trips to the doctor under the government’s new $7 co-payment for a GP visit. Bargain.

WINNER: James Harrison’s dad offered to pay the Topics $101 parking fine in return for his son’s photo in the paper. James turned 10 yesterday. Picture: Marina Neil

THIS is a bit awkward.

After being fined $101 for parking too long on The Hill, Topics proposed (May 14) a one-off levy on readers to help us pay.

Give us $100, we said, and you’ll get to read a glowing profile of yourself in Topics. Then readers started entering bids. Like, lots of them.

‘‘You can’t take people’s money,’’ warned our more discerning colleagues. After a short, loud tantrum, we agreed. The money would go to a charity of the bidder’s choice.

And here’s our winner: Newcastle dad Andrew Harrison wanted us to profile his son James, who had his 10th birthday yesterday.

‘‘Why am I going in the paper?’’ asked James Harrison on the steps of the Newcastle Club. The tousle-haired 10-year-old is sharp like that. He is the son of a lawyer.

Lunch at the club has become a 10th birthday staple for the Harrison siblings – James has two older sisters and a ‘‘younger, annoyinger’’ brother – and the man of the moment had high hopes for the menu.

‘‘Chips would be good,’’ he told Topics.

‘‘Or schnitzel.’’

It’s an appetite befitting a second-rower. In his first season of rugby, James has become a crucial cog of the Hamilton Hawks forward pack.

He’s also blossomed into an all-rounder with Newcastle City, and last summer experienced the singular joy of smacking his first boundary.

There were more gifts to come at the time of writing, but James had already received a coveted Minecraft T-shirt and $50 from dad towards the Apple computer he’s saving for.

It was an expensive day for dad, who generously donated $100 to help injured Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon.

Thanks to Andrew and all who bid, happy birthday to James and congratulations to Newcastle City Council. Looks like you’re getting our money after all.

COPIED: The striking image of the ship Pasha Bulker.

TOPICS (May 8) revealed that the web’s most-stolen image of the Pasha Bulker was, in fact, snapped by Newcastle photographer Murray McKean. It certainly got a response.

We also mentioned that the photo had showed up on T-shirts sold at Charlestown Square. What we didn’t expect was a call from the T-shirt seller.

The chap, who used to own the Zap Copy centre, was polite but stung by the implication of what we wrote. He told us that when he learned the photo was the property of a local shooter, he handed over an amount of money for its use on his shirts. That’s where we’ll leave it. There’s no suggestion of dishonesty on anyone’s part.

The whole episode is a reminder of the pitfalls when someone’s work becomes, suddenly, the property of the internet.