Sticky wicket for Conroy’s mayor. ALP factional strongman and Communications Minister Steven Conroy has an interesting dilemma with one of his local government apparatchiks tonight as Hobsons Bay council in Melbourne’s western suburbs gathers to consider the adverse Councillor Conduct Panel finding against deputy mayor Tony Briffa. Briffa was instrumental in elevating Michael Raffoul, a member of Conroy’s local ALP branch, to the mayoralty this year in a tight 4-3 vote. However, the deal to give Briffa the robes next year is now looking difficult, we’re told, especially after this recent Herald Sun story about his abusive emails to a female resident.

We’re told that under the Brumby government legislation to deal with conduct breaches by councillors, a council is required to debate the findings of a Councillor Conduct Panel report at the first council meeting after the panellists deliver their public findings. That would be tonight, but the agenda on the Hobsons Bay website makes no mention of it. Surely the local Conroy-sponsored mayor isn’t going to take the governance low road and vote to make an adverse public report against his factional mate confidential? Could the 2012 mayoralty swing on this? Such a move might mean the report could never be publicly discussed, even by former Hobsons Bay mayor Peter Hemphill, the News Corp journalist who successfully brought the action.

PR man beats up vitamin tent. Melbourne media types are marvelling at the power of a good PR person. Swisse Vitamins will have a marquee at this year’s Melbourne Cup carnival and the Sunday Herald Sun was galloping over everyone to splash the news throughout its pages, with priceless spreads on page 7, 35, 108 and 111 (Liz and Shane are being lured in, the paper exclusively revealed). This from gossip guru Luke Dennehy, who had already told readers about the new tent the previous Sunday, and Swisse’s carnival involvement in August, supported by his weekday gossip colleague Fiona Byrne in two other stories puffing the company.

And the man behind it all? That would be one Mitch Catlin, Myer’s former star spinner, who is now working on the Swisse spruik. One Crikey mole notes the strong bond between Catlin, Byrne and Dennehy. “When Mitch was at Myer, Fiona and Luke raved about everything Myer and its marquee,” they say. “Not much press about the Myer marquee this year. Nothing at all.” Hard to disagree with our spy who reckons it’s the “biggest beat up since the 1961 Mixmaster Competition”.

The midnight oil in Vic parliament. Victorian parliamentary staff were chugging coffee last week as the Legislative Council sat until 4:30am Wednesday. The Liberal Party decided that the best time to debate armed protective service officers on train stations and dangerous dogs legislation — this, one parliament watcher notes, despite still having the rest of the week ahead of them (they ended up finishing six hours earlier than usual on the last day of the sitting week) and also having control of the upper and lower houses.

“Quite apart from any concerns that anyone might have about the administration of democracy after midnight, spare a thought for the parliamentary staff who, in some cases, weren’t able to leave until after 5am and then expected to resume work roughly two hours later,” our spy reports. “Also consider the position of anyone who wants to pursue the obvious workplace relations issues; the ultimate managers of the parliament — all staff across all parliamentary services — are the speaker and the president. So the only people you could raise concerns with were complicit in the decision for everyone to be there in the first place. Must be a headache for the HR manager of parliament, I just hope the workers have a strong union.”

Flood victims battling insurers. Insurance companies are still lagging on flood payments in Queensland, according to one local: “Quite a lot of people in Ipswich are still waiting for something to happen with their houses while those that were not insured and received the premier’s money are back in their houses. They are arguments over scope of works and supplying inferior products.”

No news for NAB bankers. An irate banker at NAB has just learnt that his newspapers subscription has been cancelled. First NAB cut back on overseas travel, he grumbles, and now they’ve been told newspaper subscriptions are being cancelled along with memberships to professional organisations. “We all read the AFR,” they told Crikey. “How are we meant to keep up with what our customers are doing if our subscription is cancelled?” Would he buy the paper himself? Probably not. Expect subscriptions numbers to fall, he reckons: “I think we would be a few per cent of their entire subscription base.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey