Baillieu needs discipline in media ranks. Some interesting insights from a Spring Street insider in the wake of the recent police scandal. Seems Ted Baillieu’s media unit could learn a thing or two from John Brumby …

“One of the reforms I am tipping will come out of this is a serious restructure of the Ballieu government’s media operation. As someone who saw the Bracks/Brumby spin machine in full swing, it was a remarkably disciplined show and it is fair to say that over the 11 years of government there were relatively few scandals from ‘own goals’ — the Windsor the obvious exception. Ministerial advisers were forbidden on pain of death to talk to journalists ala Weston style with all media channelled through press secretaries. This approach may have frustrated journos but it may have given the ALP an extra four years in government.

“Even if Weston was a rogue operator, the Libs have shunned the command and control structure of McCrohan et al now that press secretaries sit in ministerial offices. Cafagna may have shunned this sort of spin heavy approach to promote the notion of them being ‘spin free’ but clearly, as the Weston case demonstrates, has given them their first full-blooded crisis in less than 12 months. So if the Libs are smart — which some of them are — they will learn fast and media management should be the first area they fix.”

Happy snaps in the Customs queue. More tales from the Customs queue, after our story on Tuesday about how officers react to the use of mobiles and cameras. Customs says it doesn’t mind happy snaps, but a Crikey reader has another experience:

“I was at the counter in Departures at Sydney Airport last month and the man who was serving my partner and myself jumped out from behind his counter to loudly chide a tourist who had taken a photo (of her friend) in the queue. The Customs guy then then stood over her until she had deleted the photos on her camera — she even had to argue with him to keep photos that had been taken outside the Departures area. Was an SLR, not a phone camera, but still — it took ages and meanwhile we stood waiting for the Customs guy to come back and stamp our passports. He was gesticulating at the signs throughout his lecture and made a massive scene, which seemed really over the top, to us, with the other 30 or so people in the queue trying to figure out what was going on.”

Corporate Christmas party secrets. ‘Tis the season for corporate Christmas parties. And the gossip — like the booze — flows freely. Yesterday, The Courier Mail reported Channel Seven had banned staff Christmas parties as a cost-cutting measure. Is your company being a Scrooge on the festive booze-up? Or what lavish excursion and gifts are they bestowing to win the loyalty of tired staff? We know there’s plenty of stories out there — drop us a line or send us your tip anonymously. Cheers.

Qantas wants your views. “Our customers are important to us and your satisfaction with the Qantas experience is at the forefront of everything we do,” the company writes via a marketing company seeking feedback on the state of the carrier. How timely. A Crikey reader forwarded this yesterday …

Among the questions: is Qantas committed to charitable and social issues?; committed to the environment?; offers value for money to its customers?; provides good quality products/services?; is innovative, finding new ways of improving its products/services?; is successful?; cares for its shareholders?; cares for its employees? No doubt staff aren’t among the recipients.

Sorry for grounding, how about some points? Is Qantas also trying to sweeten up customers with free frequent flier points? Writes one correspondent: “Are you aware of anyone else receiving Qantas Frequent Flyer points? I noticed them immediately as I’d been planning to transfer some to my wife for a Christmas break, then they suddenly jumped! I checked the activity statement and it says ‘Congratulations! Loyalty Bonus!” and credited my account 5000 points.” Bonus indeed. Has anyone else got lucky?

Elderly collapse while Qantas delays. And finally on Qantas, we received this email from stranded passenger Nye Bowen which we thought was worth reproducing — “so that hopefully Joyce and his cronies can understand the human suffering they inflicted unnecessarily on so many people” …

Together with approximately 300 other unfortunate passengers, I was stranded in Buenos Aires Argentina from Saturday 29st October (just hours after the unannounced grounding took place) until late on Monday 31st October due to our Qantas Flight QF18 being cancelled. No communication whatsoever, just a text message from Qantas saying “Your Flight QF18 has been cancelled, please call Qantas on 1300 659 116”. Of course this is an Australian 1300 number. Not particularly helpful for the thousands of hapless passengers stranded in remote locales. I managed to dial the Qantas 1300 number in Australia finally from my Buenos Aires hotel and spent over one hour on hold then gave up. The bill on my hotel account for this call was over AUD $80 (for the pleasure of listening to recorded messaged extolling the virtues of Qantas and exciting holiday options I may wish to consider). My wife back in Australia spent a total of 8 hours on hold to the same number also to no avail.

Back in Buenos Aires, after 7 hours of trying, with the assistance from the Concierge at the Sofitel Buenos Aires, I finally managed to contact Qantas ground staff representatives at Buenos Aires International Airport. They told me to go to the Sheraton Hotel where we would be “taken care of”. Together with the other 40 or so Business Class passengers from QF18 that had turned up at the Buenos Aires Sheraton (Qantas had sent the Economy passengers to some other hotel, which staggered me because I was struggling to understand how much further down-market you could go in relation to hotels), I spent the next 48 hours with absolutely no communication whatsoever from Qantas. Nothing. None of the other 40 business class passengers had heard anything either. Nothing. Most of my group of stranded QF18 passengers (including myself) were Gold or Platinum Frequent Flyers — relevant here only in the sense that one would assume Qantas would actually value premium passengers and especially ones high up the pecking order of their Qantas loyalty program (come to think of it “Qantas Loyalty” could actually be construed as an oxymoron…). I had my colleagues back in Australia get on the case and they told me that my return ticket had disappeared entirely from the Qantas booking system. In fact it was showing that I had already used the ticket. Thus it was not even possible to book me on another flight. This is exactly the scenario that other stranded QF18 passengers in Buenos Aires said had happened to them — their ticket reservation for their return flight to Australia had disappeared from the Qantas reservation system.

Finally, on Monday morning (Buenos Aires time — midnight Monday Australian time) I received a call in my room at 0845 from the Sheraton Reception telling me we had to be in a bus in 15 minutes time that would take all the stranded Qantas passengers to the Buenos Aires international airport. The Sheraton Hotel staff had no information whatsoever, only that we had to go.

At Buenos Aires airport, we all stood in a queue for over three hours at the (Business Class) check-in counter with no information. After one and a half hours, a really pleasant Australian gentleman in his early 80s in our queue (who had stoically stood uncomplaining) finally collapsed from exhaustion. We asked the ground staff for a wheel-chair — they did not have one. We asked the Qantas ground staff for assistance for this man — they could not help. We asked if he could be checked in ahead of others. They could not help. So we made this poor chap comfortable on a baggage trolley with some cases and jackets and waited. After over three hours in the queue, and a further three hours of waiting, we finally boarded our aircraft. Well done Mr Joyce and your handsomely remunerated buddies — you have allowed elderly Australians to stand in queues for hours until they literally collapse with fatigue. Nice one. But of course your actions are entirely justified. How pathetic you all are. No excuses on either side. Utter chaos, total incompetence, sheer contempt for others. Disgraceful.

It will be very interesting to watch the myriad litigation that emerges from this fiasco.