From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Writers’ festival gets out of hand. Literary circles are gossiping about a rather amusing dinner party incident involving a high-profile international author in town for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Word is that dinner with the author’s publisher got out of hand (ahem) after a female staffer stuck her hand down the author’s pants while they were all sitting at the table. All convivial, of course, although we heard the staffer got fired.  The publisher assures Crikey that the incident didn’t happen — “definitely not” — but that it had been a “very fun evening” and no one had lost their job. Others are sure it happened. Heard anything more about it? Please give us the gossip.

Inside The Voice, try to understand it. Not everything is as it seems when it comes to Channel Nine’s chair-spinning hit The Voice, according to spies in the audience for last night’s filming at Sydney’s Fox Studios. Last night’s “team Keith” and “team Joel” performances, for example, were presented to the public as if they were live. In fact, they were prerecorded well before the live show kicked off — and were filmed twice each because producers didn’t approve of the crowd’s noise levels (too soft) or clapping rhythms (too fast).

And don’t get excited when you see your favourite contestant receive a standing ovation. Audience members are harangued during virtually every ad break to give the singers a standing O even if they hated the performance. Ahh, the magic of television …

Baillieu to cut health funding? We’re hearing rumours the Baillieu government is planning to either completely or substantially cut about $20 million in funding to the community and women’s health sector for its delivery of integrated health promotion. This despite a new report out today examining the health savings possible if the social determinants of health were addressed. A true rumour or scaremongering from the opposition?

UniSyd VC not the “academic’s academic” he claims. One prominent professor from the University of Sydney wrote to Crikey to express their dismay at the actions of vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence:

“On May 12, Sydney Morning Herald readers were treated to an “intimate” conversation with the University of Sydney’s vice-chancellor, Dr Michael Spence. We learnt that Michael plays the oboe and learnt Chinese and rowing. We were informed that the “God bit” drives him but the nature of the God bit was not specified. Perhaps it refers to megalomania or messianism because last week, university staff were invited to view the university’s annual report for 2011 in which salaries and bonuses to the senior executive staff were presented.

Our VC, who is paid an annual salary of $744,143 has awarded himself a performance bonus of $167,432. The purported reasons for the bonus were (incomprehensibly) given as ’embedding of the new divisional structure … negotiation with the federal government of the University’s first full mission-based compact … and received a most positive report on the quality audit of the University …’ and other equally nebulous ‘achievements’ that surely constitute part of his core duties, if anyone can understand what they mean, for which he is paid $744,143. By the way, the positive audit was due to the collective performance of his staff, not to him, but he has no difficulty taking full credit and monetary bonuses for this!

I wonder if our VC realises that his bonus constitutes the entire annual salary of a professor of the university over which he presides. Is he seriously arguing that he performs the equivalent of a professor’s role over and above his core duties to warrant such an obscene bonus?

Equally excessive salaries and bonuses were also bestowed upon the deputy vice-chancellors. All this in the face of cries of financial crisis and the need for fiscal prudence!

The very people who attempted to ram through job cuts, initially targeting 364 University of Sydney staff, are sitting on clover or laughing all the way to bank with bonuses that could have saved dozens of jobs.

Spence was at pains to tell us that he really is an “academic’s academic” who is consultative and inclusive. I have seen no genuine evidence of this. In his four years as VC, he has never once spoken to me, a professor of the university who has served the institution diligently for almost 25 years. Many of my colleagues report similar experiences.

Perhaps Michael needs to look up from his oboe occasionally to observe that the majority of the staff hold no such positive opinions of our “godly” VC, even though we are informed by a very generous Malcolm Knox that he stated “with plain emotion, ‘People lost their jobs, which is just — horrible.'” What proportion of your bonus was awarded to you for driving the university to such financial crisis as to purportedly be the cause of the job losses, Michael?”

Do you work at the University of Sydney? Can you offer any more insight? Please email us or contact us via our confidential tips form.

Spotted. Peggy Olson from Mad Men, aka actress Elisabeth Moss, enjoying the music of local singer songwriter Matt Corby at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre last night.

Sydney-Canberra service currently a slow dash. One frequent flyer complains about recent Qantas service:

“What is going on with Qantas’ Sydney-Canberra service? A fortnight ago two Sydney to Canberra Dash services in a row were cancelled and last Friday at least one Canberra to Sydney one was. It was chaos, with the announcement made at one point that ‘all Qantas passengers bound for Sydney please report to the service desk’. This was then corrected to everyone but those on the next one, which mercifully did leave, albeit 40 minutes late. Either the Dash fleet is falling apart or they have complete contempt for their commuting customers, and publish what looks like a complete and convenient schedule with every intention of cancelling any flight that isn’t full. It’s a disgrace.”

Mayne in Melbourne. Yesterday, Crikey founder Stephen Mayne announced he will run in the Melbourne byelection in July. While Monash University’s Nick Economou reckons he “won’t have much impact”, in a tight election “his preferences could be important”. And where might those preferences be going? Reports to date suggest Greens’ candidate Cathy Oke’s prospects of ascending to the green leather are now looking healthy indeed. Labor’s pokies policy and HSU taint are a bridge too far for the socially liberal but economically conservative serial candidate and it will take a huge effort indeed to convince him to support Jennifer Kanis. Stay tuned.

Phone book scandal turns another page. More locals spill the details on the new smaller phone books, an issue Crikey has been following for a while:

“Everyone out here has their own “what’s with the new phone book” story but this one takes the cake. One well known older lady in Somerset Region (no, not me) called White Pages to complain about her difficulties in reading the numbers in the new phone book and they offered — you guessed it — to send her a “free” magnifying glass. Truly, they did. They did not say anything about fixing the problem this year or next. Oh, and the print size used for the postcodes listed at the back of the new book means that the four digits are so small they are completely unreadable (without said magnifying glass) even if you are 25 and have perfect vision. Not happy, Jan!”

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