From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Victoria Police ditches expensive MATES. Victoria Police media liaison has advised media it is shutting down its MATES computer system, which helps journalists keep on top of police jobs and provides them with reference numbers to follow up jobs. MATES logs emergency service calls when they come in, which journalists can then follow up. The reason given to affected journos was the demand by the chief to focus resources on front-line policing.

A Victoria Police spokesperson confirmed to Crikey that the contract for the MATES system had been cancelled. “Costing Victoria Police $200,000 per year, MATES is an expensive and under-used system that has not been logged onto once by the majority of the state’s media in the past two years,” they said.

“We believe this is largely due to the significant investment Victoria Police has made in improving the quality of our notifications to media outlets, including the introduction of a global SMS system, to alert subscribers to all matters we think could be newsworthy. The Chief Commissioner has made it clear that front-line policing and critical support functions are his spending priorities. Whilst we understand that for some media outlets this will be disappointing, in a tough spending environment Victoria Police has a duty to ensure it is maximising public value for money.”

Crikey understands K-Rock radio in Geelong and Nine News were the only outlets still using the system, which has been around for more than six years. But one MATES-using journalist told Crikey that the cuts to MATES was a worrying move for those trying to monitor police actions:

“… it further erodes transparency and that is becoming a worry. When Victoria Police went to digitised radio transmissions, journalists were no longer able to monitor things such as pursuits, meaning the oft-repeated claim that the chase was cancelled ‘moments before the collision’ could no longer be independently verified.

“I once advised an inspector that a chase I had been monitoring that ended in an accident had indeed been still very much under way when the collision occurred. Two days later I received a call telling me that the tapes had been reviewed and I was in error. Could I listen to them myself? No, they had since been destroyed. Now it’s not even possible to find out what the boys and girls in blue are doing to make themselves so overworked.”

You can’t go home without asking Barry. A NSW public servant announced this week that they were quitting after just seven days in the job. Gossip is they were actually sacked for not asking permission to go home and change after getting mud on their clothes at a press event with the Premier.

Trouble in the Pilbara. Deputy Premier Brendon Grylls, leader of the WA Nationals, is contesting the safe Labor seat of Pilbara at the next state election. His campaign based on the success of Royalties for Regions, a slush fund where grants are doled out to regions for specific projects. There has already been an inquiry into the process in State Parliament, which stated that the grants have focused heavily on wheat-belt towns in southern WA, Grylls’ electorates and National heartland. One WA political watcher notes a key issue to watch in the coming months:

“Well now Grylls is running for a seat which covers Karratha in WA iron ore belt. Royalties for Regions has given Horizon Power, for the town of Karratha, $70 million to put the power underground. Is this pork barrelling or am I cynical? But what has happened is that the project has gone pear shaped. The principal contractor has walked off the site and the project is starting to smell. And now the pressure is really on Horizon Power to get the project finished before the next state election. Which will be next year, probably June. Grylls is crucifying Horizon management to get it finished. Some good journalistic questions would dredge up some interesting facts in what we used to call ourselves, the State of Excitement. Until a wit started defacing signs with the state of excrement.”

Know inside information about the Royalties for Regions policy or what’s happening inside the WA government? Drop us an email or fill out our anonymous tipster form — your state needs you.

Disconnected customers no longer in hot water. The issues with Melbourne Water continue to bubble away, after the water company admitted this week that it had overcharged customers $306 million for the still incomplete Wonthaggi desalination plant. One Crikey reader reckons legal action must be brewing over the scandal:

“Due to the Melbourne Water overcharging fiasco, there must be cases in which water retailers have disconnected customers for alleged underpayment when the customers have in fact OVER-paid. Surely the customers can sue the retailers and/or Melbourne Water. And if Melbourne Water doesn’t immediately cough up, surely it can be served with bankruptcy papers. I feel at least two class actions coming on.”

Got any goss from inside Melbourne Water? Send us your dirt.

No compliments for the Premier-in-waiting. Yesterday Crikey reported on Victorian planning minister Matthew Guy giving personal exclusives to the Herald Sun and sending off fancy brochures to constituents claiming credit for Baillieu budget initiatives, all part of his plan to knock of Ted Baillieu for the top job. But he might need to improve his spelling, with one voter noting that “The Matthew Guy glossy mailout included mention of funding for a new floor and toilet area to “compliment” W. Heidelberg scout hall artwork. Maybe following a new trend in politicians spelling badly?” Note: the correct spelling is “complement”, for those scratching their heads.

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