From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

HR high jinks. Tips has decided to ditch journalism and move into HR as more details emerge of the HR HRIZON conference, which starts in Melbourne today and may just possibly be treated like a junket by some. We discovered the ATO was sending 30 staff at a cost to the taxpayer of $83,886, and asked HR-savvy readers if that was a good use of public cash. No, according to this conference attendee who works in the private sector:

“I am taking the cheap-arse conference option — basic attendance with no extra workshops or dinner, economy-class airfares, hotel a step up from a flea pit and treating myself to a taxi to and from the airport. The total cost for my cheap-arse option is $2900. I know from my time working with the ATO that they have an agency-wide policy that all SES fly business class. This does not change, no matter how tight the budgetary environment. So unless a lot of their attendees are based in Melbourne, I suspect they may still be fudging their figures a bit.

As to your question of whether this is reasonable, as someone who does a lot of work with learning and development and associated ROI in government, I find that spend outrageous. In the current fiscal environment, if agencies can afford to send any of their staff to training events (and many of them can’t), they send one or maybe two people and those people then come back and share the information. Clever agencies are making use of communities of practice and internal learning networks to achieve surprisingly good things in a tight budget environment. It seems the ATO is not one of those clever agencies. Even in an agency of their size, a maximum of five people would be able to cover all aspects of this conference and take back significant knowledge to their organisation.”

Speaking of junkets … A mole told us there was a Defence-related conference in Perth recently: “The word is that most of the attendees were Defence staff from Canberra, that went to Perth to listen to speakers from the Department of Defence!” Still, Perth is lovely in winter.

The feds are spending the lowest amount on Defence (as a proportion of GDP) since 1938, which has Tony Abbott outraged and promising he’d increase the budget if elected. That would be good because it would allow more staff to go to conferences in Perth.

So what’s the truth about Defence — is it cash-strapped and needs more money to defend the nation? Or is it doing just fine and could shed a little fat? ADF moles can fill us in here (and you can stay anonymous).

Nine not fine. Nine was last in receivership in the early 1990s. When a business goes into receivership, all contracts can be made null and void (unless there are special provisions in agreements, contracts, etc). That is also why the Ten Network was put into receivership in the 1990s by its bankers; to blow up costly contracts and agreements. The receivership in both cases had the benefit of allowing all contracts to be renegotiated. Some (the important production deals, with vital executives and TV stars) were renewed unchanged, or with small changes. Others were not renewed and that allowed significant cost savings to be made and costly production and other deals to be abandoned.

TV land is far more competitive these days and to lose a big production deal might allow Ten, for example, to swoop. The big question being asked is whether receivership at Nine (if it happens) would affect the recently agreed broadcast deal for the rugby league from next year, or whether that had special arrangements to cover such an event. Likewise, will Nine’s current discussions with Cricket Australia be impacted by any receivership move?

Sky high in Hobart. Times are tough for journalists in Tasmania, with a swathe of redundos at The Mercury forcing the venerable institution to shift to smaller premises in Hobart this year. There’s some good news though; an insider tells us Sky News is planning to set up a full-time Hobart bureau next year. Sky joined the tropical cut and thrust of the NT media this year by opening a Darwin bureau (topless crocodile drinks beer, anyone?).

Not the News Radio? A sharp-eared tipster reckons ABC News Radio tends to report financial news “late and in error”:

“Can Crikey find out why at 6:06am today it was reporting results from an hour before during a massive sell-off and failing to mention that there had been a three-day downturn. We pay for up-to-date, accurate and informed news, not a pastiche of the past.”

Can anyone help clarify the situation for the finance boffins out there? Send us your thoughts on ABC finance reporting.

ExclusiveWatch. For someone who rails against the manipulatory tactics of the media, Linsday Tanner is pretty good at it himself, scattering little extracts and interviews around the media to maximise coverage of his new essay on what a great guy Kevin Rudd is and how the gang of four was actually quite nice. That lead to a barrage of “exclusive” tags in The Australian that seemed to sit ill-at-ease with the Tanner story in The Age. 

Today’s tally sits at a whopping 10 “exclusive” tags in The Oz, which had to go all the way back to a story on a “mostly unpaid” university lecturer getting the sack for writing a poem to make its quota. Another Oz “scoop” was that the workplace watchdog is to audit the hospitality industry (story downpage on page eight). The Australian Financial Review mustered four “exclusives” (including a story about rising promiscuity among grocery shoppers), while The Age maintained its dignified silence with no “exclusive” tags.

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