From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Questions over “research”. Big business has set up the usual well-heeled hue and cry at Labor’s proposal to strip away some R&D tax breaks and use the money to fund manufacturing. One insider reckons the R&D perks could use a haircut:

“The big banks were claiming it on the cost of product development, which definitely would have occurred anyway, e.g. coming up with some of the more sophisticated financial instruments, adjusting their credit card products, etc.”

And here we were thinking the top end of town was using the tax breaks to cure cancer … should have known better. Many of the firms that will lose the tax breaks are miners — anyone know more about what the incentives have been used for? Drop us a line.

News cuts in Adelaide. We heard that there had been 70 redundancies at News Limited’s Adelaide operations (The ‘Tiser and Messenger) in the last fortnight, but a call to the company clarified that it had implemented “up to” 30 redundancies at The ‘Tiser (bosses are hoping there can be some redeployments) and none at Messenger. The ABC reports the redundos are production jobs.

Trouble at Sydney University …? A little bird told us there’s been some fuss at the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association about an alleged bullying case. There were rumours SUPRA paid out $27,000 in legal fees to defend the case — “I wonder how many postgraduate students at Sydney University know how their Student Service & Amenities Fee [SSAF] funds are really being used?” our source pondered.

We put that to SUPRA president Angelus Morningstar, who confirmed there had been a bullying complaint from one staff member against another (the complaint was aired in three forums; it was withdrawn in one case and found to be unsubstantiated in the other two forums).

“Legal counsel was retained across this period, because the complaint was incredibly complex, and there were substantial concerns by all parties as to the procedural fairness of all complaints. This required extensive consultation with representatives of the complainant and respondent, and the use of a third party investigator to ensure neutrality of the investigation,” he said.

The legal costs could not be clarified at this stage but would be in the upcoming annual report, Morningstar said; most of the money came from SSAF fees. And no, students haven’t been told how their fees are being spent in this case. “The matter has otherwise been kept confidential due to the sensitivity of the issue and attempting to not expose the complainant or respondent in such a way as would compromise their capacity to work with students,” Morningstar said. But it’s the students’ money, right? Perhaps they have the right to know what it’s being spent on …

… but not much to worry about at CQU. A dissatisfied academic mole passed on some rumours about Central Queensland University, a public institution with its main campus at Rockhampton:

“CQUniversity is about to report a $27 million operating loss to the Queensland state government for 2012. Casual teaching has been banned and travel severely restricted. This comes a couple of months after it was revealed in the local newspaper that 1) the Vice-Chancellor had ordered a 10-man jacuzzi be built for his house and that 2) senior university executives had used university funds to fly to Cairns (from Rockhampton) for his 50th birthday party under the guise of an opening of a study centre in Cairns the night before. Meanwhile, I’m told the entire university council is being flown to Adelaide for a meeting which could just as easily be done in Rockhampton.”

We put that wide-reaching epistle to the university and found there was a grain of truth to some (but by no means all) of the claims. A spokesman said “an operating loss will be reported”,  although it would be “significantly smaller” than $27 million (a downturn in international enrolments was blamed for the loss). Several hundred casual teaching contracts had been signed for 2013 in the last two weeks, while “employees have been asked to avoid non-essential travel”.

“The Vice-Chancellor has purchased an outdoor spa bath for his leased residence; this purchase was made from personal funds, at zero cost to the university,” the spokesman said. It was true that some senior employees attended a 50th birthday party in Cairns in August 2012, but they were also there for “an official launch for its new Cairns distance education study centre… All senior employees who attended this event also undertook multiple meetings with local community, government, tourism and education stakeholders while visiting Cairns.” And on the Adelaide meeting set for March, the spokesman pointed out that the university has a campus there.

On the whole we failed to find the smoking gun — but as you can see, we did make an effort. Plus, we’ll be applying to be the next CQU VC. Outdoor spa bath indeed!

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