From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Sack Watch: Optus. Following up a reader’s tip, we found out that Optus is soon to announce a major round of retrenchments, with a few hundred workers expected to be shown the door. A spokeswoman confirmed that roles would be affected, but not to the scale of last year’s cuts (when 750 people were slated to leave the company — it ended up being closer to 900. Sydney was hit hard by that round of redundos). Staff have been told something of the current round of changes, which will see tasks switched from marketing to the customer division.

Tips has heard whispers that the cuts may be somewhere in the vicinity of 375 people. It’s understood an announcement will come in late March and the scale of the cuts will be finalised by April 1.

R&D indeed. Crikey is interested in those research and development perks big business is to lose to fund Labor’s manufacturing package. Yesterday we brought you the claim that banks have been using the R&D tax breaks to fund product development which would have happened anyway. Here’s the word form another source:

“Look at multi-national chemical companies claiming R&D support to do trials that are mandated to be undertaken to receive registration for sale. Some thing they would do anyway. A great lurk.”

Do you know of any more “lurks” big business has indulged in with the R&D program? Keep Crikey readers in the loop.

Lilley show green-lit. Still on Chris Lilley watch, the ABC has confirmed a new six-part half-hour series from the man of many faces — but it’s staying mum on the content. Crikey moles on set have told us the project will see precocious teenager Ja’mie return to the screen, and possibly focus on unconventional relationships including a gay couple. “I’ve never been more excited about shooting a show,” Lilley said in the presser, but no word on what it’s about. The co-production will air on ABC1, HBO in the United States and BBC Three in Britain.

NT News hiring. There are many strong contenders for Tips’ favourite newspaper, but on balance we have to give it to the NT News, which is never shy of a cracking yarn. We note that the august Top End paper of record is hiring reporters, layout journalists and photographers — has there been a staff exodus? If you know the inside story, drop us an email.

Apparently only “highly-skilled” reporters need apply. Is that to report on a man putting a cracker up his clacker, or to cover the vital UFO-spotting round? Jibes aside, good on the NT News for offering jobs for journos when the industry is going through a painful contraction.

SDA celebrating ALP resurgence. Hilarity inside the supposedly-reconciled Victorian Labor Right over the shadow cabinet replacement for former partner of Herald Sun journalist Ellen Whinnett and failed mountaineer Tim Holding. The record shows that impressive Keilor MP Natalie Hutchins finally emerged triumphant from the intra-Labor Unity fracas after being tied with rising star Wade Noonan when both names cropped up.

The Australian Workers Union, the shop assistants union (Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association) and related elements (now caucusing with LU) supported Hutchins, a former Bill Shorten staffer. Incidentally, Hutchins is married to NSW Labor Senator Steve Hutchins, a former Transport Workers Union NSW secretary (and TWU national president) and is herself a former TWU organiser. The TWU vote is usually associated with Stephen Conroy. But in this case the broader Conroy vote lay mostly with Noonan despite Telmo Languiller and Danielle Green siding with Hutchins and John Eren favouring her for personal reasons. Complex stuff.

Interestingly, Noonan is a former TWU assistant national secretary and his dad Bill was the long-serving TWU Victorian state secretary before his retirement in 2009. Noonan was also once an organiser with the SDA, before turning on his comrades to shift to the family fiefdom in 2002 — and it seems some SDA powerbrokers have long memories. It’s not often that the ShortCons (Shorten/Conroy faction) split — the weekend’s fracas reminded Crikey of this minor dust-up in 2009 over preselections for the winnable federal seat of Dunkley, in which Conroy supporters were apparently lukewarm on the prospect of a Graham McBride candidacy (Left-aligned lawyer Helen Constas ended up running, and losing, to the Libs’ Bruce Billson).

But the shadow cabinet vote does represent a subtle power shift and signals the willingness of the SDA to vote according to its substantial muscle — at April’s state conference the resurgent SDA and allies will command about 21% of state conference floor, the Socialist Left-CFMEU about 40%, Labor Unity about 26% and the National Union of Workers 7%, with the remainder sitting with a gaggle of ragtag and potentially impulsive fringe unions.

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