From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Let the donations do the talking. “The Abbott government to date has not made any significant inroads to reversing the devastation inflicted to the economy by the previous government,” lamented a senior executive of regional airline Rex on the weekend, who noted that regional aviation was in serious trouble — mainly thanks to Labor and its carbon price. And, indeed, given former National and Howard-era transport minister John Sharp is deputy chairman of Rex, you wouldn’t expect the airline to be that favourably disposed towards Labor. That makes their political donations return, revealed last week, all the more interesting. In July 2012, Rex gave Labor a whopping $250,000 while giving the Nationals $95,700 and the Liberals only $40,000.

Sydney arts coverage under fire. Sydney arts lovers are worried there could be less coverage in the city’s newspapers soon due to a couple of recent developments. Sydney Morning Herald arts editor John Saxby took a redundancy late last year and stayed on until the end of January. A hiring freeze meant a replacement needed to be found in-house, but despite management asking at least two staff members to do the job, there have been no takers. So Saxby agreed to stay on, but with no one prepared to take on what was once considered one of the best jobs at the newspaper, arts publicists across Sydney believe that the Herald might be reducing its scant arts coverage even more.

When the paper went tabloid — er, compact — last March it promised readers two pages a day of arts, but this has been eroded to one, leaving not much room for more than one feature and one review. Promises to beef up the SMH‘s online coverage of arts have been inconsistent. It increased its coverage of the Sydney Festival but didn’t allocate more resources online.

Publicist supremo Ian Phipps wrote to his colleagues yesterday:

“All this indicates a lack of commitment and respect to the arts by the bean counters who run Fairfax. If we lose the arts page, we will lose all reviews as their financial imperative is to get rid of casual staff (reviewers) to lower their costs”.

Phipps has urged them to band together.

“So to pre-empt any decision by Fairfax management to drop arts, can I suggest that we all get the CEOs of our performing arts companies and any other influential people we know to write to decision makers at Fairfax — something along the lines of there is a rumour circulating that the Herald is considering dropping their daily arts pages and we wish to strenuously object to this idea etc.”

But staff at the Herald are meeting this week to consider how to deal with the problem, which may include running its arts pages out of Melbourne under Age arts editor Debbie Cuthbertson, and dropping in Sydney stories. An alternative is to halve the arts coverage.

Meanwhile publicists are also planning to lobby The Daily Telegraph, which has “refocused” its arts coverage. Live arts events are only covered on Thursdays now, and the rest of the week’s approach to “entertainment” is more about the things you can do at home — watch TV or cook — rather than go out to take part in Sydney’s embattled live performance scene.

UPDATE. Yesterday’s tip about rumbles among Sydney arts publicists about the future stewardship of the Sydney Morning Herald‘s arts pages and its commitment to those pages did not include a comment from its outgoing arts editor, John Saxby. The long-time Fairfax journo took a redundancy package late last year but is staying on until the end of this month. Saxby told us: “I am leaving at the end of the month. There’s no truth to rumours that The Sydney Morning Herald  will drop its arts pages — the amount of coverage Monday to Friday has increased in the past six months. A replacement hasn’t been announced as yet.”

Publicist Ian Phipps had urged his colleagues to lobby Fairfax management on what he described as a reduction in The Herald‘s Monday to Friday arts pages since the paper went compact last March. Internal applications for Saxby’s job close on Friday.

Gillard’s back … Julia Gillard has just been formally announced as the new chair of the board of directors at the Global Partnership for Education, which is all about educating poor kids. If you’re interested, the media release is here, and Gillard’s first blog post in her new role is here (click on the graphic to read it):

We’ve heard it all before from Gillard, who put education at the heart of her political narrative. It’ll be interesting to see how the GPE fares on her watch.

… and so is Murdoch. Yesterday Crikey voiced its dismay at Rupert Mudoch’s official Tumblr becoming locked (password required). The good news is Mr Murdoch heard our plea and has unlocked his Tumblr as of this morning — and it’s had a facelift. We particularly enjoyed the pic of Rupert meeting Mr Darcy. Very appropriate in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day.

Schapelle-free zone. Ms Tips is over Schapelle — but we’ll just pass on that “Bauer have had staff working around the clock on a tell-all book that’s just about to hit the presses”.

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Peter Fray

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