From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Katter kaos: party torn apart. We hear Katter’s Australian Party is in turmoil after the Victorian branch broke away amid concerns from some members about the direction from the top. KAP, based on larger-than-life federal MP Bob Katter, was supposed to make its mark on last year’s federal election, but it tanked, gazumped by Clive Palmer’s success. Katter just scraped in, and no one else won a seat. The Weekly Times got the scoop on Monday that the Victorian branch was merging with the Country Alliance to try to win seats at November’s state election. The new beast will probably have a non-Katter name.

Following up on a reader’s tip, we spoke to a source with KAP, who said Katter did not approve of the merger, and on Monday the Victorian executive got an informal letter telling them they were all sacked. Emails are now doing the rounds as KAP senior figures desperately try to find a new Victorian executive. The source said Katter had initially wanted to merge with the Country Alliance (a small rural party whose powerbase is Victoria), but on his terms — “Bob wanted it all his own way, which everyone sort of knows. It was always Bob’s way or the highway.” That the Victorian branch went it alone, and is losing the Katter name, was not his plan.

The KAP source said there was “a mass exodus” from the party after the lacklustre federal election result. The source claimed the party was dysfunctional and struggling financially, and some within the party felt it had given a platform to right-wing homophobes that was distracting from core messages. Here’s the text from an email sent to KAP members yesterday:

11th February, 2014

Dear [redacted]

As you are aware, a number of members of the KAP Victorian Division have allied themselves with County Alliance which is a political party registered in Victoria. Under Commonwealth law, a person may not be a member of two political parties at the same time.

KAP intend to continue to operate as KAP Victorian Division and the Federal KAP Party. We would like you to continue to support us in our drive for membership. Furthermore, we invite you to nominate for a position on the State Executive Victorian Division of the KAP.

Could you please notify us of your intentions for nominations by Wednesday 19th February 2014.

Yours Sincerely,

National General Secretary

DFAT in Burmese turmoil … The distinction between Burma (the Brits’ name for the south-east Asian nation) and Myanmar (which some politicians from the country prefer) is a tricky one. A DFAT insider told us this:

“There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Canberra’s foreign policy establishment over the Abbott government’s decision late last year to reverse Labor’s decree that the country previously known as Burma was to be referred to in all government contexts as ‘Myanmar’. The decision, which was made in Abbott’s office, was made ahead of the visit to Australia of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi — who criticised Labor for its decision to switch to ‘Myanmar’, the name imposed by the military junta. Insiders see in the decision the influence of long-time Abbott international adviser Mark Higgie and Julie Bishop’s Chief of Staff Murray Hansen, both seen as right-wingers keen to junk Labor’s foreign policy legacy. The Abbott decision will please Aung San Suu Kyi, who has said the country’s name should only be changed if voters are consulted and agree and also realigns Australia on the issue with the US and the UK. But DFAT is clearly less pleased and for several months ignored the Abbott government’s decision as far as its website was concerned — ‘Myanmar’ references were only changed belatedly to Burma after a rocket from the Abbott office. Key inside-the-beltway question: will the Labor opposition notice and commit to reversing back to ‘Myanmar’?”

Well, the key question for some people is: who cares? But foreign policy buffs like Ms Tips will be fascinated.

… while someone muses over the DFAT Downers. A tipster told us that “Downer junior” was about to get posted as high commissioner in London, replacing former SA premier Mike Rann (who was appointed in December 2012). This seems highly unlikely to us. Alexander Downer’s daughter Georgina did join DFAT as a grad in 2007, which meant she was working for Dad for a little while. She was expected to take up a posting in Tokyo in 2010. There’s a @GeorginaDowner on Twitter, whose bio says “Australian diplomat in Japan,” so perhaps she’s still there. But one would think she would be too junior to get near the plum gig of high commissioner in London. We rate this tip as a false alarm.

Georgina is not the only offspring of a senior pollie to join DFAT; Tony Abbott’s daughter Louise is in Geneva with DFAT, too. The big surprise is that diplomatic devotee Kevin Rudd (former DFAT toiler and foreign minister) has not raised a budding diplomat.

Sydney arts 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.”

Yesterday’s tip said Saxby had agreed to stay on in the role because an internal replacement couldn’t be found, but Saxby has told us it was his decision to remain until the end of February.

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.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form

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