From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Aussies in trouble in Syria? We heard this rumour from an anonymous source:

“Twelve Australians captured by Syrian army in East Damascus on Monday 3rd March, being held by Syrian intel [intelligence]. Comes from a solid source in intel.”

We put that to DFAT at 8.51am today. The enquiry was sent on to the Attorney-General’s Department, but we didn’t get a response within our three-hour deadline. We’re hoping to hear back from the government this afternoon and will update the tip online when we can tell you more.

It’s believed quite a few Australians have headed to Syria to engage in the civil war. Last month, SBS reported claims that at least 15 Australians have been killed in the Syrian conflict (an estimated 200 Australians have gone there). Two Australians confirmed to have died there are Yusuf Ali and his wife, Amira.

Wiggle gossip. Yes, the blue Wiggle — Anthony Field — is moving on. From his house at least. As our colleagues at Property Observer confirmed, he’s just sold his lovely waterside Sydney home (check it out with envy here). The tipster who alerted us to the sale reckons all is not well within Wiggle-land. Parents of young children no doubt followed the scandal of the yellow Wiggle, who left and then came back (which meant the interim yellow Wiggle was boned). Now we’re hearing tensions continue over who is paid what from the entertainment group’s vast empire. Are the newbie Wiggles “on a modest salary whilst the retired trio of Murray, Jeff and Greg are still being paid? Something had to give.” That’s what our tipster reckons, anyway.

Qantas job cuts … This from a mole about QantasLink, the so-called national carrier’s domestic regional service:

“QantasLink made quite large profit, $61 million — staff told yesterday that their jobs not secure. However the first two tiers of management CEO jobs to remain. Jobs like load control operations to be sent offshore. If we can possibly lose jobs in a week, then this had been planned for well over a year.”

Management can be pretty good at avoiding job cuts when they come.

… and frequent flier debate. Yesterday we asked if people were racing to use up their Qantas frequent flyer points lest the program go belly-up. Now, it turns out, there is a special website for people fascinated by Australia’s frequent flyer programs (yes, really). That question’s been asked, and most of our FF gurus seem to think there will be no rapid changes to the Qantas scheme and there’s no need to offload your points in a panic. So Ms Tips will sit on her 865 points (enough for a small latte at the airport).

Don’t fall for this one. It’s election season in WA, with the Senate rerun set for April 5. Let’s hope they don’t lose the ballot papers again. A WA reader received this in the mail; it’s the application for a postal vote complete with a prepaid envelope. Sounds above board, right?

Not really. This is part of a lurk where the political parties send out these forms (paid for, of course, by taxpayers) and trick you into returning them to the party itself. That’s not an AEC address, it’s a Liberal Party one. They usually send the applications on to the AEC but not without harvesting your personal details for their database first. Because it all looks official many people don’t even realise they’re dealing with a party. Here’s the story Crikey wrote alerting you to this scam last August. So what should WA readers who can’t visit a polling booth on April 5 do? Apply for a postal vote via the AEC directly.

We had a query from another WA reader who’d received the form, and when we told her how the scheme works, she said this:

“I can’t see how they can’t write ‘By sending this, you consent to us collecting the data provided in the form. The data will be used for [x] and [x] and will be provided to [x].’ Explicitly, up-front in the letter. It seems like Ethics 101 to me.”

As it does to us. A third WA reader asked us “how many of our oldies are going to be sucked in by that, why red on the envelope and not the Liberal  livery colours, blue and white? I’m a bit pissed.” If you’ve received the letter, tell us which party sent it to you and where you live. Is it just the Liberals doing this?

Put down the smartphone. Ye gods, what has Ellen unleashed? Imitations of her mega-famous Oscars selfie are rife. Adelaide lord mayor Stephen Yarwood did the best he could yesterday. See how many other mayors you can recognise, with a bonus point for knowing which mayor famously swam nude at a public event last year.

Absentee MPs. Have you watched that speech from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam having a go at Tony Abbott yet? It’s had almost half a million clicks on YouTube, but as several people have noted, few senators bothered to sit in the chamber and listen to it. A reader asked us this:

“Is there any way of finding out where all our truant senators were when Scott Ludlam made his recent speech? Individually? Like where were they and can we have our money back if they did not have a legitimate excuse for their absence?”

Well, the sad truth of Parliament is that most of the time there are almost no MPs sitting in either chamber. Many visitors to Canberra are surprised to enter the chamber and find a handful of bored MPs playing on their smartphones, as someone drones through a long, obscure speech. There are even party rosters to force a few MPs to sit in there at any one time — it’s called “chamber duty”. That’s because Parliament is a charade in which MPs are tightly bound to their party line on everything so there’s no point actually listening, debating or sharing information. It’s just empty theatre. That’s Ms Tips’ view, anyway.

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

Peter Fray

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