From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …


#1. Arise, Sir Ron. Is the rumour true that John Howard was “trying to get a back door knighthood for Ron Walker in the early noughties, around the time Walker got his AC”? That’s Ron Walker, businessman and Grand Prix identity. Knighthoods were scrapped by Labor in 1986, but Howard did consider bringing them back (he left that to Tony in the end). Is it just a matter of time until we see Sir Ron?

#2. Is this the end for Ladies? An interesting side issue to Abbott’s rebirth of knights/dames is that wives of knights get to use a title — Lady — while husbands of Dames do not (e.g. Dame Quentin’s hubby). Here’s what the PM’s department has ruled about it:

“The general protocol is that the wife of a Knight is known as ‘Lady’ followed by the knight’s surname. There may be variations in particular circumstances. The husband of a Dame does not derive any style or title from his wife.”

This seems sexist and unfair to Ms Tips — and it’s going to get awkward as people have partners but not spouses. Is it time we scrapped “Lady” — or for that matter, the entire idea of the Queen tapping the PM’s friends on the shoulders with a sword?

#3. Rupert may miss out. Crikey readers have been very animated suggesting who’s likely to be next in line for an Abbott-bestowed knighthood (the PM decides who gets one, and he can give up to four a year). Quite a few readers thought George Pell might get one, with a few votes for John Howard (although he’s in the Financial Review today saying there’s no need to bring knighthoods back) and Andrew Bolt, along with media baron Rupert Murdoch. Sir Rupert has a lovely ring to it, but is there a hitch? One reader asked this: “Rupert’s not an Aussie any more. Surely he’s not eligible?”

Rupert from Adelaide resigned his Australian citizenship in the 1980s to become a Yank. He could now sign up for both, but he doesn’t seem to be interested. But there’s hope for Rupert; according to Abbott’s office, there can be “honorary appointments of non-Australian citizens”.

Sportsbet is running a book on who’ll be the next knight/dame, with John Howard, Clive James, Dame Edna and Ron Walker leading the field. Paul Hogan is at $21.

#4. Abbott’s title. It’s only fair that Tony Abbott himself be considered for a title. Here’s a suggestion:


Jobs going at Downer Rail. It’s been recently reported that 190 jobs are going at Downer Rail, which runs passenger and freight rolling stock (i.e. it designs, builds and maintains trains). There might be more changes afoot; we heard this from a mole:

“Last week Downer Rail retrenched most of their top executive team and this Friday a lot more middle management roles will go. This follows over 200 cuts earlier this year. Annual revenue has slumped from $1.2 billion to $800 million with little prospect of improvement. This is a sad end to yet another Australian icon. Needless to say morale for the existing mob is at an all-time low.”

We put that to a Downer spokesman who, to his credit, gave us a much franker response than most:

“Downer’s Rail business is undergoing a substantial transformation, and this has included a significant amount of restructuring and redundancies over the past year. When Downer announced its results for the first half of the 2014 financial year … we reported that rail revenue was down by 19.3% (compared with the first half of 2013). About 70% of this reduction was due to the manufacturing stage of the Waratah Train Project nearing completion. That is, there are now 71 eight-car Waratah trains (manufactured by Downer) in passenger service on the Sydney network and only seven more to deliver to Transport for NSW … We also stated that about 300 full-time equivalent positions had been made redundant during the six-month period (1 July to 31 December 2013) and that the rail business incurred $10.5 million of restructuring costs in the half-year … We also announced the closure of Downer’s rail facility in Bathurst at the end of April 2014. There were about 100 people employed at Bathurst.

“It is not accurate to say that most of rail’s top executive team was ‘retrenched’ last week, but it is true that three senior executives will be leaving in the coming weeks … one of these executives works on the Waratah project and, as explained above, the manufacturing phase of this project is coming to an end. A fourth executive is leaving the rail business but Downer is seeking to redeploy him in another part of the Downer Group. So, as you can see, the substantial restructuring of Downer Rail has been going on for over a year and unfortunately this has involved hundreds of redundancies.”

So yes, it’s tough times for Downer, although some of the downsizing is because a major project is wrapping up.

The Oz on Bolt’s blacklist? Andrew Bolt’s blog is a busy place; he files many times a day and sometimes gets more than 200 comments on a post (current themes are Paul Barry is biased and should be sacked, and Arthur Sinodinos was “surprisingly blind to the sharks he was swimming with”). But a Crikey reader struggled to add his comment on one of Bolt’s posts:

“Curious! Just attempted to post something on Andrew Bolt’s blog in response to his comments on the sentencing of Craig Thomson, comparing it to the sentence for John Gay. Thought I’d post a link to reporting of that case by Bolt’s favourite newspaper, and got this reply: ‘Action Denied: Blacklisted Item Found’.”

Here’s the Australian article that was apparently too much for Bolt’s blog:

We’re not sure what happened, but moderating Bolt’s blog must be quite a task at times …

The Car Bomb Tax. Rookie Liberal Senator Zed Seselja had us worried with this tweet. We’re not sure if the “Car Bon Tax” makes us think of a car bomb (bad), or a bon bon (quite nice, really). Zed later apologised for the typo …

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