From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Don’t mention climate change. This tip about the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (known as PM&C to Canberrans) has a ring of truth:

“It looks like the PM&C, which is working on the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, is rejecting any submissions that mention climate change. I know of one that was submitted some time ago, but it’s yet to appear on the webpage. Climate change wasn’t included in the terms of reference for the White Paper presumably because Minister Barnaby Joyce doesn’t accept climate science. Now it seems he doesn’t want anyone contributing submissions to the White Paper to mention the enormous elephant in the room, which makes discussion about farm returns and supply chains all rather academic.”

We checked, and the terms of reference for the white paper (and the home page) contain no reference to climate change. There’s a 48-page issues paper, which contains one reference to climate change (in the references list). Yet surely if you’re investigating how to “boost agriculture’s productivity and profitability,” you’d look at the way that anthropogenic climate change is predicted to lead to higher temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent droughts and bushfires? Just a suggestion.

Media comings and comings. Ms Tips choked on her piccolo latte this morning when she heard veteran Age colour writer Tony Wright was moving on. Wright is a convivial stalwart in the Canberra press gallery, and his sketches — funny, cutting and whimsical — are a popular part of The Age’s political coverage. However, we can assure you he’s staying with The Age, but moving to Melbourne and flying back to Canberra for sitting weeks.

Meanwhile, we’ve finally got an answer to a hot media topic: who will stand in for Fran Kelly on the ABC’s RN Breakfast? Fran is heading to Insiders later this month to replace Barrie Cassidy, who’s going on long-service leave. The new Fran will be a double act of Ellen Fanning and James Carleton. Fanning, an experienced broadcaster who was most recently hosting SBS’ The Observer Effect, replaces Fran from April to June. Then Carleton, one of Breakfast’s regular reporters, takes over. Kelly is back on RN in August.

And long-serving Australian media writer Sally Jackson announced yesterday that she was leaving the paper. She’s been writing about the media, particularly the magazine and newspaper sector, for 12 years and marks the latest in a number of significant departures from the section. Jackson tells Crikey she’s optimistic about getting another job in the media she still loves. “What’s next for me is school holidays with my son … but nothing to announce just yet.”

Budget chatter. The Coalition government hands down its first budget on May 13 — cue dire warnings of tough savings decisions, which will be followed up by few tough decisions, so the government looks good. Anyway, we’ve heard a rumour that there might be changes to payments for carers of military veterans. Looks like some functions could shift out of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. If you know of any changes that might be in the budget, let us know (here’s an anonymous link).

Liberal love-in. About 1000 Liberals from all over the country are expected to descend on Melbourne for a gala bash tonight to celebrate the party’s 70th birthday. John Howard will give the keynote, with Julie Bishop attending on behalf of Tony Abbott (who’s in Perth trying not to deter people from voting Coalition at the Senate re-run on Saturday). The Oz tells us that Andrew Peacock, John Hewson and Alexander Downer aren’t going, and Malcolm Fraser is boycotting because he doesn’t agree with the party’s policies.

Crikey thought we’d attend, so we called the Victorian division of the Libs for an invite but were told we couldn’t get a media pass because it was a closed party event. And they wouldn’t sell us a ticket, or even tell us how much it cost; “Thanks for your interest in this event. Unfortunately we are completely sold out and have no tickets available.” We called Flemington to try and buy a ticket but they mysteriously said they were not allowed to say anything.

So it’s over to you. If you’re going along or know someone who is, feel free to pass on the colour from the night via this email, or anonymously via this link.

Your taxes at work. How do you feel about paying taxes which go as a gift to a hugely profitable Warner Bros movie? This reader has some questions about taxpayers funding The Lego Movie, a popular Australian-made PG-rated cartoon about a Lego figure (yes, really), which opens here today:

“Interesting comment recently from Joe Hockey praising Sydney post-production company Animal Logic for its work on The Lego Movie. But nobody bothered to ask him if the production received a 40% subsidy by way of the Producer Tax Offset because it was an ‘Australian film’ although the copyright lies with Warner Bros and the Danish toy manufacturer. To be fair Village Roadshow also invested half the budget. But the Australian taxpayer with its estimated 30-40 million contribution will see no money from the $400 million it has grossed to date.

So Mr Hockey you are refusing to offer further subsidy to the local car manufacturers but you’re happy to subsidise to the tune of 40% a local film post-production service provider which has no copyright, recoupment share or profit. It seems however that Warner Bros was so surprised by the success of The Lego Movie it is not cutting Village Roadshow into the sequel as an investor. It will only get ANZ distribution as part of its ongoing distribution deal with Warners. Warner Bros of course will walk away with all the loot.”

What’s this about? The federal government has a policy of paying back 40% of the costs of making a film in Australia (there are eligibility requirements). It’s uncapped, it’s called a “Producer Offset”, and it’s delivered via the Tax Office so it’s a big secret which films get it. It’s a gift; there’s no way to recoup the money if the film makes a mint (see The Great Gatsby). 

We don’t know if The Lego Movie gets the offset, but it may well do. It was made in Australia, using American, Canadian and Irish actors (or in this case, voices). It’s a cartoon story about a Lego minfigure who is picked as the key to saving the world.

The film is a huge success, grossing US$400 million globally. Its production budget is estimated at US$60 million, so Australian taxpayers would be coughing up A$26 million if the film gets the tax bonus. What do you think about whether the film should get taxpayer dollars? Add your views to our online comment thread on Tips.

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

Peter Fray

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