From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Australia Network all tarted up … Tony Abbott is touring Asia this week with 600-odd Aussie business chiefs and premiers. He’ll visit Japan, Korea and China accompanied by Kerry Stokes, James Packer, Twiggy Forrest, etc. We’ve heard the visit has set the cat among the pigeons at the ABC-run Australia Network, the government-funded satellite TV channel that beams into Asia and the Pacific. The Coalition government has strongly hinted it wants to take the $20 million annual tender off the ABC, so there’s a last-gasp attempt to impress Abbott’s delegation. This from a mole:

“In preparation for Abbott’s North Asia tour, there is frantic last-minute activity going on amongst increasingly stretched ABC staff working for the Australia Network after word came down from On High that the normally fairly pedestrian viewing fare needs to be somewhat ‘massaged’ in case he turns on the idiot box and doesn’t like the quality of the entertainment. Home and Away has been moved from its previous 6pm slot (Hong Kong time) to be buried safely away at 2pm as from next week. Other shows are being hastily purchased and delivered and prepared for air next week, sometimes without contracts even being finalised, with vastly reduced turnaround time for technical assessment and delivery and the re-making of station promos leading to a somewhat harried mood amongst the minions, all in the largely futile pursuit of second guessing what the right honourable delegation from Australia might want to watch.”

We’ve had a look and yes, Home and Away has been bumped to an earlier slot, while the ABC is going all out with Q and A being filmed in China tonight (to be shown on the Australia Network). We talked to another ABC insider who said there was “a bit of an attempt [from the Australia Network] to see what they can claw back at this stage”. The insider said there had been thought devoted to what the large Australian delegation would see on TV in their hotel rooms. But others said the network had been working on new programs for a while.

An Australia Network spokesman told us the network “has for some time now, been developing a new schedule” as part of an “overhaul of our international media services”. Last week AN launched new “on-air presentation reflecting Australian and regional connections”, including David Koch on small business. The spokesman says the new schedule is more focused on news and factual programming, and yes, Home and Away is out of prime time. So were the changes timed to coincide with Abbott’s visit? You be the judge.

… but will it survive? It might all come too late. Speculation continues that the government will axe or pare back the Australia Network, perhaps in next month’s federal budget (the best place to bury a funding cut). “I’ve been told that DFAT has already engaged a PR-type person to prepare the speeches/media releases etc to announce the international service will be no more,” a source told us today. (The government funds the network via the Foreign Affairs Department).

We’ve heard that one live option is that the government could replace the Australia Network with a slimmed down-digital operation with a strong social media element. Australian embassies around the Asia-Pacific were surveyed, and the response was that the Australia Network in its current form was valuable to the Pacific, where there’s not a lot of competition, but was drowned out in Asia, where many platforms run 200-odd channels and a network needs a hefty marketing budget to cut through. “You’re just lost in Asia,” a mole told us. Some within the ABC feel the Coalition government will punish the ABC News Department via cuts to the Australia Network.

Sinodinos gives no promises. We were warned. This appears prominently on the rather slick website of Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who’s stood aside as assistant treasurer to save his best for ICAC  …

And should Arthur tweak this entry on his list of current roles?

Maybe not. His other website, the one devoted to him as the assistant treasurer, still describes him as assistant treasurer while noting he has “temporarily stood aside”. So he still holds the title.

Julie Bishop’s Economic Management 101. We know ministers hand out government money with abandon, but this is ridiculous. When Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was asked on ABC TV’s Insiders how much Australia was contributing to the relief effort for Solomon Islands after devastating floods late last week, this is what she said:

“On Friday night we gave them $50,000 of … sorry 50 million … 350 million dollars … on Friday evening we gave them 50 million of immediate relief, humanitarian supplies … it’s now 350 … 350 thousand dollars …”

So was it $50,000, $50 million, $350 million or $350,000? Actually, none of those. After fumbling some more, Bishop finally clarified the number: “It’s now $300,000 in supplies …” Got that?

Palmer fail. Clive Palmer is very excited to have bought — oops, campaigned for — another Senate seat, this one for the PUP’s Dio Wang in WA.

Now we hate to correct Sir Clive, but what about former Liberal senator Tsebin Tchen? Chen, a Victorian senator, was born in Chonching, a city in south-western China (we’re indebted to SBS’s Karen Middleton for pointing that out). We’ll just wait for Clive to correct the record.

“Pass the whale sashimi, please.” Tony Abbott caught up with his Japanese counterpart for a bite last night. We’d love to know what they ate … and what’s on the mind of Abbot’s translator. Diplomatic insiders can keep us posted on what happens during the Asian trip here.

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