From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Ian Watt’s Stasi? On the weekend News Corp’s Sam Maiden had an excellent little yarn on the new social media guidelines of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which told staff they were “expected” to report colleagues they suspected of anonymously making social media comments critical of the government. PM&C is obviously embarrassed by the piece, because it refused to respond to Crikey’s questions about it, insisting the policy “is consistent with APSC guidelines”. The problem of course, is that in telling staff they’re expected to dob in colleagues for anonymous comments, the policy goes far beyond the APS Values and Code of Conduct, and indeed could be interpreted as undermining them.

The issue PM&C refused to respond to was, in our view, a serious one: if PM&C staff fail to inform on a colleague and the department learns about it, will they be disciplined? Will informers be commended for dobbing colleagues in? Will it be noted on their records and referees’ reports? Will other staff know that someone is an informer? The whole policy smacks of the absurd Obama administration “Insider Threat Program” drawn up in response to Edward Snowden, in which the Pentagon told staff to report colleagues they saw looking at The Onion or Salon. Indeed, it smacks of the East German Stasi, which riddled East German society with informers, including at least one in every apartment building. Perhaps PM&C head Ian Watt will have one in every branch of his department.

Change in WA politics. There’s a bit of chatter around about the future for WA Labor leader Mark McGowan (who?). Some reckon shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt might make a move, but we’ve also heard the name Roger Cook (McGowan’s deputy) being whispered. Meanwhile, what’s going to happen on the other side? Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has been in politics for a long time — since 1990 —  but his heir apparent Troy Buswell has recently had a breakdown. Will Barnett have to stay the course? It’s worth noting that the Coalition polled quite poorly at the recent Senate rerun, although the WA Liberals don’t have to rush this leadership decision — the next state election is in 2017. WA insiders can pass on their snippets here.

Abbott’s Asia adviser. A reader asked us this:

“When Tony Abbott  visited Indonesia last year I was surprised to see his Chief-of-Staff Peta Credlin sitting with the PM in discussions with the Indonesian PM. A few days ago I saw her similarly positioned in the talks with the Japanese. Did other chiefs of staff sit next to the PM in high-ranking overseas negotiations or is this something new? I would have it inappropriate for her to be in such close proximity during these talks. Others surely would have precedence, the ambassador, trade commissioners etc.”

It’s a good question, but no, this is not unusual. Chiefs of staff do usually accompany their bosses on such trips. Abbott is particularly reliant on Credlin, as this recent (and excellent) Good Weekend piece explains, but Coalition insiders know that the popular legend of Credlin is sometimes inaccurate. Yes, she is very influential, very good at her job and somewhat feared within the party. But she is not a tyrant, and she is reasonable. She doesn’t throw tantrums or scream at staff — like some political advisers (not to mention politicians) we could name. Some MPs are legendary for their short fuses. If you’ve got some stories, be sure to tell Crikey.

Fresh fields for ABC journo. Remember former ABC environment reporter Sarah Clarke, who spent a decade covering matters green? Well, she moved to Hong Kong with her family last year, and has popped up hosting a business show for the ABC-run Australia Network satellite TV channel this week (the network is beamed through Asia and the Pacific). Clarke has been with the ABC since at least 1994, so she’s a stayer. Her Twitter feed shows she’s still keeping an eye on environmental issues.

Abbott in mysterious body swap. Tory columnist Miranda Devine brought this old pic to our attention via Twitter today …

… but did she need to make a fat jibe about our PM?

Other Twits got in on the act, saying Abbott “had more hair and [was] not so fit … as to fitness I’m a little surprised as he was boxing at time,” and ribbing Abbott’s “English beer gut”. Well — let he or she who looked fantastic back in 1983 cast the first stone, that’s all Ms Tips has to say about it. Anyone know what Ms Devine looked like back in the day?

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

Peter Fray

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