From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Hockey reluctant on dole cuts? When Joe Hockey was quizzed on the budget’s savage cuts to the dole, his answer was limp-wristed. There’s speculation he never liked the proposal but it was forced on him by the cabinet. Stay tuned.

Trouble at the CBA? Word is that the Top 20 ASX-listed company with a corporate affairs team in disarray that has been the subject of Tips running in Crikey over the last two days can only be the Commonwealth Bank. Crikey has reported on allegations of bullying and a rash of recent departures, starting with the redundancy in late February of well-liked Steve Batten after more than eight years at the bank, and continuing this week with a 25-year veteran apparently told to look for a job elsewhere after his job was awarded to a colleague without a formal recruitment process or advertising of his role.

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CBA’s 100-strong corporate affairs team was restructured last year with the bank’s veteran spinner Bryan Fitzgerald working directly for CEO Ian Narev, moving into a kind of chief of staff role (his LinkedIn page says he is now executive general manager of “CEO positioning”) and the appointment of former Woolworths executive Andrew Hall as group head of corporate affairs. Hall hired former Perpetual PR boss Kate Abrahams as head of communications and senior journalist Nick Tabakoff as executive manager public affairs.

Things do not appear to be travelling too well. CBA has been under the spotlight lately, especially with the joint Fairfax/ABC Four Corners “Banking Bad” investigation revealing heartbreaking tales of victims of the Commonwealth Financial Planning division.

Abrahams would not comment on the allegation except to say: “It’s been 12 months since the new corporate affairs function was established and naturally there has been changes in the team.”

More on Abbott’s drinking habits. Yesterday we filled you in on the furore about Tony Abbott being snapped drinking a post-budget red with his pals from The Daily Telegraph, which fed claims that Abbott strongly favours News Corp. As we pointed out, Abbott had a quick chat with Fairfax reporters who were in the same restaurant (Portia’s), which News types cite to prove Abbott’s impartiality.

But wait, there’s more. Ms Tips has found out that Abbott very much focused on the Tele crew at Portia’s. While the Fairfax tables were nearby, he made no effort to talk to them. Instead Fairfax senior journos Michael Gordon and Peter Hartcher approached Abbott and instigated the chat. And the goss is that an Abbott staffer made it clear to the Fairfax crew that Abbott was not there to see them. Nice.

The context is that Fairfax is in the deep freeze from Abbott’s office. This has been exacerbated by Fairfax’s reporting on Joe Hockey “selling” access to himself for a high price, which has infuriated the Treasurer (the matter is now “in the hands of lawyers“). Fairfax hacks are panicking that they’re getting so few drops while News sucks on the Abbott teat. Meanwhile, News types say that’s how this business rolls — if you’re critical of the government, you’re frozen out. OK, so why did the former Labor government give so many drops to News Corp? It must have been a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer …

Bring Back Our Girls. Pollies had their say about the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls (pic via @mearesy) …

… “What, into Coalition cabinet?” tweeted @ABCnewsIntern. Touche.

Programming wars at Seven, Ten. After the ongoing legal fight over programming specialist John Stephens ended in him staying at the Seven Network, Ten’s insurance policy is understood to be Len Downs, the veteran programmer of Nine’s Melbourne station GTV. Downs was a fixture at Nine for decades and was trusted by the late Kerry Packer, who consulted him every Monday morning to discuss the previous week’s ratings, and the Sunday night figures, before heading into the weekly management meeting at Willoughby.

Downs has become a programming consultant to Ten. The news hasn’t been broadcast to the world, perhaps because Ten is keeping the pressure on Seven over the Stephens court case. Downs will work with Ten’s programming group, headed by Beverley McGarvey.

Meanwhile, the case involving Stephens goes on. It’s understood Ten is now not calling Tim Worner, Seven West Media’s CEO, or Stephens to appear in court. The only witness Ten will have will be Hamish McLennan, the executive chairman and CEO.

Hockey dances to a different tune. There’s been quite a stir about Joe Hockey allegedly dancing in his office to Best Day of My Life just before he gave his budget speech on Tuesday. We asked you to suggest a more appropriate tune for Hockey in the wake of his “rob the poor” budget. One reader suggested a version of Do You Miss Me Yet? covered by renowned chanteuse Julia Gillard. We also had a bid for Don’t Leave Me This Way, perhaps more appropriate for unemployed people after this budget …

“Don’t leave me this way
I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive …
Don’t leave me this way
I don’t understand how I’m at your command.”

Another reader proposed Delusions of Grandeur by the Pet Shop Boys, which sounds about right for the Treasurer.

” … And I want revenge
Give me power over people
In a palace with a permanent guard
And the flags unfurled.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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