From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Debt repayment worries. Although it now looks pretty unlikely that mining mogul Gina Rinehart will be taking over Fairfax Media, she must still be sweating on the September 16 deadline for her partner in the Galilee Basin, India’s GVK, to come up with the final US$560 million tranche payment it owes on the purchase of the Kevin’s Corner and Alpha Coal projects. GVK has made the first two payments due to Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting under the US$1.26 billion deal, struck three years ago, but is struggling financially with some US$3.3 billion in debt. That’s a lot for a company with a market capitalisation of just US$400 million, as Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis noted here yesterday.

How on earth is GVK going to come up with another half-billion dollars? And if GVK defaults it won’t be easy for Rinehart, a keen litigant, to secure payment: GVK’s Australian shelf company is owned by an indebted Singaporean entity, and Hancock would have to go through Australian and Singaporean courts before it could recover from the Indian parent. Surely the most likely outcome is an extension — perhaps accompanied by a modest down payment — and a hope that dire thermal coal markets recover, pronto. A shot in the arm came this week with backing for the GVK project from coal haulier Aurizon’s Lance Hockridge, so now GVK just has to stay solvent.

Ross and John and sharia law? 3AW’s breakfast team Ross Stevenson and John Burns are broadcasting live from Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games next week, but a listener has questioned the appropriateness of their mode of travel. The pair, who were recently pipped at the post by the ABC’s Red Symons in the Melbourne radio ratings (Ross and John had been crowned breakfast radio kings 99 times in a row), will fly to Glasgow with Royal Brunei Airlines, fully owned by the government of Brunei.

Brunei recently introduced sharia law, including punishment for offences such as “indecent behavior”, becoming the first south-east Asian country to do so. The airliner has already had one promotion with 3AW’s Breakfast program this year and has been advertising on the station. It’s an interesting move, when talkback radio, including Ross and John’s 3AW colleagues, have been outspoken against any hint of introduction of sharia law in Australia. There is already a campaign, backed by Richard Branson, Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Fry, to boycott the Brunei government-owned Dorchester Hotel chain. We asked 3AW about the deal but didn’t hear back before deadline.

CSIRO cuts the holidays. The budget cuts and job losses at the CSIRO  have been well documented, but now the CSIRO’s school holiday program is on the chopping block. Teachers were told in an email this week that there would be changes to the education program, and while some programs will continue to run in an altered form, others are on the way out:

“We regret to announce that these Winter holidays were the final time that CSIRO Holiday Science will be offered in it’s current form. Due to changing circumstances across the organisation, we will not be running events of this type in the foreseeable future. From the team here at CSIRO Education NSW, we’d like to thank you personally for your commitment and involvement in our programs. It has been a pleasure running science events and activities for your children over the last 20 years and we would like to thank you for being part of our programs. The whole team have enjoyed running these programs and are disappointed they are not continuing.”

Our tipster was very disappointed with the news, saying:

“Fewer adult scientists, fewer kids inspired to become scientists.”

We asked the CSIRO if the changes were related to the budget cuts and were told:

“No, CSIRO’s Education and Outreach programs are being redeveloped to have a stronger focus on CSIRO’s research. This is a strategic change and is not related to budget cuts. CSIRO will continue to have an Education and Outreach team delivering programs in every state and territory. CSIRO will continue to have an Education and Outreach team delivering programs in every state and territory.  Our national programs — CREST Awards, BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards, CarbonKids and Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools – are continuing largely unchanged. New programs, including those offered during school holidays, will be developed with a focus on CSIRO’s science.”

Not your average smoke. Madonna King’s biography of Joe Hockey continues to make waves, but this gem on pages 172-173 has been missed by most:

“At their halfway point, at a little village called Efogi, the group dragged their feet into camp at about 5 pm one afternoon. Local villagers came out to see them and Joe, as always, was mucking around. One of them gave him a cigarette, which he quickly enjoyed. Inhaling deeply, Joe started to feel slightly better. David Koch looked over, realising immediately that Joe was enjoying a marijuana joint. ‘Do you know what you’re smoking?’ he asked.

“‘I don’t know what it is,’ Joe quipped back, ‘but it’s pretty good.'”

Man of letters. This letter appeared in today’s Australian Financial Review. Well, that’s one way to get published:

Nostra culpa. We said yesterday it was funny that the Scots welcomed the Queen to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with God Save the Queen, as she would no longer reign over them if September’s independence election were successful. But as our helpful tipsters pointed out, even if Scotland becomes an independent country, it will remain part of the Commonwealth, with the Queen as the head of state. She seems pretty happy about that in this photobomb — or maybe she’s just glad that England still leads the medal tally.

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