From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Air force spending first class. Guess what just blew out yet again? Only the cost of that flying (well, when it’s not grounded over safety concerns like engines catching fire) example of how not to do defence procurement, the F-35, which Australia, like some sort of village idiot in a fairy tale, has been gulled into buying by the American defence establishment. Last week CNBC reported that according to the Project On Government Oversight team, the cost of an F-35 for fiscal year 2015 had increased by 8%, from US$232 million to US$251 million, from the 2014 financial year. On current form, when Australia takes delivery of the first F-35s in 2018, they’ll be costing US$316 million each, which will presumably reduce the number of planes we’re getting, since the government insisted its spending on them was capped. The cost of the US navy version (which we’re not getting) increased by nearly 25% to US$337 million each. Thank goodness the planes spend so much time grounded — they’re far too expensive to place in harm’s way.

Transurban: truck tolls to be trebled. Safe to say there would have been no truckies listening in to the analysts’ briefing on Transurban’s profit results yesterday, but if they had been they would not have been happy, particularly those who regularly drive through Sydney’s north. Merrill Lynch analyst Matt Spence asked Transurban chief Scott Charlton for his thoughts on the truckies’ likely reaction to a trebling of tolls once Sydney’s new NorthConnex, linking the F3 and M2, was built. Charlton answered smoothly that the environmental impact statement contained the company’s thinking: “Truck tolls tend to have much lower diversion than cars … there’s emotional and perceived value as well. We’re comfortable with the forecast in EIS and our financial model.” In other words, the truckies are just going to have to cop it.

Rinehart needs connections. A tipster received a request from someone who seemed to be Gina Rinehart on LinkedIn this week, and while our tipster thought it was “totes legit”, he wondered how many people had been receiving requests from the (most likely) spam account. If you receive such a request, ask yourself — does Australia’s richest person need to network with you? Unless you’re sitting on an iron ore mine, probably not.

Brownapalooza in Melbourne. Kathmandu got a good workout last night, as more than a thousand people braving the Melbourne winter night filled the town hall for the latest installment of of Brownapolaooza — the rolling tour of ex-Greens leader and current guru Bob Brown as he tours the country promoting his new work of memoirs, reflections and philosophies, entitled Optimism. After a warm introduction by Noni Hazlehurst, who described Parliament as being run by “small children” and said “I know a thing or two about kindergarten”, Brown entered to rapturous applause and gave a stirring half-hour speech, beginning with a greeting to his “fellow earthians”. During the address he spoke of his youthful decade long-struggle with depression, caused in part by coming to terms with his homosexuality in a society where it was highly illegal and the revelatory omens of seeing the dead body of rock superstar Jimi Hendrix when he was brought into the casualty department where Brown was working as a doctor in 1970. Brown described Hendrix as not merely a genius, but a visionary and a prophet whose thoughts on existence had ultimately influenced Brown’s own direction in life.

After his speech concluded there were questions, the first of which name-checked the Dalai Lama, and it pretty much went on it that fashion from there. After the event the queue snaked all the way from the foyer of the town hall around the building and deep onto Little Collins Street. Readings’ Mark Rubbo who was on hand to sell copies of the volume, said he had shifted 247 that night. Other notables attending included comedian and activist Rod Quantock, Hardie Grant Publishing’s Sandy Grant and Fiona Hardie, from whom the book is coming, and Melbourne MP Adam Bandt and mysterious Greens svengali Ben Oquist, both dressed in grey suits and looking like characters from Mad Men. The crowd was like a geological layering of 40 years of Greens activism, from weathered Lake Pedder grey nomads through ’80s crusties and ferals now scurrying back to West Heidelberg to take the babysitter home to a topiary of millennial hipster beards and forest of Zooey Deschanel glasses. We could make a few more jokes about it, but it was an inspiring night committing to people who struggle for a new beautiful world, so we won’t.

No travel for News journos? This from a mole at News Corp after yesterday’s tip on EBA negotiations for journos. Looks like this won’t be resolved soon:

“Mileage allowances are being cut by up to 13% at News Corp, and personally I will be $3500 down on last year. If that is what News Corp calls ‘minimum impact to employees’, I’d hate to see what a ‘major impact’ is?”

Which war? The world marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI on Monday, but it seems someone at the ABC was a bit confused about which war we were commemorating. This photo of The Argus appeared in a slideshow on Aunty’s website, and as an eagle-eyed tipster noticed, it features the headline “Chamberlain’s Declaration”. Problem is, Neville Chamberlain was prime minister of Great Britain at the start of WWII, not WWI. It’s an understandable mistake, as the date on the paper is blurry, but is a valuable history lesson for the rest of us. For those playing at home, today is the 69th anniversary of the US dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which was in WWII.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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