From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Sealing the deal? At the Business Chicks breakfast in Sydney this morning Arianna Huffington told the audience that Nicole Sheffield, CEO of News Corp’s magazine arm News Life Media, gave the HuffPo founder some earrings when the two met during Huffington’s first trip to Australia this month. The Huffington Post has confirmed plans to launch in Australia in February next year, but is yet to announce its local partner. So could it be News Corp?

It wasn’t the only intrigue at the breakfast — former Channel Ten newsreader Tracey Spicer got up and asked Huffington whether the site’s Australian writers would be paid, and according to her piece on The Hoopla (you can read it here), got this response:

“You have to understand the principal of platforms,” Huffington said. “These bloggers want a wide distribution for their thoughts and ideas. No one is being forced to do it.”

“When you sit there watching TV, you enjoy it! You don’t ask to be paid to do it. Self-expression is the new entertainment. That’s part of the magic of the internet.”

Crikey‘s informants noted Huffington was rather keen to extend her network of free writers, even giving out her email address ([email protected]) and encouraging attendees at the breakfast to get in touch with stories. If you want to entertain yourself by writing for free for one of the world’s hottest media properties (Huffington sold her stake in the website for US$21 million), you know what to do.

Brickworks — we told you so. In October 2011 we ran this tip from someone present at an institutional shareholders’ meeting, in which the CEO of a company that would be affected by the carbon tax told those present that he wasn’t that worried by the tax. The company expected to recover most or all of its costs by finding ways to reduce emissions “at modest cost” as well as raising prices for consumers.

We can now reveal that the company and CEO in question are Brickworks and Lindsay Partridge. It’s been reported that even though Partridge was telling Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin that Brickworks “want certainty that there is no new tax” in  March 2011, his company received $17 million in grants from the Labor government and Brickworks’ costs from the tax on operations were much lower than expected. What we know now is that Partridge knew that the tax would have very little effect all along. This begs the question — what value for money were Brickworks shareholders getting for the $384,000 donation to the Liberals when they were set to make money from a tax they were supposedly trying to get rid of?

McTernan “helps” Scotland vote. With the “yes” case in the Scotland independence referendum closing in on the “no” majority, the latter are becoming increasingly desperate, offering expanded devolution of powers and a well-timed royal pregnancy (lie back and think of a United Kingdom), among other blandishments. Now Labour elements are crawling to elements of the Left (which has pro- and anti-independence factions) to persuade them to go in hard on a last-minute unity campaign for the union. Who’s leading this call? Well as Owen Jones writes in The Guardian, it’s only bloody John McTernan, isn’t it! Labour’s one-man omnishambles has weighed in arguing that those of “the old religion” — i.e. the Left, not sensible Blairites like himself — need to put aside their differences. Since, as Jones notes, it’s Blair-Thatcherite policies that alienated the Scots in the first place, that is a wee bit peaty. Moans McTernan on Twitter “It had to come to this. It’s not Tony Blair who’s to blame for the SNP but me!” No reason to think that, other than McTernan was the UK Labour spinmeister sent north to win Scotland for Labour in 2007 — and who steered Scottish Labour to such a disastrous result that the Scottish National Party got in, and promptly announced the push for a referendum. Yeah, no involvement whatsoever. McTernan went on to help Labor to a comprehensive disaster in 2013, hired apparently by people who don’t read the overseas papers. But really, one Australian election loss is nothing compared to actually playing a role in breaking up the UK when you didn’t actually intend to.That would be a stunning anti-achievement. No wonder the Labor Right beat a path to his door.

Sydney’s convict stain. The government’s copyright debate in Sydney yesterday had Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking the questions, and he started by taking his audience through the stats on what he termed illegal downloading. Sydney, the husband of the former lord mayor noted, used to eclipse Melbourne in illicit downloads. “I used to think that was the city’s convict stain,” Turnbull quipped, before, seemingly reluctantly, ceding the crown for biggest bunch of digital deviants to Melbourne.

Aussie scientists do good — but you wouldn’t know it. Industry Minister Ian Mcfarlane told scientists last week to “make yourself relevant”, but it seems even when they try, academics can’t catch a break. This study by researchers at the University of Sydney — showing the HPV vaccine (also developed partly by Australian scientists) has led to a 61% drop in genital warts — was released last week to the deafening silence of the Australian media. While it has been reported in Time magazine and the researchers have been contacted by The Washington Post and other American publications, there’s nothing to see here. Of course it’s not a very sexy issue, as researcher Christopher Harris told Crikey –“It’s not something you bring up on a first date or bring up with your parents” —  but we think it’s still a win for Australian scientists and everyone who is sexually active.

IS flags in western Sydney? We hear from a tipster that over the last few days police have been asking Greenacre residents in the western suburbs of Sydney to remove the black-and-white flag of the Islamic State from display, even though displaying the flags isn’t illegal: “This has exacerbated tensions in this suburb to simmering point and is extremely unhelpful especially given that these flags are not yet illegal.” We put that to NSW Police, but didn’t hear back before deadline.

Sell Fairfax to Gina. At the University of New South Wales “Meet the CEO” series last night, regular host Mark Scott interviewed his old boss Fred Hilmer. Both rose to prominence as executives at Fairfax during its so-called “lost years” of wasted online opportunity, though Scott has since surpassed the ignominy as managing director of the ABC. Hilmer — who’s now the outgoing vice-chancellor of UNSW — told Scott that the best way out of Fairfax’s current dilemmas was a sale. “Media companies are more worthwhile for people who want influence. The natural owner of Fairfax is Gina Rinehart,” he said. Don’t expect Fairfax’s current management, or, indeed, any of its journalists, to welcome the advice.

Young pollies. The internet is in a fluster over a shadowy pic of a wet-behind-the-ears Christopher Pyne as he attempted to run for the education committee at the University of Adelaide. While most are unsurprised that first-year Pyne was opposed to university fees as he stared down a four-year bachelor of laws (which is now very pricey), we are more disappointed at his clunky turn of phrase. Surely after a semester of uni he could do better than an opening sentence that is 59 words long! The picture appeared in the pages of the University of Adelaide’s esteemed student publication On Dit, one of a stable of long-running student rags that are a goldmine for the early musings of the country’s politicians (and photos of them with more hair than they have now). We hear that at the University of Sydney, references to Tony Abbott have disappeared from old copies of Honi Soit, but we have been lucky enough to find this photo of Richard Marles as president of the Melbourne University Student Union in an edition of Farrago from 1989. It must have been an interesting era for student politicians — Kathy Jackson, David Feeney and Greg Hunt were all walking the halls of (student) power around Parkville in those years. If you’ve got any student politician goss, we’d love to hear from you.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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