From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Abbott calling. Prime Minister Tony Abbott came into government saying that he would be an Asia-first prime minister, but perhaps he has taken it a bit too far. A tipster alerted us to this quote from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on an English-language news website in Malaysia. Apparently, Abbott is coming off a little needy:

“Tony Abbot [sic] calls me every week now. He is my telephone stalker, even when I am overseas he calls me.”

Press gallery movements. Bevan Shields, until recently the SMH’s digital locum editor, is moving to Canberra, where he’ll head up the Smage‘s political coverage as federal political editor. “Loving this city already,” he tweeted this morning as he revealed his new position, to start tomorrow. Crikey understands he’s been brought on to head up Fairfax’s new online strategy with respect to its politics coverage. His appointment comes during a period of relative calm for the press gallery — since Fairfax poached Latika Bourke in July from the ABC, it’s been a quiet few weeks, with most of the big names staying put.

Democracy up on blocks. You may remember last week’s tip featuring a letter from RACV president Ross Herron urging members to vote for the incumbent board members in the upcoming election. Herron also used his column in the RACV’s monthly Royal Auto magazine to push for the re-election of the current board members with a clue as to why:

“RACV has long maintained an apolitical position and always comments on individual issues impacting its members rather than party policies. The Board considers that it is not in RACV members’ interest to become a politicised organisation, and does not support candidates campaigning on party political lines or on a single issue.”

Two of the candidates challenging for board positions — Trent McCarthy and Amanda Stone — are members of the Greens and opposed to the East West Link project proposed by the state government. The RACV’s official position is in favour of the tunnel. We also hear that changes to the election by-laws have made it more difficult for people to nominate for the board, and easier to be made ineligible for election. McCarthy ran for the board last year, also on an anti-East West Link platform, and gained 34% of the vote. The RACV elections are the one of the biggest non-government elections in the country with 1.4 million eligible voters (last year about 73,000 people voted). The website, which first appeared last year, has been updated with information about the candidates running for re-election this year. Asterisks appear on the information about candidates to indicate which ones are already board members; these also appear on ballot papers, as do the words “these candidates have been endorsed by the board”. We’ve asked the RACV for comment, but didn’t hear back before deadline.

Critical infrastructure secure in SA. We’ve been monitoring the changing security in response to Australia’s heightened terror threat level, and staff at the South Australian Department of Education at its Flinders Street HQ in Adelaide have an armed guard stationed of the building because it is deemed “critical infrastructure”. In an email obtained by journalist Asher Wolf, staff were advised last week by Ross Treadwell, executive director of infrastructure, that they would be joined in the lobby by a “highly trained” protective security officer who had approval for the “carriage of firearms”. We indeed hope the officer is highly trained, as accidental handgun discharges have killed 10 Australians in the last decade, and hundreds more have died from accidental discharges of other firearms — far more, of course, than have died as a result of terrorism. “Critical infrastructure” is one of those terms that has only really existed since 9/11 — the War on Terror has produced a whole micro-industry of public servants and company executives across any number of industries like transport, communications, power and fuel who regularly convene to discuss how to protect “critical infrastructure”. Big business loves it, because the more regulatory requirements for protecting services and capital, the higher the barriers to entry for any would-be competitors — and all sanctioned in name of the War on Terror.

Make my (McHappy) Day. The opening of a McDonald’s in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges captured the media’s attention last year as protests against the restaurant turned ugly, but now the store is open for business we hear life is going on as usual in Tecoma. According to our tipster, the store is not particularly busy, but it will be taking part in this year’s McHappy Day to raise money for charity. However, local businesses weren’t so (Mc)happy to receive this letter asking for their products for the raffle and staff to help with fundarising.


The exclusive that wasn’t. The Australian Financial Review seems to have made a goose of itself about the battle for control of Treasury Wine Estates between two private equity groups, KKR and TPG, in its front-page story this morning. Sayeth the Fin:

“Private equity giant, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is in the prime position to win a recommendation from the board of Treasury Wine Estates after loding a bid significantly higher than rival TPG.”

 But it wasn’t to be. At 8.53am, Treasury issued a statement to the ASX announcing the termination of discussions:

“Throughout the due diligence process the private equity bidders indicated support for Management’s strategic plans and roadmap. They also did not identify any major concerns with the business. However, it is now apparent to the Company that the bidders are not able to support a transaction on terms and at a price acceptable to the Board. Accordingly all discussions have now ceased.”

Bad luck AFR and its exclusive, which was expanded on page 11. The moral is, put not thy faith in a drip of information from investment bankers or other advisers. Some times they are spot on, other times they miss the mark. Always best to have it from the old horse’s mouth.

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