From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Green treason. The long-simmering, below-ground conflict between former high-powered members of the Greens has broken into open warfare, with Christine Milne’s former communications director Tim Hollo publishing a blistering attack on former colleagues Ben Oquist and Richard Denniss, both now at The Australia Institute think tank, and both offering extensive — and, they say, unpaid — advice to billionaire and federal MP Clive Palmer. Denniss has also been launching multiple attacks, via his column in The Australian Financial Review, on Milne’s leadership of the Greens, which he regards as inflexible and self-marginalising of the party. Hollo alleges that Denniss is blaming Milne for a step many people found curious — opposing fuel excise increases — made by the whole party room.

But that’s not the way Crikey heard it. At least two senior figures in that party room meeting have told us that Milne imposed the excise increase refusal as a fait accompli, and dared the party room to undo it. “It could have been stalled until we had a discussion,” one said, “but it was just a done deal”. The ostensible reason for the excise increase refusal was on social equity grounds, but others suggest that Milne was heading off the beginnings of a fresh challenge to her leadership — one now on hold after the Greens bounced back to 15-17% polling numbers, while Palmer’s numbers tanked.

The Truth comes out. After Ms Tips lamented yesterday that she wanted to know some stories from the now-defunct tabloid The Truth, we got this from a tipster:

“The crowd of journos had just settled down after Don Chipp’s intro to a night of censored films, one of the highlights of the Canberra year 1970. Chipp was working the room to get support for the introduction of the R Certificate. The lights went down and on came the first clip, some unknown sword and sandal epic so old its title was lost. ‘Will you talk or shall I pull your fingernails out first’ said the centurion to the slave tied to a bench. Then a voice from the audience, Jack Darmody of Melbourne’s Truth, called out: ‘Pull his fingernails out first!'”

And this from another:

“Years ago in Brisbane there was a gay venue (unlicensed) called Willie’s Bazaar, which was raided by the police — feds and state. All they found was a very small amount of cannabis. Truth picked up the story and business flourished for the next few months! Willie herself loved telling the story and dined out on it for ages!”

Turns out we didn’t need to go to the party to get all the good gossip.

SERCO and Fiona Stanley Hospital. After months of delays, the Fiona Stanley Hospital finally opened in Perth last month, although it won’t be fully operational until next year. The hospital will eventually replace many services at the Royal Perth Hospital. It was supposed to be Western Australia’s first paperless hospital, but the plan was dumped after IT problems. The hospital will be run by Serco, the contractor that is also responsible for running Australia’s detention centres. Workers from RPH went on strike last week over job cuts associated with the new hospital and we received this from a tipster:

“Serco is now openly recruiting casual staff currently employed at Royal Perth Hospital by using management to ‘helpfully’ spread the word. The majority of the casual workers are female immigrants whose second language is English. I have been been hearing reports that during phone [interviews] when the candidates don’t understand a question and say so (as they are repeatedly told to do during English lessons) the interviews are being terminated because of language difficulties. Why are the language skills good enough to work at Royal Perth and not at Fiona Stanley?”

We made some calls and hear that older workers and workers with English as a second language already employed in non-clinical services are struggling to get positions at Fiona Stanley. We put this to Fiona Stanley but didn’t hear back before deadline.

… and so say all of us. Today is the Prime Minister’s 57th birthday, and we wish him many happy returns. We wonder what presents he’ll receive from his parliamentary colleagues — perhaps Attorney-General George Brandis will present the PM with his own search history, handily retained for future reference, or Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop might offer him a leadership challenge. Ms Tips promises to have a long lunch in the PM’s honour, and the card is in the mail.

FIFO workers cruising. Chevron’s Gorgon Gas drilling project on Barrow Island off Western Australia’s north-west coast is developing quickly, and the company has announced that it will use a former cruise ship, the Silja Europa, as a “floatel” to house fly in-fly out workers employed on the project, but we hear from a tipster that all is not well with the ship:

“The vessel was hastily fitted out to suit the purpose then sailed to Western Australia. What is now known to many of the FIFO workers is that Legionnaire’s disease has been confirmed in the air-conditioning systems and many of the bathrooms, consequently putting the health of the workers at serious risk. Although this has been circulated on social media, mainstream local media in WA seems to have made no mention of this ‘public interest’ story.”

We called Mermaid Marine Australia, the company that contracted the ship, to ask about the tip and were told that Legionnaire’s disease is not in the air conditioning at all:

“The accommodation vessel Silja Europa recently arrived in Dampier, Western Australia. The vessel has been operating as a cruise vessel in Europe and has been contracted to provide additional accommodation support at Barrow Island. On arrival, water quality testing was conducted as part of MMA’s quality management process and on 27 October MMA was notified that the routine test had identified elevated levels of certain bacteria, including legionella. The elevated levels were found in water systems that were not in use by the people on board at the time of testing and so posed a very low risk. At no time was there any risk of the bacteria getting into the air conditioning system. Treatment of the water supply began immediately and concluded at 1300 on 29 October 2014. Further testing of the water supply has shown the treatment was successful.”

We’d say that’s why it hasn’t been reported, glad to set the record straight.

The internet is made for cats. “If you want a friend in Washington,” they quip, “get a dog”. But if you want to make friends on the internet, as Labor MP Michael Danby did yesterday, you’re better off with a cat — ideally one in an implausibly compromising position. Proving that former prime minister Kevin Rudd is not the only politician who can has cheezburger, the federal member for Melbourne Ports tweeted a baffling series of cat memes after what we at Crikey are forced to assume was a liquid lunch yesterday. Danby is far from the first politician to walk the path of St Francis — Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull infamously charmed a confused public with his dog blog, a series of stream-of-consciousness missives exploring the age-old question of the poet who dreamed he was a Maltese/Silky cross. Unlike Danby, though, the Silver Fox was able to bring a level of pathos to his musings that is difficult to achieve by just plastering captions over puzzled pussies.

At first we thought Danby had been hacked, but a spokesperson told Buzzfeed, “No no. He just really likes them and wanted to tweet his favorite cat photos”. Good to know.

Hello Leigh, hello Annabel, hello love. The ABC’s Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb say they are not in talks to feature in a weekly political discussion show to replace the state editions of 7.30, but they are starting a podcast that will make people wish they were. This preview was released yesterday and features Sales and Crabb singing their own version of a song from the musical A Chorus Line. We’re not sure why it’s happening, but we’re still glad it is.

And they’re off. As it is the day in which the nation is meant to stop for a horse race, we present Ms Tips’ expert form guide for today’s Melbourne Cup, based on very careful analysis of the horse’s names. While Admire Rakti is the bookies’ pick in the main race, and Red Cadeaux the sentimental favourite, we recommend putting your money on Protectionist, as a tribute to the economic policies of the Nationals, or Willing Foe — perhaps a reference to the impending meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and our very own Tony Abbott. In race three we recommend Clear Direction, which reminds us of a Coalition climate policy — it sounds nice but doesn’t mean much. In race nine our money is on Not Listenin’tome, because we’re sure that’s how the political classes feel most of the time, and in race one we tip Results, because that’s what everyone wants. But Ms Tips’ real favourite will appear in race four: the horse is called Tips and Beers, two of our favourite things. If you have any beer-fuelled tips from the races today, drop us a line.

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

Peter Fray

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