From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

No love lost at La Trobe. While universities are waiting with bated breath to see if the government manages to pass its higher education changes before the end of the year, La Trobe University in Melbourne will be fighting the National Tertiary Education Union in court in order to implement forced redundancies as part of a plan to reduce costs. In an email to staff from vice-chancellor John Dewar, seen by Crikey, Dewar labels the union “arrogant and out of touch with its membership”:

“In my view, it smacks of desperation and disorganisation that a union that purports to represent La Trobe staff has sat on its hands for a month since the Fair Work Commission case was concluded and now decides in the weeks before Christmas, as the process nears its conclusion, to generate needless anxiety and uncertainty for our staff and their families in the lead up to the festive season.

“Of course the union is entitled to pursue their legal options, but the only people to benefit from this additional court action will be lawyers. The cost of this action is money we could otherwise be spending on our students.

“I have come to the conclusion that the NTEU is arrogant and out of touch with its membership. This action puts the NTEU at odds with the overwhelming majority of staff at La Trobe, who tell us they simply want to get on with the reforms and move to our new structure and the certainty and clarity that it provides.”

The case between the NTEU and La Trobe will start with a directions hearing today, and we will watch with interest to see how it goes. We hear that morale at the university is very low. Looks like Dewar won’t be receiving Christmas cards from his employees this year.

Release or be leaked. The Lewis review, commissioned by the government to find budget savings for the public broadcasters at the start of this year, was one of a few elephants in the room at Senate estimates last night. ABC managing director Mark Scott referred to its findings often as he was questioned by senators about how the ABC would implement the budget cuts imposed upon it by the government. The report, which was given to the ABC earlier this year, is yet to be released, apart from the executive summary, with both Scott and SBS representatives at estimates saying that elements of the report were commercially sensitive. While journalists have been briefed on the report and much of what it says has been made public, last night Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said it was only “a matter of time” until it leaked. In an amusing exchange with Senator Mitch Fifield last night, Ludlam asked that the review be released, with the commercial in confidence parts redacted, because otherwise it would most likely end up leaked in full. Fifield refused to release the report, saying that parts of the document were commercial in confidence, choosing not to understand the term “redacted”. Typically, no agreement was reached.

While we wait for the review to be leaked or released, one tipster has made a word cloud of the executive summary of the review (removing dominant words like ABC and broadcaster), which gives a picture of what it includes:

We also found it interesting that ABC News 24 chose to broadcast Scott’s appearance at estimates last night, just hours after a memo was sent to staff telling them not to be “indulgent” in reporting on the budget cuts. We asked the ABC about the decision and were told by a spokesperson:

“News 24 regularly takes live coverage of Senate Estimates hearings and other parliamentary sessions and committees. We make judgements around what we take live and what we report subsequently according to the perceived editorial interest. With the ABC budget cuts on the front pages of many newspapers and featuring prominently in news coverage, we made the judgement there was public interest in broadcasting the hearing amid the mix of news last night. The broadcast drew a strong 1.1% share which is higher than the average for the same timeslot on News 24 this year, was the peak viewing period for the day and significantly higher than Sky News.”

Moore should say more. The ongoing battle between Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and Sydney’s right-wing media seems unlikely to ever end, but one tipster tells us that Moore got a bit of her own back at a speech at the Bay Precinct Summit yesterday. Moore labelled her combatants “unelected wannabe opinion spruikers” in a part of the speech titled “leadership”; we wonder what she would say if really given the chance to let loose:

“Our introduction of separated cycleways has generated ongoing outrage from right-wing media and shock jocks, even though these safer paths are a successful contribution to travel options in our city and help reduce congestion (costs $5 million a year). I am accused of wrecking the joint, conducting a jihad against motorists and being a bad influence on the state government — which initially joined in the negativity, but is now building some of our cycle ways in the CBD … If you give in to these unelected wannabe opinion spruikers, you lose your credibility as a leader.”

Former MUSU president appears again. Many of us do things we regret in university, but some of those running the Melbourne University Student Union in the early 2000s probably have more regrets than most. We hear from a tipster that Scott Crawford, the president of the union when it was liquidated in 2004, is back in politics, and working on the Victorian election campaign. That period of history at the university is mired in scandal and includes allegations of forgery, travel rorts, questionable electoral manouvering and dodgy contracts. Crawford wasn’t charged over any of this, but his predecessor Darren Ray was sentenced to jail for fraud. Our tipster told us that Crawford was now acting as the point of contact for Fiona Richardson, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Northcote in next week’s election. We called Crawford, who confirmed that he was working on the campaign, and had been president of the Melbourne University Student Union. We put on the record questions about his history at the union and its liquidation, but didn’t hear back before deadline.

Undergrad humour moment. We’ve received a link to this video by anti-East West link activists, who have found a new angle on which to criticise the proposed tunnel. Not only will the west entrance to the tunnel take up more space in Royal Park than was originally promised, according to our tipster, it also apparently looks like a penis. We think it’s a tenuous link, and it seems unlikely that it will swing any votes either way, but we thought we’d let you make up your own minds.

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

Peter Fray

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