From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Visualise your success. It wasn’t a great day for Airservices Australia on Friday, when CEO Air Vice Marshal Margaret Staib and her senior executives were grilled by Senator Nick Xenophon at a Senate hearing into the country’s airspace regulator. While it’s been reported that there are issues with safety at Melbourne Airport, we hear the regulator is facing internal pressure over a cartoon of the company’s direction:

“This special Senate committee hearing follows on from what most observers rate as a ‘dreadful’ appearance at the Senate estimates hearing on October 20th. At that hearing Staib was mercilessly grilled by Senators [Bill] Heffernan, [Glenn] Sterle and [Alex] Gallacher over failure to notify the Public Works Committee of almost $100 million of project spending and corporate credit card abuse within the nation’s air traffic control organisation. Ms Staib also is under scrutiny from the Airservices board after the disastrous internal public relations stunt where she introduced a ‘visualisation’ of the organisation’s future direction during a nation-wide video conference with most of the staff. Staff were astounded to be presented with a ‘Where’s Wally’ like graphic depicting self-congratulatory-like messages representing supposedly the result of thoughts from staff focus groups over the last six months. One recently employed staff member from the UK stated after seeing the graphic that it was like the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ had taken over Airservices Australia. Staff are reported to be extremely angry at the reported million-dollar cost for the production/presentation at a time when there are rumours of significant staff cuts soon to be announced.”

The poster in question does indeed look like it belongs to a children’s book:

It’s a bit blurry, but yes it does feature a plane saying “love this service”. We asked Airservices Australia about the poster and the rumoured job cuts, but were told they couldn’t get back to us today. If we do hear back, we’ll let you know the story behind the poster.

Tinkler goes dark. We hear former billionaire Nathan Tinkler’s online empire has “gone dark”, with all company websites offline and email accounts bouncing. That includes Tinkler’s Singaporean venture Bentley Resources, stillborn Blamey Resources, the Tinkler Group, the Hunter Sports Group (still owner of the Newcastle Jets) and what’s left of the Patinack Farm stud, which is still to be sold. Probably didn’t pay his bills, as per usual, our informant speculated. None of which stopped Tinkler holding forth in a Friday night speech to Singapore’s Mining Club, picked up by Reuters. Tinkler said he was “a big believer that a lot of the majors will start to divest assets [in coal]” and chucked in his 10 cents worth on the chance of a second Glencore tilt for Rio: “Do I think the merger will happen? I don’t think it should. [But] Ivan Glasenberg is a hungry, driven beast. When he sets his eyes on a target there is no timeline.”

McKenney’s off-colour Lambie joke. In the gender-bending musical La Cage Aux Folles, mean judge Todd McKenney sashayed on stage last night at Melbourne’s Arts Centre in a shock-frock of clam shells. Veering off script, he offered: “What’s the difference between this dress and Jacqui Lambie’s vagina? I can eat this dress.” With the audience in hysterics, McKenney warned the crowd that he “better not see that in the papers”. He didn’t say anything about online publications though …

Christmas isn’t very special at the ABC. ABC managing director Mark Scott faced up to Senate estimates this morning and spent much of the time answering questions from South Australian senators about why it was necessary to close the production studio in Adelaide as part of the budget cuts imposed on the broadcaster by the government. Scott confirmed that savings from closing the Adelaide studios would go towards online and mobile funding, which has further angered South Australian staff. Staff members at Adelaide were already furious at how the site has been characterised by Scott in the media, with an insider telling us the studio runs very efficiently:

“I am insulted by the rhetoric about Anzac Girls as it implies that our skills are not valued. This program was used at the MD’s address last Monday as an example of how the ABC will continue to make content in South Australia despite the closure of the ‘Adelaide television studio’ (which is not an accurate description) and while this was a great program, it was produced by the independent sector.”

We also learnt in estimates that the Lewis Review barely mentions the Adelaide studios and focuses more on outsourcing content. Some staff members are telling us that Scott is using the budget cuts to make changes that he has long wanted to make, as they had already been told that there would be no Christmas food special filmed there before the budget cuts were known:

“The Adelaide unit is well known for its cooking shows and has a history of making Christmas food specials with hosts such as Maggie Beer, Poh Ling Yeow and Simon Bryant. But months ago, ABC management in Sydney made it clear it didn’t want a Christmas episode this year — despite the traditional popularity of these shows on the ABC.”

Ms Tips has a feeling that Mark Scott is on the naughty list of many ABC staffers this year.

The cockatoo in the coal mine? Junior Queensland miner Cockatoo Coal, suspended from sharemarket trade a fortnight ago, could be the next casualty of the commodity slump, with sources saying it is headed for voluntary administration. Cockatoo this morning told the ASX that efforts to refinance the company’s $65 million debt were continuing and it would be in a position to make an announcement on January 2, a month later than expected. On Friday, however, credit markets monitor Debtwire added Cockatoo to its “stressed” list, noting the company desperately needed liquidity, could not draw down on a major facility with ANZ as it had failed to satisfy conditions of the loan, was operating at a loss at current coal prices and had fast-approaching take-or-pay liabilities it would struggle to meet to the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET) at Gladstone, from March. Cockatoo’s potential failure would follow the collapse of Bandanna Energy, which also planned to export through WICET, and would have implications for coal haulier Aurizon, which has already written off some $45 million in investment in rail links to the terminal and was already forced to defend the project at its AGM last month.

Sorry for party rocking. On Friday we ran a rumour that controversial singer Redfoo would be appearing at the Coles staff Christmas party, but we hear from a spokesperson that the rumour isn’t true and Redfoo won’t be appearing. We hope that no staff members spent their weekend practising their wiggling.

Time for pudding and red wine in Victoria. Victoria’s new Premier has made a lot of promises this election campaign — he even said on Saturday that they were “set in stone” after he was questioned about Crikey‘s set in stone project. However, Ms Tips is most excited about his dessert-related promises — we’re demanding subsidies on sticky-date:

While Sportsbet paid out punters who put money on a Labor win at Saturday’s election on Friday, before polls were even officially open, we hear from Crikey blogger Charles Richardson that he’s not quite ready to concede defeat in his wager with “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery. Richardson wrote in October that the chances of minor parties in Victoria were overestimated by other pundits, and he downplayed their chances of gaining seats. Glenn Druery then issued Richardson the following challenge:

“I’ll bet you a fine bottle of red on the upper house result in Victoria – i.e. four minor parties (minimum) will be elected!

I might even ask Barry for red wine advice …”

Ms Tips called Richardson this morning to ask if he’d picked out a bottle of wine yet, and while we were assured that Richardson fully intends to hold up his end of the bet, he reminded us that we still have to wait for the official announcements. Druery doesn’t feel the need to wait for the Victorian Electoral Commission to actually announce the winners, he’s already claiming the win. Said Druery in an email to us this morning:

“I’m off on a bike ride to the bottle shop in search of a nice red that will be enjoyed tonight with a few ‘minor party’ friends from Victoria.  What type of red would you recommend with lamb, Charles?”

If Richardson does need to cough up, he assures us that it will be a nice bottle, and he’ll let Druery pick. We hope his taste isn’t as expensive as Barry O’Farrell’s…

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

Peter Fray

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