From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Serco reprimanded by Ombudsman. In a report by the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office that was released with barely a whisper last week, Serco has been reprimanded by the regulator over US$5000 that had gone missing. An asylum seeker (referred to as Mrs X) says she handed the money to a Serco officer when she was transferred to the immigration detention facility in 2012, and it was never returned. She  filed a complaint with the Ombudsman last year. The report criticises both Serco and the Department of Immigration, saying that the policies for keeping valuables were insufficient:

“Serco did not follow an appropriate ‘in trust’ property procedure for currency exceeding AUD $100. The informal protocol utilised at the time of the incident was not appropriate for receiving and managing client property, particularly valuables. The informal protocol left Serco and the Serco officer vulnerable to allegations of missing property because of the lack of checks and balances, in particular, the lack of record keeping of the chain of custody.”

Serco is refusing to pay the money, disputing the ruling. The Immigration Department has also disagreed with the recommendation, saying that Mrs X should be offered compensation, not reimbursement. The report also condemns a lack of accountability from the department and Serco:

“Serco has not effectively delivered the contract in this case, and the Department is reluctant or unwilling to take relevant action under the contract as the contract manager.”

Serco’s reliance on Australian government contracts to stay afloat has been well-documented — but luckily for Serco, no one seems keen to pull the plug.

He’s not properly vetted, he’s my brother. Ms Tips does not have an older brother, but she imagines they can be both a blessing and a curse. That seems to be the feeling for John Thawley, younger brother of the new secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Michael Thawley. John took umbrage at a piece in Monday’s Fairfax papers that claimed Michael Thawley would help steer the troubled government to safer waters — so much so that he wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in yesterday’s Age:

“I am the brother of the recently appointed head of the prime minister’s department, Michael Thawley (The Age, 1/12). I have, of course, congratulated him and wished him all the best. There have been a number of articles in the media about the top public servant in the government and your article is of interest on several fronts. Why do we need a ‘circuit breaker’? Does Michael Thawley possess better economic skills than our treasurer? Can he help Julie Bishop with the ongoing dispute regarding Russia and the Ukraine? His first appointment was to Moscow when he joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the 1970s. No journalist mentions that he was also foreign affairs advisor to Paul Keating. Is it time that these senior appointments are vetted by our parliament as they are in the United States? — John Thawley, Beechworth”

We called Thawley the younger at his bookshop in Beechworth today to find out what the fallout was from the letter. John said his book orders had gone through the roof, but he hadn’t received a call from his brother about the letter: “I expect he’s very busy.” John said his brother had worked for the government for most of his working life and had never run a business, so he was unsure how Michael’s appointment would change the economic direction of the government. John said he would probably send his brother an email to apologise, but we do wish we could be a fly on the wall at the Thawley family Christmas.

Pyne’s not Wong with Wang issues. It’s been a busy 24 hours for Education Minister Christopher Pyne — first Glenn Lazarus channeled Lady Gaga and Beyonce and asked him to “stop telephonin’ me”, then his higher education bill was voted down, followed by a blistering interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30. Pyne was very excited in his chat with Sales, so much so he seemed to mispronounce Senator Dio Wang’s surname as Wong. Sales pulled him up on it but the minister stood firm, claiming that his pronunciation was more accurate. This morning Pyne didn’t back down — on legislation or pronunciation — saying Wang as Wong in this morning’s press conference. While many were quick to poke fun at Pyne, Ms Tips hears from a Mandarin-speaking tipster that he is actually closer to the mark than those who say “wang” with an Australian twang:

We don’t often give Christopher Pyne credit for being right, but it seems that he has more cultural sensitivity than we realised. Just stop texting the senators about policy.

Christensen’s trouble with the laydeez. Bluff North Queenslander George Christensen, member for Dawson and probably the most pointless member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate, is of course well known for having an obsession with what Muslim women wear. It was Christensen who, along with far-Right bestiality expert Cory Bernardi, sparked yet another cry of “ban the burqa” (we use their term, despite its inaccuracy) earlier this year, which blew up in the Coalition’s, and particularly Bronwyn Bishop’s, face after a prank phone call to a radio station was used as the pretext for an apartheid-like segregation of people wearing facial coverings in Parliament. But what, we wonder, would Christensen know about women of any kind? Check out his personal website, which contains an array of photos of the big fella in his electorate. We searched through the entire website and could only find one woman in any of his photos. Who’s the lucky woman? Kelly O’Dwyer, who appears in the background of a photo of Christensen in the House of Representatives. Otherwise, it’s middle-aged or elderly blokes, although there’s a young chap in the photo from the section on Mackay and a youngish-looking soldier in the Townsville photo. To be scrupulously fair, there’s some hair on the right side of the “Fighting For Jobs” picture that presumably belongs to a woman, but we can’t be sure. Perhaps Christensen will one day explain the mystery of how he has an electorate that is completely devoid of females?

Andrews’ offsider issues. Victoria’s new Premier Daniel Andrews is in the process of putting together the ministry that will have to take on the motley upper house full of shooters and fishers, sex enthusiasts and who knows who else, and Ms Tips has a word of advice for him. Andrews and his deputy, James Merlino, dragged the press out to Lilydale yesterday to talk about their TAFE policies, but what really got our attention is the height difference between the two men. Andrews is taller than average, and Merlino is shorter than average. Together the two men look like a duo to be found outside Melbourne’s town hall during the comedy festival spruiking their jokes, not their policies. We know height has nothing to do with political ability, but visuals like this make us giggle:

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Peter Fray

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