From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Movement out of Immigration. An Immigration insider says all is not well within Scott Morrison’s department:

“The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is suffering a huge brain drain since the appointment of Mike Pezzullo as secretary. Two deputy secretaries announced their departure today, the General Counsel and another of the most senior lawyers last week, another deputy secretary and a host of branch heads earlier. The damage caused to the department is incalculable and morale amongst the Immigration staff is at an all-time low. Worse than during the Cornelia Rau & Vivien Alvarez aftermath. On Pezzullo’s first day in the job he addressed a meeting of the department’s senior executive service and told them that only 150 of 180 of them would have a job by the time the merge of Customs and Immigration was complete, and that a ‘searing’ process of skills assessment would be undertaken to work out who would go. He finished the conference with another address advising that there would be ‘no insurrections’ and that he did not plan to be ‘The Baron of Belconnen’. When it was time for questions the silence was deafening. And since then it has got worse with his ‘vision’ of the whole department being focused on the border (what about nation building and contributing to the skills base and the economy?) and an increasingly paranoid approach to integrity. All of which has done huge damage. Not at all helped by his militaristic approach to civilian matters — there is even a ‘battle-plan’ for the customs/immigration merger.”

Pezzullo took over the department in October, and his leadership style has made waves, which has already been reported. We asked the department if it was true that two deputy secretaries were leaving, and who they were, and received this response:

“The Department can confirm that a small number of senior executive staff have taken up opportunities at other agencies. It is common for senior executives in the APS to transfer from one agency to another. The senior executives concerned leave the Department with the best wishes and full support of the Secretary. The Secretary announced their departures to all staff yesterday and thanked them for their very significant contributions.”

We’ve made some enquiries and been told the deputy secretaries who are moving on are Dr Wendy Southern and Mark Cormack. This is on top of the departure of former deputy secretary Elizabeth Cosson, who moved from Immigration to Health soon after Pezzullo started. We asked the department how the leadership style of Pezzullo was being received, but didn’t hear back by deadline.

Queensland gearing up for early election? It looks like Queensland voters could be dragged into a snap election sooner than anyone — well, nearly anyone — could have predicted. Crikey received this telling tip that suggests Premier Campbell Newman may well be planning an early offensive in the fight to keep Labor from sweeping another Coalition state government out of office:

“Electoral Office signed contract for the provision of computer hardware (hardware as a service) in early December so that the Qld Election can be run electronically. The contract was a three-month contract.”

While a Labor victory still looks unlikely, any decision to go to the polls early could mean that the Newman government was watching the Victorian state election last month — and its ignominious result for the Coalition there — very closely indeed. The election is due by June 20, and we put the tip to the Electoral Commission of Queensland, but didn’t hear back by deadline.

Disappointing float for Perpetual. ANZ Australia chief Phil Chronican might have to opt for the free sandwiches at this morning’s annual meeting after the disappointing debut by the Perpetual Equity Investment Company — a listed fund that issues shares at $1 each but opened lower and had fallen to 97c at time of writing. An ANZ spokesperson would not comment this week, but it does seem likely the potential successor to group chief Mike Smith is linked to the Chronican Superannuation Fund No. 2, which took a million shares, making it the seventh-largest shareholder in the Perpetual-managed fund, which specialises in Australian mid-caps. Losing $30,000 an hour in a rising market is hardly cause for celebration. Another float fizzes. We’re sure it’s a long-term investment.

Unfortunate Google ads. An Australian in the US was reading his trusty local paper The Age online this week, and was horrified to see an advertisement for the National Rifle Association pop up on the site:

Our tipster thought the NRA must be paying for ads in Australia since the Sydney siege, but on closer inspection it appears the ad is a Google ad — not one necessarily accepted with the knowledge of Fairfax. It’s unfortunate timing, but not an issue The Age can necessarily fix.

Arsehats and Twitter-twats. Voting for the 2014 Crikeys is under way, and it’s looking like we already have a clear leader in the mad scramble for the much-coveted Arsehat of the Year: our beloved Prime Minister. Really, guys? Tony Abbott? We at Crikey expected a bit more creativity from our readers. But as the voting doesn’t close until 5pm today, we thought we’d give our prime stallion a bit of a handicap by pointing out some compelling evidence for a vote for one of our less-obvious candidates: controversial backbencher and all-round Twit George Christensen.

Not too thrilled with your tax dollars at work? Let us know! Click here to cast your vote for Crikey’s 2014 Arsehat of the Year.

Diesel prices down. Amid all the fear and loathing about the impact of falling oil prices on BHP Billiton, clever analysts and panic merchants have missed the point that BHP (and Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group) is a huge consumer of diesel fuel, which is also falling in price. In fact Caltex has just won the right to supply BHP with its Pilbara diesel needs for the next three years, with a two year option at the end. The size of the contract is mind boggling – 650 million litres of diesel every year. Caltex grabbed the contract from BP Australia and was helped by the fact that it has spent more than $20 million building a terminal at Port Hedland. Caltex will import the fuel from Singapore, where there’s more diesel sloshing around than you can load in a fleet of tankers at the moment. The saving will be well over $100 million a year for the company — Rio’s saving will be more as world prices for the fuel follow oil prices down. Its diesel costs elsewhere — in Queensland coal, at Escondida copper in Chile and a host of other mining operations, will also fall.

Rupert reads — Hildebrand sweats. Uncle Rupert is in the country, and he paid a visit to Harper Collins publishers yesterday to see what the book arm of his empire was up to. Ms Tips particularly enjoyed this photo of Murdoch checking out Joe Hildebrand’s autobiography. The HarperCollins execs in the background (that’s HarperCollins’ Australia and New Zealand chief James Kellow on the left) look a bit concerned, but we’re sure nothing shocks Rupert any more, not even Hildebrand’s “abnormal life”.

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Peter Fray

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