From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Friends in the right places. At a time when he was an international adviser to the Murray inquiry into the Australian financial system, London-based Aussie hedge funder Sir Michael Hintze attended a party at Stoke House, the official London residence of the Australian High Commissioner (presently Alexander Downer, the former opposition leader and foreign minister), and one of the guests was Richard Alston, the federal president of the Liberal Party. Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey announced Hintze’s appointment to the international advisory committee for the Murray Financial System Inquiry on March 24 of last year. reported this morning:

“It is understood Alston, who knew his way around the mansion well from his time as high commissioner from 2005 to 2008, asked the then newly appointed high commissioner and former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, to use the home for the party for the advisory board of the international equity fund, of which Mr Alston is a member.”

Alston was a Liberal Party senator from 1984-2006. He is also currently a director of CQS. Hintze is the CEO of CQS, which is a global asset-management fund (hedge fund, really). Alston’s role is not mentioned on the website. So we have an adviser to the Murray inquiry being allowed to hold a function at the official residence of the Australian High Commissioner to the UK, involving the federal president of the Liberal Party, who is on the international advisory board of Hintze’s company and a director of the Australian arm of that same company. And the person giving the function the green light was Alexander Downer, the former foreign minister under the Howard Coalition government, and recently appointed as High Commissioner to the UK by the Coalition government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. We don’t know who else attended the Stokes House soiree with Alston and Hintze. This happened just over three months after being appointed to the Murray inquiry’s international advisory committee. Not a good look for an ostensibly independent advisory committee member for the most important financial inquiry since the Wallis inquiry in the late 1990s.

We need a drink. There has been much railing against the nanny state in the Crikey offices today — yes, you read that right — after our charitable auction of a bottle of red wine signed by five Victorian MPs and preference whisperer Glenn Druery was taken down from eBay overnight because we don’t have a liquor licence.

Sigh. The story of the bottle is here, and it features the signatures of all Victorian minor party MLCs — probably the only time you’ll see them in the one place. As it is very important to us that we fulfil our promise, the auction will now go ahead as a silent auction. While one option that was favoured by some in the Crikey bunker was to drink the wine and auction the empty bottle, we are pushing on with the bottle unopened. So if you would like to get your hands on this piece of memorabilia, send an email with “red wine auction bid $–” with the amount you wish to bid on the bottle of wine here. We’ll publish the highest bid each day in Tips and Rumours until 11am next Wednesday, when the winner will be announced.  Don’t use our anonymous tip-off form for this one — we are doing this properly! The auction hit a high of $128 yesterday, so keep that in mind while doing your bit for Camp Quality.

Pyne telling porkies? Education Minister Christopher Pyne started his interview on Adelaide breakfast radio yesterday by saying that he had got a slimming new wetsuit for Christmas, which while a less disturbing image than that of his colleague in budgie smugglers, was still a tad too much information. After such niceties, he went on to defend the government’s struggling higher education policy and the continuing uncertainty surrounding what reforms would actually be passed, saying: “Students also know that the government is right, because the enrolments for students this year in spite of Labor’s scare campaign are actually either the same or up on last year.” While we can’t verify the truth of just how flattering his wetsuit is, we think Pyne might be not quite on the money with that latter point. Victorian universities have actually reported that offers are down 2.2% across the board, with applications from mature-age students (who are likely to already have debt and be more wary of the potential for fees to go through the roof) down 9%. So we wouldn’t go using enrolment figures as a way to back up the case for deregulation there.

Silence is golden. Queensland LNP member for Mermaid Beach Ray Stevens took avoiding uncomfortable questions to a new level this week, and it was caught on camera by Independent Australia editor David Donovan. Donovan was questioning Stevens about his role as an investor in the Gold Coast Cableway project, to which Stevens had no answer. Instead he flapped at Donovan like he was a seagull eyeing off his fish and chips on the beach, or as IA described it,  he “explodes and implodes when being asked about his involvement and potential conflicts of interest”.

Keep on polling, polling. This from a tipster:

“Just got a phone survey by ReachTEL. Three main questions only: do you support the federal government Medicare changes; do you support the higher education changes; do you think the government is doing enough on climate change. And does this change your vote. That’s it. Really quite intriguing. Wonder who commissioned it!”

We don’t know where our tipster lives, but ReachTEL often polls for commercial news stations, so that’s a clue when it comes to commissioning.

Rumour as fact. A tipster told us last week that Sean Costello would not be continuing in the role of chief of staff of Defence under new minister Kevin Andrews, and we hear from a source yesterday that Matthew Fox has got the gig. We’ve put phone calls in to the minister’s office to confirm, but no one has returned our calls — phone got lost in the move perhaps? And speaking of tips that were right on the money, can you remember any crackers from our 15-year history? We’re collecting particularly notable tips (both spot-on and a bit wide of the mark), so if you have any favourite Crikey memories, please send them our way.

Gulls at the G. Speaking of seagulls, this one found itself on the wrong side of a cricket ball at last night’s Big Bash match between the Stars and the Scorchers at the MCG. While Stars player Rob Quiney thought the bird was not long for this world, it recovered in time to give some of its own back.

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