From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Insult to injury. Melbourne Cup Day marks the start of the the silly season, but spare a thought for the poor scribes at the Herald Sun and Victorian Leader and papers — we hear their Christmas party has been cancelled this year.

Management confirmed the cancellation to journalists last week, telling them the budget had been blown on the publication’s 25th birthday party celebrations. That can’t have gone down well — as Crikey has previously reported, that party was as notable for who in the newsroom wasn’t invited as for who was. Some of the newsroom’s most integral behind-the-scenes hands, as well as some of its biggest news breakers, were left out in favour for of those covering the flashier, more celebrity-driven sections. The party caused no end of staff displeasure, much of which found its way into Crikey in one form or another. And the journos at Leader didn’t have a shot of attending, but they’ve lost their party too.

Got a Christmas party gripe about your workplace? Or just want to let us know what’s going down on the dancefloor? Get in touch.

Abbott v Aston. What’s the worst thing you could say about former prime minister Tony Abbott? The one thing that he couldn’t let slide and had to take to Twitter to deny? We found the answer this morning when Abbott tweeted Australian Financial Review‘s Rear Window columnist Joe Aston in reply to Aston’s tip that Abbott had tried to contact fellow ousted PM Julia Gillard since he’s had some time on his hands:

Aston issued a correction, saying “Sometimes when something sounds too strange to be true, it’s because it’s not”.

Open Slather ends … and now it starts. The grand inquisition has begun at Foxtel over the disaster that was Open Slather, the high-profile rebooting of classic sketch comedy that failed spectacularly. Produced by Rick McKenna (Kath and Kim) and Laura Waters (Chris Lilley), the show featured a rotating cast of more than 20 (every successful sketch comedy has small ensembles) — including veterans such as Michael Veitch, Magda Szubanski and Gina Riley (aka Ms Rick McKenna, or possibly vice versa). High hopes were put on such comedy gold, but after a decent start in the ratings with 200,000 viewers, the show slid disastrously, hitting what may be an Australian pay TV record of 12,000 viewers for the first showing of the final episode prior to its axing. “We could have gone to people’s houses and done it individually,” said one cast member. Others believe the rot set in when two new head writers were brought in — advertising copywriters with no sketch comedy experience. But the problems were there from the start: “I had a 6am start so they said they’d send a car for me,” said one grizzled veteran. “I was waiting outside the next morning, looking for a yellow cab, when a big black town car pulled up. They’d sent us all limos.” Open Slather meets open chequebook. Heads may roll at Foxtel, but not with laughter.

The spy who annoyed me. They’re supposed to be covert operatives, but the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation certainly made its presence felt when its Canberra staff moved into swanky new offices in our nation’s capital last year. The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Vivienne Thom, notes in her annual report to the government that after ASIO moved into the offices, someone complained to her office in March this year that alarms kept going off and waking everyone up. The angry neighbour told her:

“I have found it hard to find someone who actually cares about the problem as there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the actual building when I have gone down there when the alarms are going off. … This problem has gone on for the last year and must not be allowed to continue.”

The neighbour said that there must be a fault, or the operators “were incompetent”. ASIO did not respond to neighbours’ concerns, but after IGIS investigated, found ASIO was working to address the matter.

It has since been fixed, but now IGIS has asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate whether the Department of Finance, as the owner of the building, and the National Capital Authority, as the body responsible for the building, acted reasonably to stop the noisy alarms.

What’s in a horsie’s name? Has the nation stopped yet? Is it slowing down? As we approach the horse race that supposedly stops us all in our tracks, Ms Tips has cast an eye over the field to make some “expert” predictions based on the horses’ names. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has decided not to give his tip for today’s Melbourne Cup, as he’s not a fan of the races, but we think that  if we were to have a punt in his honour it would be on “Quest for More” — it’s long odds, but many thought a Turnbull prime ministership was long odds as well at one point. For Greg Hunt, we’d tip “Trip to Paris” — maybe he can go in with Julie Bishop on that one. Joe Hockey should have a tipple based on his soon-to-be new home “The United States”. Ms Tips’ sentimental money is on Red Cadeaux again this year — but sentimentalilty doesn’t get you far. But our serious money is on “Excess Knowledge”, in homage to the government’s asylum seeker and data retention policies — where they make sure we have no chance of any knowledge, and security agencies get all the excess.

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

Peter Fray

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