From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Spies and journos and caviar. It’s not often you get to see Nick Warner at a public gathering. Warner, the head of ASIS, our national foreign intelligence agency, is the only person from that body who is allowed to be publicly identified. Last night he entered the lions’ den — a room full of journalists — to launch the memoir of one of our living national treasures, veteran ABC broadcaster Mark Colvin, Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son.

He did so because he and Colvin know each other, and because much of the book is also a wonderful evocation of the life of Colvin’s father, who worked for the British intelligence service MI6.  Both speeches mentioned the similarity between espionage and journalism. As Colvin says in the book, “a spy and a journalist, if they are doing their jobs properly, are both trying to find out the truth behind the lies and propaganda, even if they use radically different tools … But there will always be this great difference.” Journalism wants a big audience, while for the spy, it is the opposite.

Colvin, the presenter of the PM Radio program, can draw a crowd, and the venue was packed; Tony Jones and Sarah Ferguson turned up, along with Marian Wilkinson, Jenny Brockie,  Eleanor Hall, James Jeffrey and John Lyons. Philip Ruddock was also there — his friend Mary-Ellen Field was the woman who donated a kidney to Mark — as was the former lead singer of Hush and now music composer Les Gock. Mark’s sons, Nicolas and William, both musicians, looked like they were bursting with pride.

The witty and urbane head of ASIS gave an excellent speech, noting that when Mark had been reporting from revolutionary Iran, not only did he manage to locate a supply of alcohol, he had also befriended the local caviar smuggler. This enabled him to secrete commercial quantities of it in his hotel room — while the hapless diplomats had been on short rations, Mark had been able to eat caviar at every meal.  The book is a wonderful evocation of the glory days of journalism and reads like a cross between John le Carre and Graham Greene. Can’t wait for the movie.


Dreamworld’s nightmare. In his speech at yesterday’s Annual General Meeting, outgoing Ardent Leisure chairman Neil Balnaves said it was unfortunate yesterday’s company’s annual meeting could not be delayed in the wake of the Dreamworld tragedy. He said it was “a statutory meeting, and in accordance with the constitution of the company we are required to convene the meeting as planned”.

That’s not quite true, though — the chairman could have convened the meeting, then adjourned it to a date to be fixed (cost shouldn’t have been a cause for continuing with the meeting). All chairs of meetings, corporate or otherwise, have the power to adjourn meetings. The Ardent board should have agreed on this course of action before the meeting started. Matters from the company’s 2015-16 financial year were minor compared to the tragedy. Crikey founder and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne can tell you how easy it is for company annual meetings to be adjourned by chairs — he’s had it done to him numerous times.

No one would have objected to the meeting being adjourned (no one wants to be that guy). The chairman should then have apologised to everyone, asked for their understanding, but pointed out that simple respect demanded the meeting not be held and more important matters looked at.

The chairman and CEO Deborah Thomas could have then held a news conference and spoken to media and shareholders, but it probably wouldn’t have have stopped Thomas putting both feet in her mouth and biting hard. Coronial inquiries do not prohibit comment and discussion of events — that is a legal stratagem and looked like it yesterday. The question of her donation of part of her bonus should have been announced from the start, and donations from the rest of the board and senior management and also announced. All this should have been sorted out before the meeting started. The company was poorly advised and looked all at sea, as it was.

MPs on a long leash. A caller to 3AW this morning says that Steve Herbert’s doggie doo doo isn’t the last we’ll hear of pollies taking advantage of the taxpayer dime. According to the caller, three weeks ago an MP joined some mates at a regional golf club, and when the event was over he called his driver to get him back to the capital. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for that one.

Oops, wrong guy. The US Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel convened a hearing on December 7 (after the election, note) to start looking at the US$85.4 billion offer for Time Warner by AT&T. The committee asked the heads of both companies to appear. So the AT&T boss, Randall L Stephenson, was asked, and Robert Marcus was also issued an invitation. Who? The Wall Street Journal reports that a red-faced Republican-controlled Senate committee had invited the wrong Time Warner company boss (he left Time Warner in May). The boss of Time Warner is Jeff Bewkes, who eventually got his invitation.

Riddle me this. The Department of Agriculture posted this photo of a box on Twitter this morning, asking followers to guess what’s inside. The clue is as follows: “black and red, my relatives are already in your garden bed”. We have some ideas, but we won’t spoil the fun for anyone else. The answer is here.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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