From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

What was behind Rudd’s Israel stoush? Some possible context for that Rudd-Netanyahu stoush last week, when the former prime minister made some very telling points at the expense of the Israeli leader — especially about Israel’s 2010 abuse of Australian passports, which left even the most zealous pro-Israeli lobbyists here aghast. Labor sources claim one of Rudd’s devoted party enemies, right-wing South Australian senator Don Farrell, invited then-Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem to a meeting of Labor powerbrokers during Rudd’s 2012 leadership bid against Julia Gillard. Sources say the ambassador — who now heads the Israeli foreign ministry — was present while phone calls were being made to MPs about opposing Rudd, whose expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over Israel’s abuse of Australian passports had made Jerusalem very unhappy.

Farrell absolutely denies this ever happened. The Israelis, however, are not quite as adamant. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Crikey “as an inherent  part of his diplomatic mission, former Ambassador Yuval Rotem met many Australian politicians from all aspects of the political spectrum. It is not the role of any ambassador to have an input with respect to the internal political debate within any political party.” Indeed.

‘Data integrity’ keeps spy report secret. The revelation by ASIO in an estimates hearing earlier this week that it had obtained a “small number” of journalist information warrants to access the metadata of a working journalist was only news because the Attorney-General’s Department annual report for 2015-2016 on what its spy agencies get up to with metadata has yet to be released. The report is notionally usually released by November but as of March, the department is still keeping the reports under wraps, almost nine months after the reporting period. In response to questions from Crikey yesterday, the department reiterated previous statements in January given to tech publications that the department was taking more time to review the report before making it public to ensure “data integrity” with what agencies were now required to report under the new data retention regime.

This includes statistics on the number of warrants handed to agencies like ASIO or the Australian Federal Police to go sniffing through the metadata of journalists to chase their sources. The Australian Federal Police has also been reluctant to say whether or not it has obtained journalist metadata (for say, investigating leaks from NBN, or the defence white paper) too. Senator Nick Xenophon — who asked ASIO in estimates about the matter — told Crikey that he didn’t understand why ASIO would refuse to disclose the number of warrants issued.

“People can read the Hansard and make up their own mind. I just don’t understand how on earth can it compromise national security just to know how many journalist information warrants have been issued.”

‘Advanced’ Australia Fair. A little more on George Brandis’ delight in torturing the English language. Last September, Brandis stood up in the Senate in answer to a Labor question and said “There are things to be celebrated — like the fact, for example, that Australia’s economic growth is now 3.3%, the highest rate of economic growth of any G20 nation”. That’s complete nonsense, of course, because the G20 includes countries like China and India that are growing at rates many multiples of our own. So Labor asked Brandis on notice: “Is it correct to say that Australia’s economic growth figures are the highest of any G20 nation?” Brandis’ reply was that “At the time the statement was made, Australia’s growth rate was the fastest of any major advanced economy in the G20.” Needless to say, the word “advanced” never appeared in Brandis’ original answer — not even several paragraphs earlier in the answer from where, like those important words “I recall”, they could exert a magical influence to rescue George from his own bungling later on. Then again, Brandis might be a lousy lawyer, but he’s a better lawyer than he is an economist.

Please, please, please let me come to your party? One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts — who deserves credit for rocking up to estimates hearings this week while his leader was too busy doing publicity work in Queensland — loves US President Donald Trump. In his Senate office window, in addition to his “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, there is a poster of the 45th president. We have already reported that it was revealed in January that Roberts was not, as he had claimed, invited to the Trump inauguration, but had in fact begged for tickets. In Senate estimates last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed other politicians in Australia had asked the department to secure tickets, but then dropped it. Only Roberts’ persisted.

“A number of people made inquiries, were given advice, and chose to let it go. Senator Roberts made a number of requests that we pursue whether tickets were available.”

The department is going to report back on exactly how Roberts’ made the requests, and how many requests were made.

Too rude! (For a little while.) Anyone who has recently encountered Clive Palmer’s Samuel Beckett-like musings on Tim Tams while scrolling through their news feed might be forgiven for thinking Facebook does not discriminate much when it comes to promoted content. However, when auction house Mossgreen wanted to run an ad featuring Charles Blackman’s 1980 painting Women Lovers, it found that there is a line the social media giant will not cross.

When Mossgreen tried to promote a video featuring the work — which depicts two naked women — it received feedback from Facebook saying “this advert wasn’t boosted because it violates ad guidelines by advertising adult products or services including toys, videos or sexualising enhancement products”. The matter got some coverage in the media, and as The Australian reported this morning, the decision has now been reversed. Which is interesting, because Nicole Kenning at Mossgreen told us that the company had made several approaches to Facebook privately about the decision, and the social media giant said the decision was final. Then, after the story was reported in several outlets, Facebook sent an email to Mossgreen stating it had “reviewed the ad and decided to approve it”. Kenning says the email was “unprompted”, but we’re not so sure that’s the word.

Local government workers to face penalty rate cut? While we’ve all got penalty rates on the brain, a tipster pointed Crikey towards another potential reduction for a group of workers, this time in local government. Local government councils in New South Wales are in the process of negotiating a new award for 2017, and our tipster tells us the Local Government NSW employer association is “aiming to remove all penalty rates completely for Recreation & Community Service staff under the Local Govt Award (NSW) so that Saturday/Sunday work is paid at normal rates like Monday-Friday”. 

We had a look at the employer representative’s log of claims, and among the proposed conditions put forward are amendments to clauses concerning Saturday and Sunday work to “remove weekend penalties for recreation and community services functions”. Community and recreation staff could include roles such as rec centre employees, pool superintendents and childcare workers. Another claim seeks to extend the ordinary hours (i.e. hours before overtime kicks in) for “indoor” staff (like administrative, finance, library employees) from 35 to 38 per week. 

The United Services Union said it wouldn’t comment while negotiations were ongoing, and a LGNSW spokesperson told Crikey the association had worked with the union for many years jointly proposing awards to the New South Wales industrial relations commission and had “no interest in prosecuting negotiations through the media”.

Negotiations are expected to conclude in June.

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Peter Fray

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