From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

What is happening on Nauru? There was a series of reports of an outbreak of Dengue fever on Nauru across late February and early March this year. A report in The Guardian stated that 70 people had been afflicted, including 10 refugees. A tipster has told us that someone on the island has informed them the outbreak has has actually resulted in deaths of Nauruan citizens. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed to Crikey that the department was aware of an increased number of cases of Dengue fever, and asserted that appropriate treatment was being provided, but did not confirm whether there had been deaths. They directed us to the government of Nauru for exact numbers of cases. The Nauruan government was contacted but did not respond before deadline.

Not what the doctor ordered. WikiLeaks prides itself on its ability to reveal the embarrassing secrets of international governments the world over. That noble aim took on a slightly different meaning yesterday when they put out “Dark Matter”, which reveals that members of the CIA are, apparently, big fans of Doctor Who. The vault of documents contains information concerning for a range of CIA projects, mostly hacks and viruses — one was named “Night Skies” after a never produced sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and another was called “Sonic Screwdriver”, after Doctor Who’s famously versatile tool. A previous release showed the program that could turn smart TVs into surveillance tools was called “weeping angel”, another Doctor Who reference. According to the documents, the Screwdriver is a way to implant code on a Mac while it boots up. 

Braithwaite to pick pollies up, pick them up. Parliament House is set to be rocked next Wednesday — not by explosive allegations, bombshell revelations or shock findings, but by the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Music. “Rock legend Diesel will be joined by Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool/Mondo Rock), Daryl Braithwaite, Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe), and Montaigne,” the group says in its invite. We admit we had to Google the last two guests, and fondly remember when Diesel was fresh-faced Johnny Diesel back in the day, leading the luridly named Injectors. Discreet inquiries by Crikey have revealed that the serjeant-at-arms will be on stand-by to intervene if Wilson attempts to play “Eagle Rock”. But it prompts us to invite our thousands of Parliament House readers and erstwhile political players to submit their nominations for the all-time greatest political band. Peter Garrett is the obvious choice for lead vocals; former Bendigo MP and veteran muso Steve Gibbons probably has a lock on the bass guitar spot, and Tony Abbott is well known for his enthusiastic, if not necessarily tuneful, belting out of songs, so he’s backing vocals. But which other politicians could hold down a spot in a parliamentary supergroup that would rock any house, upper or lower? Nominations to [email protected]

UBS stuck with the bill? Talk from the sharemarket is that UBS, the Swiss investment bank (and major friend of Australian business media), could be left with hundreds of millions of dollars of Downer shares after many big investors refused to take part in a $1 billion plus placement to fund Downer’s $1.3 billion hostile bid for serial underperformer, Spotless.

Downer had been looking for just over $1 billion from the big end of town and not even a 20% discount on the issue price at $5.92 could fill the issue. Market reports say only around 75% of the $1.01 billion had been subscribed, leaving UBS stuck with the rump after an auction of the shortfall on Thursday attracted no bidders. That right, none. On top of this, ordinary Downer shareholders are going to be asked to stump up a further $254 million. Having seen a big thumbs down from the major holders, small share owners will not be encouraged to take part. Some will, but advisers are telling them to wait and see what happens to Downer shares when trading resumes (the price will fall from Monday’s close of $7.42 down past the $5.92 issue price because of the surplus of unsold stock). The acceptance rate from small shareholders could be less than the already low rate for the big holders.

A 50% acceptance rate for the smaller issue would still see UBS stuck with well over $300 million of unwanted Downer shares. UBS has to meet the shortfall one way or another and get repaid, as it slowly disposes of the unwanted scrip. Botched deals like this are bad for bonuses and careers, but a hero’s welcome from the gnomes of Zurich awaits the whoever who can find a way of making this embarrassment vanish as quickly as possible.

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Peter Fray

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