From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

No complaints about rainbow flags. In Senate estimates last month, former minister and prolific press-release publisher Eric Abetz grilled officials in the Department of Finance over a rainbow flag placed in the lobby of the department’s Canberra office. Abetz claimed the rainbow flag  is an “activist flag” and it might upset Department of Finance staff. He later claimed on Miranda Devine’s show on 2GB that, since he brought up the issue, other staff had been in contact to thank him for raising the issue.

Finance’s executive board is believed to be examining the matter, but in response to a freedom of information request filed by Crikey, it seems no written or email complaints were made to the department directly about the flag before it was, apparently, flagged by Abetz.

Abbott lost Mitchell’s phone number? Of all the confidences betrayed in his memoirs, former editor of The Australian Chris Mitchell reckons only one person holds it against him. Of the five prime ministers with dedicated chapters in his tome Making Headlines, only Tony Abbott truly took offence, and now refuses to speak to Mitchell. Which is a shame, since he’s apparently the most fun of any of them to see socially. Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, is still in touch.

Mitchell referred to all five PMs (Paul, John, Kevin, Julia and Tony) by their first names throughout a question-and-answer session with broadcaster and host Sally Warhaft at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre last night. The former editor-in-chief and current columnist of the Oz also talked about the lengths gone to in order to get the printed paper out daily across the country over its history. At one point, it cost News Corp $25 per copy of the paper distributed in the Kimberley in WA, where you could buy it for no more than a couple of dollars.

Exile and the Kingdom. Former One Nation senator and current senator-in-exile Rodney Culleton has stepped up his campaign against his axing by writing to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and every sitting senator, with a 15-page document that he claims contains “factual evidence that uncovers both criminal and civil misconduct, including abuse of power, by some of our country’s highest lawmakers, authorities and judges. These have revealed a criminal intent to subvert the laws of Australia and subject the elector to illegal practices and contribute to his or her own demise.”

The allegation rests on the theory (an old one, as it happens) that the Western Australian Acts Amendment and Repeal (Courts and Legal Practice) Act 2003 renders all courts in Australia invalid. Culleton claims the act’s substitution of “Governor” for “the Queen” or “the Crown” or “her majesty” in the Supreme Court Act 1935 and the District Court of Western Australia Act 1969 invalidates the Federal Court’s authority to declare him bankrupt. Which, he goes on to argue (a bit redundantly, perhaps?) he totally isn’t anyway.

He claims his discoveries mean that he — and, presumably every other WA senator since 2004 — was invalidly elected. According to his document, “the removal of the Queen was concealed from every elector in Western Australia and Australia, since 2004 and up until this present day.” The Acts Amendment and Repeal (Courts and Legal Practice) Act 2003, including the amendments to which he refers, is available on the Western Australian state law publisher website.

Changes at Telstra Health. What is going on with the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR)? First came the March 1 announcement that the originally publicised commencement dates for the  National Bowel Cancer and Cervical screen programs — March 20, and May 1, 2017 respectively — would be delayed. A tipster tells us a high level staffer on the project has left, but Telstra Health is assuring us everything is fine, saying “we have a strong management team with extensive experience in implementing complex technology projects in place to deliver the NCSR under the leadership of Telstra Health’s recently appointed Managing Director, Mary Foley”. Know more? Get in touch.

Scare campaign? What scare campaign? In the month since the Fair Work Commission handed down its decision on penalty rates, it seems Labor can talk about little else, and — apart from jabbing Bill Shorten’s record as general secretary of the Australian Workers Union — the Coalition would rather talk about anything else. But Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was not short of words on the subject when fronting a press conference in the aftermath of the decision, back on February 23:

“I am very disappointed that the unions and the Labor Party are already indulging in a scare campaign. The emails that I am receiving, state: ‘Sunday penalty rates have been abolished’. That is an absolute disgrace, and they should be ashamed of themselves for going out and instigating such a scare campaign. Sunday penalty rates stay in place … I’ve also already started receiving emails in relation to the fact that nurses and emergency services are affected. I can confirm that they are not. The Fair Work Commission, in its decision, clearly states that they have no intention of this decision flowing on anywhere else. So anybody who today stands up and says that nurses and emergency services workers will be affected — they are blatantly misleading you.”

However, a freedom of information request regarding those emails reveals it may not be quite the full-scale assault on Cash’s inbox that was implied. In response to Crikey‘s request, the minister’s office released five emails they had received regarding the decision. At 9.13am an email opens with “I have just read on the ABC news website that penalties rates for hospitality, retail and fast food works has been abolished”. The writer closes by mentioning they are a nurse and asking “do you and your government have nurses in your sights to begin legislating to reduce our penalty rates.” Another nurse emails at 11.34am to say “I know you buggers on the right of politics will move on us in the future.”

A further three emails between 11.43am and 12.10pm are clearly the product of a campaign of some sort, with the body of the text repeating the Australian Council of Trade Unions oft-used slogan “Australian workers need a pay rise, not a pay cut”. The body of the email in each case is pro-forma, trotting out the same stats related to the cut, interspersed with commentary from the senders, which ranges from personal — “thanks for making me and my family suffer even further” — to (ahem) slightly more colourful — “YOU HAVE KILLED AUSTRALIA.”

So — the nurses express concern, but don’t think the decision affected them, one person used “abolish” and no one mentioned emergency services. Maybe not quite the scare campaign.

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

Peter Fray

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