From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Defence stuffs up, One Nation misfires at ABC. We’ve done some digging on One Nation’s weird tanty over the ABC and Andrew Probyn’s “leaking” of a pending trip to Afghanistan by a parliamentary delegation consisting of two government, two opposition and two One Nation MPs.

According to Defence, such delegations are “open to all Federal parliamentarians who can apply to take part … In the event an activity is oversubscribed, a ballot is conducted to determine the participants. A ballot was not required for this particular activity.”

That is, only the government, the opposition and One Nation applied to participate in the trip — at least according to Defence. The trip was planned to coincide with Anzac Day — which presumably explains why Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston are so furious about its cancellation, because the trip would have provided images of Hanson spending The One Day of the Year with Australian soldiers, kitted out in body armour on the frontline against jihadists.

But who leaked the trip to Probyn? Someone in Defence, or one of the other four participants, or perhaps their staff? Even someone in One Nation? We understand the source is someone at Parliament House, not at Russell Hill, but it’s not clear exactly who. But it gets a little more interesting: Defence actually has a brochure on its website about the parliamentarian program, including details of the trip to what is called “the Middle East”. Unlike other activities, there are no dates indicated for that one in the current brochure, which makes sense from a security point of view.

Except … Google Cache shows the brochure used to have the dates indicated for the Middle East trips.

So Defence itself was advertising publicly that Australian parliamentarians would be visiting the region on specific dates. Maybe the enraged One Nation should be demanding that Defence’s funding be cut, not the ABC’s.

What’s in the letter? Just before losing the leadership, then-prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, were planning to extend the ministerial wing in Parliament with two large extensions in order to accommodate the increasing number of staffers working for the government in the building.

When Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership, the plans were quietly killed off.

Since then, Labor has been chasing bureaucrats in Senate estimates hearings to find out exactly what happened. In particular, Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, has been seeking access to a letter Abbott sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate about the proposed extension. In a response to a question on notice this week, Senate President Stephen Parry indicated that Speaker Tony Smith was blocking the release of the letters.

“The Speaker has confirmed that he does not agree to the letter being provided to the Committee. Accordingly, I am unable to provide a copy of the letter to the Committee,” Parry said.

Labor asked why one chamber could ask for the letter and be blocked by the other chamber, and Parry said he was just following established practice. “If one Presiding Officer does not agree, then the other cannot unilaterally choose to release such correspondence.”

Corrupting benefit of the doubt. Today is the second day of the Senate committee on the government’s hastily assembled corrupting benefits amendment bill. The bill would mean fines of $4.5 million imposed on businesses or that make “sweetheart deals” with unions — some of the highest penalties for businesses in the country. Maybe that’s why they didn’t ask businesses (or seemingly anyone) what they thought, and have put forward laws that don’t seem to please anyone.

Yesterday, industrial relations professor Andrew Stewart said the wording of the bill was “either too wide or too uncertain or both” (concerns Crikey has previously reported on). The ACTU complained in its submission that there had been no consultation with stakeholders, and the representatives of employer peak bodies Australian Industry Group and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry confirmed today that the government didn’t ask it for a view either. So who exactly told the government these laws were necessary?

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Peter Fray

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