From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Bad debt dressed up as good. While this is strongly tipped to be the infrastructure budget, the big-ticket items are likely to be Badgerys Creek Airport and the Great Boondoggle, the Inland Rail line (sorry David Crowe — we meant “Inland Rail Network”, we promise). Just how much money is expected to be spent on this line to nowhere that even the government admits only achieves a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 on generous assumptions? The figure $1 billion has been bandied around, but watch for the government to make a massive multi-year commitment that sounds enormous, like say $8 billion over a decade.

Problematically, however, none of that money should be in the capital account of the budget — the rail line will have no actual value as an asset and can’t generate a return to the government. It’s straight spending into a black hole. But better yet, this won’t be the first time this government has committed to fund it. Back in the run-up to the 2013 election, Warren Truss promised $300 million for inland rail, “with construction to start within three years”. Alas, it’s well over three years since then and not a single sleeper has been laid. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits the latest announcement. The whole project is a staggering waste of money — something for motorists to reflect on as they sit on our congested urban roads.

Is the AFP actually getting a funding boost? It’s usual for the pre-budget period that the AFR‘s Phil Coorey is the go-to man for genuine budget scoops, and that’s been particularly the case this year given SMH and The Age journalists are hors de combat. Nearly every story on the budget in News Corp papers, in contrast, is a government drop. Which brings us to a curious story yesterday from one of the government’s favourite journalists, The Australian‘s Simon Benson, who got a drop on extra funding for security agencies as a prelude to a Turnbull press conference at a local AFP office to beat the national security drum.

According to Benson’s version, the AFP would get an extra “$75 million to restore resources that were raided by efficiency dividends first imposed by Labor in government”. So typical of terrorist-loving Labor to slash funding to our brave Federal Police, eh Simon? But press on to the sixth par, and Benson makes the strange admission: “The Australian understands that the government has decided not to remove the efficiency dividends.” Errr … OK … so it’s taking money away but also putting it back?

But the story got more confused yesterday afternoon when Labor’s justice spokesperson Clare O’Neill pointed out that last year the government had actually cut AFP funding over the forward estimates by $433 million — meaning that this additional funding didn’t go close to restoring what the government had taken away.

So we went and looked at the actual AFP budgets over the last four years. In Labor’s last budget, the boys and girls in blue got a $996 million appropriation for total funding of $1.71 billion — the rest was made up of money carried over from the previous year, capital injections and other receipts. In the Coalition’s first budget, the AFP got an appropriation of $1.05 billion for total funding of $1.76 billion. In 2015-16, the AFP actually had a small funding cut — its appropriation went down to $1.049 billion and its total funding was only $1.38 billion, because it didn’t carry over as much money, it had lower other receipts and it got a lower equity injection. And last year, the AFP got another appropriation cut, to $1.005 billion, but increases in other funding like a capital contribution took it back to overall funding of $1.65 billion.

So the AFP has had a real fall in appropriations under the Coalition and is now getting less, in real terms, than it got under Labor. Still, just yell “terrorist” and let the media do its thing.

That name sounds familiar. On Saturday, the Victorian Liberals held preselections for the state upper house ahead of next year’s election. As previously reported in Tips, the Eastern Metropolitan region had some interesting battles, with long-serving President of the upper house Bruce Atkinson facing off a challenge from former Kevin Andrews staffer Nick Demiris. While Atkinson and fellow MLC Mary Wooldridge both kept their places as second and first on the ticket respectively, it’s the third name who will appear on ballot papers who has piqued our interest. Former candidate for the seat of federal seat of Bruce Emanuele Cicchiello was put on the ticket by Liberal Party members. If you were to google his name, one of the top results is an article by Fairfax’s investigative star Nick McKenzie from 2014, in which Cicchiello plays a cameo. While we are not linking to Fairfax articles during the strike, the gist is that a $250 a head fundraising dinner held in March 2013 and attended by Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy, federal MP Russell Broadbent, and “the Calabrian-born businessman who owned the $4 million Docklands venue and who was considered by some of the attendees to be the most powerful man there”.

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