From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

What is the real story here? The media was awash with the news yesterday that not only was a senior member of the Australian Tax Office implicated in major tax fraud, but a senior journalist was also implicated. Veteran Channel Nine and Seven journalist Steve Barrett was mentioned in court documents, which allege he was part of a blackmail attempt on some of the members of the tax syndicate.

Of Barrett’s former employers, Seven mentioned his involvement, with reporter Chris Reason doing a good job on the day’s events, backed up with a live cross in which he revealed the most sensational aspect of the story (for Seven and Nine): the involvement of the former 60 Minutes and Sunday Night producer. Reason also mentioned that a lawyer linked to disgraced ALP figure, Eddie Obeid (now in jail) was also linked to the alleged fraud case.

While Channel Nine led its 6pm Sydney bulletin with the story last night, it did not mention Barrett’s involvement.

Strangely, this news comes just weeks after The Australian‘s John Lyons wrote that Barrett was planning on suing NSW police for tapping his phone more than 10 years ago.

Lyons wrote on May 2:

“Barrett had his [confidentiality] breached repeatedly — as many as 52 warrants were issued against him.

It now appears that many of those warrants — if not all — were issued illegally.

At the time, Barrett was one of Australia’s leading investigative journalists, relying on being able to guarantee confidentiality for those wanting to give him information.

His ability to do his job was seriously damaged after these warrants were issued as part of a covert police operation driven by the internal affairs unit of the NSW Police, which included Andrew Scipione and Catherine Burn.”

The story also centred around a letter from July 2004, when Tony Abbott, then a minister in the Howard government, wrote a letter in support of Barrett, who was then one of his constituents. 

This story was already going to be messy, but if Barrett continues with his own legal plans, it’s hard to tell what will happen next.

What if you held a bank bashing and nobody came? The Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers has a problem. The committee — the brainchild of Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan, but stolen by One Nation — was set up to give farmers an opportunity to bag the banks. Now, the banks are in poor odour across the community, but are particularly disliked in the bush. So, surely, there’d be a queue a mile long to give the banks a serve?

Not so much. As Fairfax’s Colin Bettles reported this week, the committee has received barely 20 submissions — so few that the committee extended the deadline for submissions into June. And to drum up interest, committee chair and Rothschild’s obsessive Malcolm Roberts made a video and roped in Nationals stalwart John Williams to appeal for more submissions. Fans of clunky political videos will enjoy how Roberts starts off, then realises he’s forgotten to say who he is, and then stumbles his way through another four minutes, while Williams avuncularly looks on. Roberts also seems to think Parliament House is only nine years old, for which the empirical evidence might be a little lacking. While Roberts, by suggesting people are in so much pain because of, and so frightened of banks that they’re unable to write submissions, might appear to be prejudging the outcome of the inquiry just a little, we’re wondering whether Williams has put his finger on why so few submissions have been made. He reels off three major inquiries held since 2011 into the financial sector by the Senate alone. Maybe people are sick of making submissions to parliamentary inquiries that end up being ignored?

Qld Greens deny conflict over Gonksi 2.0. The Australian Greens so far have been publicly non-committal toward the government’s Gonski 2.0 funding  policy — not outright supporting it, but indicating a willingness to negotiate. The New South Wales Greens have already made their feelings clear, and a tipster tells us the conflict within the Greens about their approach to the policy has spread to Queensland. We were told a motion was brought before the Queensland Greens campaign committee this week, requesting that the Queensland lead delegate to the Party’s national conference this weekend in Alice Springs express opposition to the policy, in favour of a policy more wedded to those called for by teachers and education unions. If it did pass, the motion would mean Queensland joins NSW in their public opposition to it. However Queensland Greens convenor Andrew Bartlett told Crikey that the tip was “not correct”. 

“The Queensland Greens Campaign Committee did pass a motion about the schools funding measures in the federal budget, but it did not ‘oppose any deal’, but rather emphasised the importance of engaging on the issue via the internal democratic processes of the party,” he said.

“We regularly pass motions such as these, as this is the process by which we communicate with the Australian Greens. The Queensland Greens support the position taken by the Australian Greens Party Room pushing for more funding for public schools and look forward to discussions on advancing that goal at the party’s National Conference this weekend.”

Communication at Allans Billy Hyde. Late last year we reported on issues at the Allans Billy Hyde music chain run by Con Gallin, with staff told not to use air conditioning or heating to save on electricity bills, and that the business owed thousands of dollars in back pay to staff. Now we notice that the chain is advertising for new store managers and assistant store managers for a string of stores, including in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. This would be a normal thing to do if the roles were all vacant, but Ms Tips hears that isn’t exactly the case.

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