From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Sometimes silence speaks volumes. Yesterday in The Australian, Anthony Albanese delivered a forensic takedown of serial underspending in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure programs. He particularly took aim at the Black Spots program, a long-running roads program designed to do what it says on the label — fix accident black spots. According to the government’s figures, he pointed out, it had committed $220 million to the program, but only spent $105 million because of a deliberate approach of announcing much bigger programs than they actually ended up spending. Having been infrastructure minister for six years, after all, Albo doubtless knows a bit about budget tricks.

You would have expected the office of genial and well-regarded Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester to have fired off a rejoinder as soon as Albo’s article appeared, with plenty of numbers to show he was wrong. But it took until mid-afternoon for Chester’s office to issue a “statement”. Did it point out where Albo’s numbers were flawed? Not quite. “There has not been any cut to the Black Spot program with hundreds of projects already completed or underway in partnership with other levels of government. Over the life of the current program (2014-15 to 2018-19), the Australian Government is providing $475 million to the Black Spot Program to improve road safety across the nation.” That of course avoids the central issue — was the government announcing inflated program budgets but spending much less? For good measure, Chester suggested his opposite number was trying to big-note himself because Bill Shorten was out of the country, and professed himself “disappointed that Mr Albanese is seeking to score political points on the issue”. Accusing your political opponent of playing politics is always a sure sign you don’t have a good comeback.

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Forbes phoenix. Does former editor of The Age Mark Forbes have a new job in journalism? Forbes, who resigned from the paper last year following sexual harassment allegations, was spotted at the Brownlow Medal last night, one of Australian sports media’s hottest tickets. Many players don’t even attend the event, so prized is access to Crown on the last Monday in September. Forbes is a former sports editor of The Age, so Ms Tips guesses he still has friends in high places. Still, we wonder if a new job is on the cards for the disgraced editor. Let us know on on the tips line.

Faine furore wanting. The miles and miles of newspaper column and hours and hours of airtime dedicated to the controversies surrounding Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s Anzac Day comments or Adam Goodes spear dance were at pains to point out: it wasn’t about race, but taking responsibility for your role as a respectful public voice. So Ms Tips looked forward to a similar storm of accountability regarding ABC presenter Jon Faine’s using the “n” word yesterday (New Matilda and Buzzfeed stories notwithstanding). A caller to his program, made reference to the recent James Baldwin documentary I am not your negro in relation to the controversy in the US over NFL players “taking a knee” during the national anthem before games. Blithely and unprompted, Faine clarified whether the caller actually meant to say a slur which we won’t republish here. He then commented that “it’s really not used anymore in North America in polite society”. We’re sure much of the media will skate right past it to this outrageous event on the ABC today, with author Jamila Rizvi tweeting: “the toys are eating rainbow cake at the doll’s picnic on Playschool today. Damn that biased ABC.”

Tickets catfight continues. The Herald Sun was quick to launch a populist attack on City of Melbourne councillors attending the AFL’s September Club Grand Final event on Saturday after yesterday’s tongue-in-cheek Stephen Mayne story about the battle for Tigers fans to score a ticket to the game.

Rather than unleashing angry Tigers fans on hapless councillors, perhaps the Herald Sun could look a little closer to home. News Corp had one of the biggest marquees in the September Club last year and within the wider Murdoch empire literally hundreds of staff, journalists, associates and guests will be attending Saturday’s game.

Indeed, is there a bigger “corporate” grand final ticket snaffler than News Corp, especially when you include Foxtel and Fox Footy in the equation? And why is the AFL continuing to dish out hundreds of “media passes” to attend the game — a large slice of which are snaffled by News Corp journalists.

It’s also worth asking how many state and federal MPs are getting free tickets? The two Green members for Melbourne, Adam Bandt federally and state member Ellen Sandell, are literally the only local MPs who represent the MCG — has anyone invited them? Their party’s leader Richard Di Natale is a die-hard Richmond supporter and was spotted in the Melbourne CBD yesterday hopping on a tram in a Richmond scarf, we wonder if he’s picked up the phone to his colleagues about footy tickets.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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