THE LAST GASP: Conservative combat

This week there's friction in LNP ranks, dereliction from publishing cranks and fiction in the generosity of banks.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest news stories, every week. This week, Clive takes on all comers, the media watches the watchmen and Thomson Slipper makes claims of conspiracy.

Heart’s not in it

Clive Palmer made centre stage his own this week, battling claims of involvement in the Peter Slipper scandal and also battling opposition leader Tony Abbott. The latter has called the mining magnate a simple ‘rank-and-file member’, which probably went down as well as an iron ore balloon. Their spat revolved around suggestions that Palmer had championed a push for Queensland Liberal National Party president Bruce McIver to seize control of the party at a national level. Later in the week, a defeated Mr McIver said he was never really interested the position anyway, leading to suggestions Palmer was the culprit – in a rare case of an Australian mining magnate attempting to gain control of something. Separately, Palmer disowned any association with the Slipper political scandal, denying ever meeting the man at its centre, James Ashby. He also guaranteed that his wife had not met him, given, he said, that she is a heterosexual. Because, as we all know, the heterosexual and homosexual communities never mix in modern Australia.

Watch what you say

Clearly convinced that there has been not enough naval gazing going in the sector recently, the media industry again dedicated page after page to itself this week amid its attempts to boost the ailing industry. Fairfax led the charge, talking about embracing a 24-hour news cycle as if the idea was something it came up with itself. Perhaps it thinks it is. News Corporation also got in on the action, agreeing to separate its profitable film and television arms from its news and media operations. Again, a decision to cut the struggling part of a business from the money printing part was seen as some kind of corporate genius. Visionaries, every one.

Who would have thought

Elaborate conspiracies aimed at discrediting sitting politicians are all the rage in Canberra of late, with current Speaker-but-not-really-Speaker Slipper the latest to plead not guilty using the ‘many determined enemies’ defence. Court documents filed by Slipper’s lawyers claim Ashby ‘unlawfully’ sent extracts of Slipper's diary to former federal minister Mal Brough, who, coincidently, is seeking preselection to contest Mr Slipper's Sunshine Coast seat. Thankfully, the story stayed mainly out of parliament, as the majority of Australia’s MPs are too honourable to lower themselves to this kind of grubby politics.

That’s a pity

Financial sector claims of a delicately-balanced banking industry took a blow this week, with Australia's big four banks named the most profitable in the developed world for the second year running. It was a big week for the industry, which was also reportedly awarded the title of the most money-hungry soulless sector in the entire world.

If I see one more God damn wipeout pun I’ll ...

A hard week for Billabong shareholders saw many blink and miss the demise of half of the stock’s value, which dropped 50 per cent after re-entering trading following an announcement of a heavily-discounted capital raising by the group. The fall comes at the worst possible time for the struggling surfwear manufacturer and retailer, which knocked back a $3.30 takeover offer earlier this year. Billabong is currently sitting at around a dollar a share. Founder Gordon Merchant, who said around the time of the last offer that he would not accept any bid below $4, now says he'll be open to a lower offer. Merchant has apologised to shareholders, saying that no one has lost more money out of the fall than him. Experts have cast doubt on whether this is really any consolation for the size of investor losses.

See, everywhere man

Seemingly unconvinced by attempts from other telecommunications providers to not be evil, Telstra has admitted to tracking the 3G usage data of its customers to develop its new internet filter, but cancelled the process after the public reacted poorly to the news, for some unknown reason. The telco had been exporting the data to US company Netsweeper without notifying its customers, or even asking for official permission. Telstra maintains that more explanation of what they were doing would have avoided some of the concerns over the move. Experts suggested not collecting anything in the first place would have solved the problem entirely.

Sour dough

Breads and spreads Goodman Fielder made some tough decisions this week, cutting roles (alongside, presumably, rolls) in its bakery units to reduce costs in an effort to improve its efficiency. The move brings the total job losses across the company this financial year to 541. The group was reportedly apologetic to the departing staff, explaining the decision was simply the way cookie crumbled.

Shame on me

Boral has cut is earnings guidance again, the second time the building products maker has come clean on the deteriorating state of its finances in three months. The move is another blow for the embattled group who just lost chief executive officer Mark Selway in May after the board felt a ‘change in leadership’ necessary, in one of the least subtly-worded retirement releases to the ASX seen in some time. It’s not all bad for shareholders though, as new Boral chief executive Ross Batstone said the company had recorded a very strong performance during May. Confidence is reportedly almost as high as it was in February last year, when Boral said it was on the lookout for acquisitions, and it’s been all smooth sailing from there.

Quick misses

– Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has had his first glance at a possible opponent in next year’s federal election, with reports emerging that the ALP is set to endorse 44-year-old mother-of-four Jane Austin. Others reportedly considered were Tim Winton, Lewis Carroll and JD Salinger.

– Former Woodside chief Don Voelte was appointed the new chief executive at Seven West Media this week. In practice for the role replacing David Leckie, Voelte reportedly spent hours swearing at himself in the mirror.

– And finally, Queensland union groups have called for a second ‘expert’ opinion on the state’s recent audit. Obviously they thought the guy that did it in the first place, 11-year federal Treasurer Peter Costello, was lacking in experience.

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