THE LAST GASP: Greasy scandals

This week Greece rudely steals the limelight from Australia's political scandals, Woolworths suppliers face a dilemma and Slipper may get to call the kettle black.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s news, every week. This week, Greece rudely hogs the limelight from breathtaking political scandals at home, everyone looks sceptically at Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper gets a chance to call the kettle black.

A tragedy for everyone

Actual news returned to the headlines this week when everybody remembered that the collapse of the Greek political system and its effect on the global economy was far more important than a drawn out soap opera surrounding misbehaving politicians. The change in focus was a far cry from earlier in the week, which saw some of the more interesting political journalism seen in Australia in years, with rampant speculation surrounding scandal-hit MPs Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, as well as the stunning revelation that Bill Shorten’s marriage was okay. Greece’s troubles run deep, with fresh elections now set for June 17 following the collapse of negotiations between parties attempting to form a government, increasing fear of an exit from the eurozone and general panic among the populace, which led to a rush on the nation’s banks. Such a mess in the birthplace of democracy proves once again that the system simply doesn’t work.

Hello, Mr Thomson

Thomson’s claims that corruption allegations against him are manufactured have brought howls of derision from the opposition, which has labelled the former Health Services Union chief’s story an 'invention’. Liberal insiders have allegedly suggested the explanation is as credible as that time Kevin Rudd denied helping his mate John Grant buy a new ute. The public is now eagerly awaiting Thomson’s statement on the issue, which he is due to make early next week. The ongoing saga has led to a number of compensation claims, with the HSU looking to recover funds allegedly spent by Thomson, and those already sick of the story looking to get that part of their life back.

I think he’s talking to you

In what could be the parliamentary equivalent of the penultimate scene of Mrs Doubtfire, embattled Speaker Slipper may be forced to make key decisions on the fate of Thomson while simultaneously fighting off his own scandal. Irony aside, many have questioned the appropriateness of Slipper’s involvement given his current predicament, despite part of the Speaker’s role including key involvement in deciding whether Thomson will face a parliamentary privileges investigation committee. The decision-maker role is evidently not included in the duties Slipper ‘opted out’ of when he partially stepped down from his Speaker position weeks ago due to the James Ashby scandal. With reports of impending fresh sexual assault claims from former staffers emerging, he may wish he had opted out of turning on the Liberals in the first place.

Down, down, more trouble for suppliers while they’re down

Woolworths fired the latest shot in the escalating supermarket wars this week, launching its new ‘Everyday Rewards’ loyalty program in response to Wesfarmers-owned Coles' heavily-advertised ‘My5’ Flybuys offer. The programs, and continuing price wars, are very popular among shoppers – and as the supermarkets are happy to shout from the rooftops, everybody wins. Except of course suppliers, who are forced to accept lower payments from the giants for the products they provide. And obviously, any farmers who are forced to sell their produce near or below cost price. But other than that, everybody wins.

Did you check under the couch?

Global lending giant JP Morgan came under fire this week after a team of traders managed to misplace a paltry $US2 billion, leading to the resignation of a senior executive, a US Department of Justice investigation into the loss and a shareholder lawsuit. JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said there was "almost no excuse” for the loss, and reportedly added that there would definitely be no excuse if it didn’t look like he’d lose his job otherwise.

If the banks won’t come to the mountain

The Reserve Bank of Australia justified its decision to cut the official cash rate by 50 basis points at the start of this month by blaming it on the banks. In the minutes of its May policy meeting, the central bank said the sizeable cut was aimed at forcing the banks into slashing their own rates, which it said had steadily risen since the last move in December. The admission is sure to make the RBA a lot of friends in the financial sector, because if there’s one thing the banks like, it’s being forced into doing something that will hurt their margins. National Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne expects further cuts to come, but is reportedly confident that NAB can remain the market leader among the big four banks on rates. Mostly, according to rumours, because he expects none of the major banks to cut rates at all, meaning the status quo will remain.

Ruddy hell

The Australian Federal Police has launched a formal investigation into the leak of a video showing Kevin Rudd swearing, that was posted, with much fanfare, on internet site YouTube last year. The move may represent a backfire for Rudd, given rumours at the time of the release that it was the former PM’s team itself that leaked the video, as a means to drum up public support ahead of his ultimately failed attempt to win back the leadership of the Labor party. Comments reportedly made by Rudd when informed of the investigation have been deemed unprintable.

Quick misses

Echo Entertainment’s largest shareholder, James Packer, has urged the casino group to fix the image problem surrounding its flagship Sydney casino, The Star. Packer reportedly urged the company to take its cue from his own Crown Casino in Melbourne, which he said was a bastion of all that is just and good.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to question Prime Minister Julia Gillard over several Indonesian minors who have been jailed in Australia for people smuggling offences when the leaders meet in July this year. The Indonesian president is expected to suggest that Australia could learn a lot from Indonesia’s exemplary record surrounding its prisons and legal system.

– And finally, billionaire Clive Palmer surprised many by speaking his mind this week, encouraging the Liberal Party to consider the return of former treasurer Peter Costello. Insiders reportedly consider it unlikely that Palmer has any ulterior motive behind the push.

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