THE LAST GASP: Sink or swim

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week's biggest news stories, every week. This week, Clive Palmer makes a Titanic tilt at federal politics, HSU head Michael Williamson offers police some of his home cooking, and Paul Hogan’s eight-year wrestle with the ATO comes to an end.

A Titanic tilt

Most couldn’t even dream of being a national living treasure, but Clive Palmer made it look easy this week, showing no signs he was burdened by the heavy responsibility that comes with the tag. He hit the ground running on Monday, taking his ongoing stoush with Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan to another level. Not only did Clive flag his intention to challenge the treasurer for his own Queensland seat of Lilley, but also signalled a multimillion-dollar plan to build the Titanic II as a hobby to keep him busy during his tilt at federal politics. Allegedly questioned by journalists about his past attempts at floating large and expensive entities such as the failed Resourcehouse IPO, he moved swiftly to quell any fears about the buoyancy of his latest project, saying she would be unsinkable.

Palmer said the giant ocean liner is expected to embark on its maiden voyage between England and the US in 2016, and apparently indicated that, should he win Lilley, his new boat would be central to a somewhat ‘Noahesque’ policy platform, saying his constituents would always be welcome to take shelter in his ark in the event Queensland should experience another bout of flooding. Swan probably wasn’t shocked by the brazen billionaire’s latest fleet-footed manoeuvre, but said he would relish the challenge, while Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said it had caught him off guard. Abbott said he expected Palmer was one of only a few men capable of overseeing the construction of a massive cruise ship and holding down a federal seat at the same time, apparently adding that he hoped his tentative backing of Palmer’s push for pre-selection would once and for all put an end to the commonly held misconception he didn’t like boat people.

Receiving you loud and clear

Australia’s number two telco had a busy week, as it embarked on an aggressive restructure and even struck a deal with Vodafone to combine infrastructure. Optus announced it would axe 750 staff resulting in a one off $37 million charge. Chief executive officer of the company’s consumer division Kevin Russell said the main reason for the restructure was "a desire to elevate the voice of our ten million customers to ensure they are heard loud and clear in every area of our business”. Russell allegedly told reporters that the company had been mailing megaphones to its customers to achieve this end in the near term because its reception would most likely continue to drop out until it had successfully implemented part of its genius plan to access 460 of Vodafone’s equally-reliable mobile towers.

The HSU’s house of horrors

The Health Services Union saga soared to new heights this week. At 0900 AEST on Thursday morning, Strike Force Carnarvon swooped on the Health Services Union’s Pitt Street office, seizing documents and computers after the Temby report revealed that the union had paid millions of dollars to some of its suppliers without any proper tender processes and that some of the companies were associated with union head Michael Williamson and his family. When HSU national secretary Kathy Jackson turned up to work at 0930 AEST she was locked out, and with a refreshing honesty told the waiting media pack she expected the police would find significant evidence of corruption. Meanwhile, perhaps in one of the greatest displays of police cooperation on record, a union member, allegedly Williamson, was intercepted in a nearby parking area with a bag of documents. When asked by police why exactly he was spending his paid leave loitering in the HSU carpark, he is rumoured to have told officers he was just taking out the rubbish before breaking into an apologetic rant over the unkempt state of the office. He then allegedly said he said he and Kathy had been planning a thorough clean up just in case unexpected guests should drop in. Williamson was rumoured to be embarrassed because, while he had popped a cake in the oven and put the kettle on, he hadn’t got to the dusting or vacuuming yet.

Laborious speed bumps

It was just another week of smooth sailing for the Labor government, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to accept Peter Slipper would be spending an extended period away from the speaker’s chair and had to suspend Craig Thomson’s Labor membership. At the same time, she watched her own public approval ratings sink to new lows. In the spirit of unity that the government has become famous for in recent times, Gillard received the almost unanimous backing of her party, but was still unable to stop rumblings from the staunchly faithful NSW right branch, which appears to have uncharacteristically changed its mind – again – deciding that in fact Kevin Rudd was the best leader after all. Recently retired Senator Mark Arbib is rumoured to have expressed great joy that his decision to retire in the interest of party solidarity had come up a real treat.

That’s not a knife

Actor Paul Hogan, who wrestled crocodiles during his days on the silver screen, has spent the last eight years locked in a somewhat less impressive battle with a number of Australia’s top tax bureaucrats. The most heavily publicised aspect of Operation Wickenby, a witch-hunt targeting high-profile tax cheats, drew to a close this week after Hogan and fellow actor John Cornell reached an undisclosed settlement with the Australian Taxation Office over their alleged owing of up to $150 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. While the circumstances surrounding the abrupt end to the protracted process are generally conceded to be unknown, an unnamed source close to the case is rumoured to have said the resolution came about suddenly when a middle-aged tax agent got angry and threatened Hogan with the pointy end of a paper clip – it was no match for Hogan’s letter opener.

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