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The hard sell of a uni merger | Liberal class war | Blessed are the cheesemakers

This week the InSider dives into uni merger politics, Liberal Party ructions and the right and very wrong way to do social media, discovers two South Aussies who have flown the coop, and is nostalgic for Fruchocs.

Regrets, they had a few

Amid the fallout of the uni merger announcement last week was the strange case of why leadership of the universities of Adelaide and SA signed up not just to the deal, but the Premier’s full stage-managed PR strategy to sell it.

It was clear all week that the plan was to drop the big news to his favourite local media outlet.

It’s a time-honoured political tactic to spread the word while controlling the narrative. But university leaders went along for the ride, and in doing so treated their own staff shabbily.

Let’s recap.

The uni merger announcement went live as an “exclusive” on The Advertiser/Sunday Mail website at around 8.30 Saturday night, with the Premier talking up the “historic” deal’s benefits.

Barely half an hour before, at around 8pm, both Chancellors emailed staff about the deal – because surely everyone is checking their work emails on a wintry Saturday night.

University of Adelaide Chancellor Catherine Branson acknowledged the timing was unfortunate.

“I very much regret that this advice, of necessity, reaches you outside of regular working hours and only shortly before it is to be announced publicly, as I expect tomorrow,” she wrote.

As it turned out, it was 30 minutes later, not tomorrow. Never mind. But why was it “of necessity” to tell staff – some of the state’s most intelligent people – the result of a six-month merger inquiry on Saturday night?

Because it was a strategy set in place at least a week before – before the business case had even been presented to the university councils.

How does the InSider know this?

Both Vice-Chancellors told us so on Monday, June 26.

University of Adelaide VC Peter Høj and University of South Australia VC David Lloyd emailed their staff that morning to tell them that the merger exploration process was winding up, businesses cases were about to be handed to university councils and  – rapidly for such a significant restructure requiring, as it turned out, $450m of taxpayer money – a decision was imminent.

“Regrettably, it is likely that this will occur outside of standard working hours this coming weekend, and given the level of associated interest, may well be in the wider public domain shortly after,” Høj wrote.

“Regrettably, given the timing of the Councils’ deliberations, I want to foreshadow that future updates regarding the outcome will likely be delivered outside of normal working hours this coming weekend, and given the level of associated interest, may well be in the wider public domain shortly after,” Lloyd wrote.

It’s almost as if they were writing from a shared template. And, uncannily, it turned out just like they said.

InDaily asked the Premier at the 9am Sunday presser why such significant news was released at 8pm Saturday. (We already knew the answer – to protect a media ‘drop’ – but we asked anyway.)

“Well, what time would suit you better?” he replied.

Umm, maybe business hours or when the people most affected could see it?

“This is actually an announcement for the future of South Australia,” the Premier said.

“And the way I see it, the stakeholders are the 1.7 million South Australians who care about the future of our state and they all deserve to have an understanding of what this endeavour is.”

The Premier just explained his media strategy. University leadership might explain theirs to stakeholders.

Anger emojis as uni stumbles at first hurdle

The University of Adelaide’s pledge to listen to staff concerns about its controversial merger got off to a shaky start when its Facebook page blocked users from commenting on the decision.

In another demonstration of the two universities’ commitment to working “autonomously and independently”, the Facebook post in question was published at exactly 10am Sunday with identical wording and the same photo as UniSA’s post three minutes later.

Spot the difference: The two “independent” universities announcing their merger agreement on Facebook three minutes apart – one allowing comments, the other not.

The social media status heralds a “big moment for higher education in South Australia”, touting a merger that will deliver “unparalleled student experience, future-focused curriculum and research with global impact”.

But evidently, the moment was too big to allow anyone to talk about it. As of today, the University of Adelaide’s Facebook page is still not allowing comments on the post.

UniSA’s social media team, which didn’t disable comments, was left to mop up the mess when an irritated Adelaide Uni staff member crossed over to ask why her institution was limiting comments.

UniSA diplomatically responding to a frustrated Adelaide Uni staff member this week.

Judging by the response on the University of Adelaide’s Facebook page, it’s not like the social media team had much to fear – the merger announcement received 106 likes and 13 hearts, well above the 42 angry face emojis and seven sad faces.

“The optics of it indeed look bad,” one Adelaide Uni staff member told the InSider.

“If you scroll through their other posts, one does not see other posts with angry faces or disabled comments.

“In that context, 42 angry faces is huge!”

Another person, purportedly an Adelaide University Student Representative Council member, shared the university’s post and wrote: “They’ve turned comments off for a reason.”

“The timing of it too is so transparent. Announce during Uni break when most students aren’t on campus so it’s much harder to organise demonstrations,” they said.

A University of Adelaide spokesperson said turning off social media comments was to ensure feedback about the merger could be “appropriately addressed”.

“Comments were turned off for all merger related messaging on social media – besides Twitter – to enable feedback, concerns and questions to be appropriately addressed through our project management team via our website, and Future Uni-specific email address,” the spokesperson said.

“This ensured they were properly captured and answered in a timely way.

“Private messages received through social media were actively responded to.”

Flying high on socials

The universities – well everyone for that matter – should take a lesson from Jetstar on how to do socials. The much-maligned airline has caught up with global police forces, including our Federal Police, with “the intern has taken over the feed” vibe and has taken it next level. Yesterday it was all about cruel bosses.

But this one made the InSider chortle.

Speirs wages class war against ‘friend’ McBride

Opposition leader David Speirs was trapped in a public relations nightmare on Wednesday night when rebel MP Nick McBride revealed he was abandoning the Liberals due to unspecified “dark forces” lurking within the party membership.

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A hoarse-sounding Speirs, who has by his own admission been “quite unwell for the last week”, had to front up to a media barrage on Thursday to explain what McBride’s defection means for his leadership and the state of the Liberal Party.

But those listening to Speirs’ afternoon press conference might have mistaken the Liberal leader for a Labor firebrand as he alluded to the disillusioned MP’s apparently charmed life.

McBride is chair of his family’s sixth-generation pastoralist company, AJ & PA McBride, ranked 39th on the South Australian Business Index with $41m in revenue in FY22.

“Nick’s had the sort of life that I’ve not had,” Speirs said.

“Nick’s had a life where he’s had everything that he’s ever wanted handed to him.

“And quite frankly, he really hasn’t had to work to get where he’s gotten to in life.

“Nick asks and Nick gets.”

Speirs stopped short of proclaiming the proletarians of AJ & PA McBride have nothing to lose but their chains, although if the Farm Workers’ Union is looking for a new secretary, they know who to call.

Despite the attacks, Speirs insisted that McBride is a “friend” and said that during the rebel MP’s time with the Liberal Party, his “closest relationship was actually probably with me”.

“But you’ve got to be able to call out your friends when they do the wrong thing,” he said.

If his very public silver spoon accusations cause a friendship fallout, Speirs can console himself with the 13 properties he declared owning in his most recent register of interest.

How to Advertise(r) your departure

While McBride insists he’s not angling for a cabinet appointment, the InSider believes he should keep an open mind to a role within the Malinauskas Government’s industrial-sized spin unit.

The regional MP had Labor’s university merger media strategy down pat for his Liberal resignation announcement – giving the story to News Corp on Wednesday for the Thursday paper before soaking up the subsequent attention on morning radio and evening TV bulletins.

Asked whether he tried to stop McBride from resigning on Wednesday, the Opposition leader said: “I asked him if there was anything I could do [but] he’d already provided the story to The Advertiser.”

“Both the news story and the opinion piece by (Advertiser state political editor) Ms (Kathryn) Bermingham were already written before I was aware this was about to happen.”

Blindsided and hoarse, Speirs will use the winter break “to get back on top of my health”.

Another South Aussie looking for a new home

The InSider suspects that, like Nick McBride, this bird has officially flown the coop and doesn’t want to return home.

(Old) new look for FruChocs

Menz’s iconic FruChocs have a new look in celebration of the confectionary’s 75th anniversary, with the treat embracing retro packaging based on its original design.

CEO of Menz, Phil Sims, said he hoped the new look would bring back memories for older South Australians who might remember the birth of FruChocs, and allow newer fans to appreciate the brand’s heritage.

“To celebrate the 75th anniversary, we’re offering FruChocs fans the chance to take a trip down memory lane, enjoying one of South Australia’s most iconic chocolate treats in a fun retro candy-stripe design. Packaging evocative of its original design in 1948,” Sims said.

“FruChocs hold a special place in the hearts of South Australians, and what better time to announce our vintage packaging than just in time for World Chocolate Day!”’

The vintage-look FruChocs will be available from mid-July.

Stuff you should know…

Smelly Cheese Shop owner Valerie Henbest has been awarded the distinguished title of Knight of the French Order of Agricultural Merit for her outstanding contribution to the world of cheese.

His Excellency Jean-Pierre Thébault, Ambassador of France to Australia bestowed the medal upon Henbest in a ceremony at Penfold’s Magill Estate.

“I am incredibly humbled and honoured to be awarded the Knight of the French Order of Agricultural Merit,” Henbest said.

“It is a privilege to be recognised for my passion for cheese and education but also it acknowledges the importance of fostering cultural exchange through food.”

The Knight of the French Order of Agricultural Merit is a prestigious honour granted to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and achievements in the agricultural and culinary industries.

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