It's amazing what you overhear in flash North Sydney nosheries when high-flying industry people have no idea you're a Tabloid journalist. North Sydney is a hotbed of technology company headquarters, so most of the good restaurants (and many of the bad ones) around the traps make suitable venues for a bit of IT industry gas-bagging.
Optus is one such big industry player to have its Australian central command bunker in North Sydney and there is a particular Thai restaurant which is a regular spot for the No.2 telco's staff to suffer their bouts of Luncheonaire's disease.
Anyway, a certain Tabloid scribe was there getting the dirt on yet another direct-dealing-by-stealth controversy in vendorland when he overheard the story as it is, without the stench of a spin doctor at work. Sitting at the next table were some high-end Optus troops happily and openly discussing the latest developments of the proposed buyout by Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), which is awaiting the ratification of watchdog bodies in both Australia and Singapore.
It seems the finalisation of the Optus takeover by SingTel is far from being past the post and the talk is that staff would be released if it happened.
As well as freely using the term Singpus (which we just love) to describe the potential new entity, all four in the group being eavesdropped on were firmly of the opinion that the deal would never go through. Denial may be wishful thinking in terms of job security, but they also spent a lot of time reassuring each other that it wouldn't be themselves that would meet the axe should it be unsheathed.
Their reasons for believing the Singpus deal would never see full consummation ranged from the watchdogs involved smelling a rat through to SingTel wanting to bail out when they complete the opportunity analysis.
The fact that the Singapore Government is a significant shareholder in Singtel also raised eyebrows on the diners. Issues of national security and protectionism were debated as the last curry puff and mini spring roll were squabbled over. It was pointed out that the Singapore Government is getting a good look at Australia's telecommunications infrastructure through SingTel's due diligence process.
"The [Australian] Government is trying to sell out and are letting the Singapore Government buy in," one suggested with a mouthful of red beef curry.
It doesn't matter in the end anyway, suggested another over a plate of pad puk. It was intoned that Singpus would not be able to manipulate the market as the buyer has done in Singapore, where the government is known for dabbling in all sorts of affairs. The fact that competition is much stiffer in Australia and the density of users is far more diverse was discussed, and the Optus panel concluded it was all going to look too tough for SingTel once they run the numbers.