The biggest down-under agency pitch of the year - the A$60 million ($46.42m; €35.9m; £24.62m) Tourism Australia business - has triggered mutterings of 'foul' after the client trimmed to three the number of agencies entering the second round of the contest.

Last week, a string of the biggest multinational agencies with offices in Oz - among them Singleton Ogilvy & Mather, Publicis Mojo, McCann Erickson, Lowe Hunt, Euro RSCG and incumbent Whybin TBWA - learned they had fallen at the first fence.

Three shops now survive to slug it out for the business whose prestige value is worth far more that its reputedly meagre margins.

The surviving trio are Saatchi & Saatchi, Austalian majority-owned agency Clemenger BBDO and M&C Saatchi, the London-headquartered network founded by Lord Maurice Saatchi (day job: co-chairman of the UK Conservative Party) and his sibling Charles.

But the first-fencers are up in arms, claiming the pitch process is slanted in favour of M&C Saatchi. They cite the tender document which, in addition to asking for creative credentials, requires agencies to demonstrate how they could service the account through their offices in markets such as the United Kingdom, Japan, China, and the United States.

That narrowed the field somewhat - but fair enough say most of the fallen contestants.

But the tender also asks shops to list their experience in tourism marketing - giving as an example another country's tourism account or promoting an airline. This narrowed the field still further ... given that the only tourism-related global brand coming out of the continent is Qantas.

In fact it shut the gate to a gap so slim that seemingly only one shop can squeeze through. The incumbent on the Qantas account: M&C Saatchi!

Says one disgruntled loser: "This [tender document] could've been written by M&C Saatchi." Another opined: "They [Tourism Australia] set the bar so high there could only have been one or two agencies that would have come through that process."

Another factor to have created suspicion is that TA marketing director Ian Macfarlane formerly held the mirror role at Tourism New Zealand: current ad agency M&C Saatchi.

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff