The day in 2000 when Kerry Packer took offence

By Stephen Mayne
January 14, 2008

They tried to outwit Crikey by holding their AGMs at the same time but we got to both the Fairfax and PBL meetings on Friday, October 27, 2000 and gave both boards a good going over. Below is the PBL account published on Crikey.

James Packer and Fairfax chairman Brian Powers both denied colluding to have their meetings clash, but it didn't matter as we had a good go at both outings.

This was because I knew crazy Jack Tilburn would be at the Fairfax meeting wasting everybody's time and that James Packer likes to race through the agenda.

So after a three minute chairman's address it was straight into the re-election of directors at PBL.

The Packers don't like corporate democracy so James slammed through all four director appointments on the one resolution. "Teriffic" he said when shareholders unanimously approved this democratic short cut.

James then attempted to put it to a vote without any debate until I got up and insisted on the right to speak.

The question went to the heart of what is wrong in governance terms with PBL. The board is full of Packer stooges or Packer-appointed management and there is no-one in there batting for the non-Packer interests who own 65 per cent of company.

Last year I asked several questions about the Packer-private versus Packer-public issue which has still not been properly countenanced in any media outlet in Australia.

Issues like the Packer's private companies buying into at 10c a share and then PBL making its loss-making investment at prices closer to the $1 mark.

With the Packers now also setting up CPH Investments and ecorp as separate listed vehicles, it is hard to be confident that PBL will get access to the quality deal flow. That's why PBL needs some genuine independent directors batting for the non-Packer interests so that when a deal goes elsewhere, they can thump the board table about it.

James tried to claim they have four Packer directors, four executives and four independents but this is pure bullshit.

One of Packer's closest mates Robert Whyte is classified as independent as is Rowena Dabstringer (sic), the long term principal of Amskam (sic) where James went to school. The institutions really should be pushing for some more truly independent directors.

When we got to general questions, I threw in three about Crown casino. James said they'd lost $5-$10 million thanks to the World Economic Forum and were looking to insurers rather than the state government for compensation. That's a relief. He also said the $7 million payout to Lloyd Williams was determined by an independent arbitrator and that they were working hard on plans to build the third tower.

My last contribution before scurrying off to Fairfax covered the latest outbreak of tension with the Murdochs but James actually tried to claim relations were fine. Anyone watching Channel Nine or reading The Australian knows this is crap given the bombs they've been throwing at each other recently. Remember Michael Pascoe's big attack on Lachlan Murdoch a couple of weeks back which was smartly followed up by The Australian's huge piece listing all of Packer's dud property plays over the years.

We then had Bob Gottliebsen's strange front page splash in the Weekend Australian two Saturdays ago alleging that Bob Mansfield's Packer connections were causing concerns in the Telstra boardroom and in Canberra, particularly as Telstra has just hired long-term Packer mate Peter Barron as a political consultant. Everyone knows that Mansfield is close to the Packers. He was the bloke pushing the outrageous deal for Telstra to buy PBL for a lazy $18 a share earlier this year.

The only aspect of the Packer meeting that got reported properly was the Big Man's attack on me after the questions about the troubles at Hoyts and the Murdoch stoush.

I'd already walked five metres back to my seat when Kerry Packer posed the question: "Do you basically set out to be offensive, or is it just natural?"

After I failed to take the bait, he demanded: "I'm waiting for an answer". None was forthcoming, does he think I'm stupid or something. Poor old Daily Telegraph police reporter Charles Miranda but a bollocking two years back when he let Kerry engage him.

James answered parts of the question and claimed that the Packers were the ultimate good guys for not charging PBL for their services even though ConsPress Holdings incurred "millions of dollars of costs a year running our business".

So, James, when you take Jodie and a bunch of mates to Noosa in the Channel Nine chopper, who pays? And what about when you take 20 mates in the private jet to Crown for Guillame Brahimi's stag weekend at Crown in July last year.

Full marks for not drawing a salary like Frank Lowy and Rupert Murdoch do but I'd be most interested in knowing which of your expenses PBL picks up?