Tilburn's Fairfax war of 1998

By Stephen Mayne
January 17, 2008

The 1998 John Fairfax AGM was a doozy. This was one of The Daily Telegraph stories that followed on November 9, 1998.

The ongoing war between newspaper group John Fairfax and notorious shareholder activist Jack Tilburn reached new heights at the company's annual meeting on Friday.

But despite chairman Brian Powers giving as good as he got, the Fairfax press have obviously decided to extend their ban on mentioning the veteran board harrasser.

So you'll have to read about it here instead.

Tilburn told the meeting he had complained to the Press Council that for six years Fairfax's Australian Financial Review newspaper had displayed "an endemic and systematic hatred of me with malice and spite galore". The Fin says it simply ignores him.

The finger pointing agitator went on to tell the meeting that he was "a bit sour upon the whole of John Fairfax" and had recently cancelled his subscription to BRW and the Saturday Fin.

However, his major gripe is with the Sydney Morning Herald's CBD column which reported that he was found guilty of a house insurance fraud and ordered by the court to pay $4400 back to GIO earlier this year.

CBD incorrectly said Tilburn was ordered to do community service when in fact he was placed on an 18-month good behaviour bond.

This was corrected two days later, but Tilburn still took the matter to the Press Council which dismissed his complaint last week.

Tilburn was therefore leading with his chin somewhat when he launched a sustained tirade against Fairfax journalists for alleged inaccuracies and poor ethics.

Powers mixed humour with threats, at one point saying he would pass the hat around his fellow board members to raise $3500 to buy Tilburn's 1000 Fairfax shares at a premium and send him packing.

However, after about 10 minutes of abuse, Powers, who is used to the rough and tumble from his five years running Kerry Packer's empire, went on the offensive.

"This company has taken the abuse now for a long period of time from you, sir, we reported the fact that you were found guilty of a crime, you have taken great umbrage at that," he said.

"You have walked around town saying you're going to bring the wrath of god down on us for that.

"We are here to discuss this company, not to discuss your pet grievances, sir.

"I am not going to have this shareholders' meeting taken over because of a report of that.

"Now, I'd like to make a motion that Mr Tilburn not be permitted any more quesitions on this motion, may I have a seconder, all those in favour. . ."

After more yelling and screaming, the self-described "Terminator" was then almost ejected by two security guards until he agreed to keep quiet.

However, when it came to Powers' re-election at the end of the meeting, Tilburn leapt to his feet voting against the motion, telling the board: "I want my name recorded Mr chairman, for future legal action."

Tilburn usually likes the publicity and certainly never gives up. Today he will be rabble rousing at the "Boring Boral" meeting and last Friday he gave the Walker Corp board plenty of curry.

However, nothing compares with his performance during the NRMA demutualisation battles in 1995 when he was physically ejected from a meeting after storming the stage because his microphone was turned off.