Bumper August edition: Bolt, Gillard, 4 Corners, Murdoch, ASA, Gunns, Bruce Wilson, Manningham, Cornwall, pokies, Rich List, tweets and much more

August 30, 2011

Dear Readers,

Greetings for the first time since our last bumper email edition on July 8 and never forget that you can unsubscribe from this email list by clicking here or tell your friends to get on board by clicking here. Even better, follow us on Twitter.

Two new cracking animations from Cornwall

We've got an action packed edition but first up this month, former Fairfax and Crikey cartoonist Mark Cornwall has two cracking new animations for your enjoyment:

Aussie English for new migrants

Shock jocks as PM for the day

Also, don't miss Cornwall's collection of cartoons and this gallery of past animations.

Noxious Andrew Bolt goes on strikes

Andrew Bolt appears to be considering walking away from the Herald Sun after being embarrassed that News Ltd executive chairman John Hartigan called the dogs off Julia Gillard and his Saturday blog tip that the PM would be forced to resign turned into an open joke.

Hartigan rather pathetically collapsed after taking Gillard's call complaining about Glenn Milne's Monday column in The Australian and I'm guessing this is why Bolt spat the dummy and posted the following on his blog at 12.01am this morning: "No politics until further notice. Principles to weigh up. Faith to keep. Sorry."

All we've got so far are these comments on 2GB this morning:

"What I can safely say is Julia Gillard is a fantastic prime minister, she really does her best for us, I think anyone trying to criticise her, well really, we should just shut them down and not answer what they say and I don't think that's in the national interest. So I think she's doing a fantastic job and I can only say good on her."

"I'd like people to check what was said before and what the prime minister responded to. It would be nice if they could check with what was said now and has been withdrawn completely and see what difference there is, but you can't do that. There is to be no debate and maybe that's fantastic, maybe that's great and what people want."

Bolt is largely right on that second point in terms of what Milne has reported in the past, but the Coward's Castle efforts against Gillard by Liberals Phil Gude and Geoff Leigh do contain some major falsities.

With Bolt on strike, I posted a comment to his blog that the Herald Sun was disgraced by Bolt's hysterical and bullying presence but this so-called champion of free speech has censored it.

Here are few more tweets we've sent out about Bolt over the past few hours:

* There will be plenty of new Federal Liberal MPs from Vic after next election, but toxic Bolt will damage Abbott if he sponsors him in.

* In shootout with Hartigan, Bolt loses. End of newspaper career. Can't do Sky as Harto chairs that too. Could do blog but selling ads a pain.

* Bolt is addicted to publicity and will be weighing whether can walk. MTR has flopped so needs Gina-Singo to buy 3AW so becomes next Jones.

* MTR lost $6m last year, Ten's share price has dived, News Corp still in crisis. All would do better if they punted the noxious Andrew Bolt.

* Will Lachlan Murdoch use the nobbling of his pet Andrew Bolt as part of his internal campaign against John Hartigan? They hate each other.

* If Bolt believes in free speech, why is he censoring my comment on his blog? We did spend 5 days together in HK during the 1997 handover.

* Bolt has chucked a hissy fit at not being allowed to continue Gillard jihad. The late Matt Price was right when describing Bolt as a bully.

* How to fix News Ltd: appoint Robert Thompson or Richard Freudenstein CEO and let Chris Mitchell, Glenn Milne and Andrew Bolt go. Too easy.


After pouting and striking for the day, Bolt returned with the following mid-afternoon update:


Afrer discussions, I now feel free to speak my mind. So I shall. In tomorrow's column. I apologise for the mysteriousness, but I did not want to act in anger or before matters had been resolved. I had to be fair to my employer and to my readers, and I apologise if you think I've had the balance wrong over the past 24 hours.

Thank you to everyone who has rung, emailed or commented on this post, here and on radio

The Murdoch governance scandal

We've been consumed with the Murdoch governance scandal over the past eight weeks and did send out the following Rupert-related missives to some of you:

Special email edition to News Corp analysts ahead of earnings conference call
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Special edition seeking support for one last trip to New York for Rupert AGM
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The most recent Murdoch missives in other outlets have been as follows:

Does the Murdoch family have more wealth outside News Corp?
Crikey, Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why News Corp should sell down its Australian newspaper holdings
Crikey, Monday, August 15, 2011

Rupert hangs up on Four Corners and his own business journalists
Crikey, Thursday, August 11

Rupert delivers the profits and analysts dodge the hard questions
ABC website, The Drum, Thursday, August 11

Four Corners goes in hard on phone hacking

Sarah Ferguson went in very hard on Four Corners last night and came up with a pretty damning critique of the Murdoch culture. It was an impressive and powerful package which certainly highlighted the scale of the ethical breaches and the preposterous nature of the Murdoch denials.

Whilst hundreds of thousands of Australians watched last night's story, the hacking scandal story has gone into a brief hiatus but the Parliamentary hearings resume next week in what will probably be the end game for James Murdoch's executive career in London.

After that, the focus will be on Rupert and his independent directors leading into the October AGM, details of which are expected in the next couple of days.

After watching Ferguson's story, I still shake my head about this exchange at the News Corp AGM held on October 15 last year. Remember, this was two years after the 700,000 pound Gordon Taylor settlement, which was completely separate and on top of the original "lone wolf rogues" Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire who got caught for hacking the royals:

Stephen Mayne: what's your personal view of the phone bugging issue in the UK involving Andy Coulson and Clive Goodson the former Royals reporter. There has been a lot of press about it.

Rupert Murdoch: we have very very strict rules. There was an an incident more than 5 years ago. The person who bought a bugged phone conversation was immediately fired and in fact he subsequently went to jail. There has been two parliamentary inquiries, which have found no further evidence or any other thing at all. If anything was to come to light, we challenge people to give us evidence, and no-one has been able to. If any evidence comes to light, we will take immediate action like we took before.

Stephen Mayne: did you read the
5000-word piece in the New York Times claiming they had spoken to no less than 12 former editors and reporters for the News of the World, confirming that the practice was wide spread?

Rupert: No.

Stephen Mayne: you haven't read that New York Times

Rupert Murdoch: No.

Stephen Mayne: The actual committee said in it's report, there was "deliberate obfuscation" by our executives, there was "collective amnesia" by the executives and you've just demonstrated this again, and this point ....

Rupert Murdoch: I'm sorry. Journalists who have been fired, who are unhappy, or work for other organisations - I don't take them as an authority, and least of all I don't take The New York Times as authority which is the most motivated of all.

News Corp independent director agrees to meet

I've been corresponding with Peter Barnes, the only undoubtedly independent News Corp director based in Australia, and he's agreed to a meeting in the coming weeks.

This is an important break-through for the Australian Shareholders' Association and I'll be emailing him the topics for discussion shortly.

The issues laid out in this email to financial analysts who follow News Corp gives a pretty clear summary of what we're after.

The big three concessions are to separate the role of CEO and chair, secure a majority of genuinely independent directors and end the notorious News Corp gerrymander which denies a vote to 70% of the shares on issue and mitigates against normal shareholder accountability.

The other key point will be to ensure shareholders get a decent opportunity to quiz the independent directors at the AGM. Rupert normally dominates the AGM and shuts down questions prematurely by not allowing a separate debate on each resolution, as is standard practice at Australian AGMs.

There's a pretty good argument that one of the independent directors should actually chair the formal business, which is what used to happen at Babcock & Brown, even though Jim Babcock was executive chairman like Rupert.

Lynas executive chair should be put up for election

Speaking of executive chairs, we've put the hard word on emerging rare earths producer Lynas Corp to subject Nicholas Curtis to election at this year's AGM.

Whilst Australian law gives an exemption to the managing director for the three yearly election cycle that applies to all other directors, it is silent when the CEO is also chairman.

Rupert Murdoch and John Gay used to be the only two major Australian executive chairs who exploited this loophole and dodged election. The likes of James Packer, Kerry Stokes, Frank Lowy and Gerry Harvey put themselves up every three years.

John Gay yielded after I ran for the Gunns board opposing this rort in 2005 and Rupert left for America in 2004 where he now comes up for election every year, although US law doesn't actually allow you to vote against.

Lynas attempted to hit shareholders with a dreadful related party deal that would have benefitted Curtis earlier this year. It was withdrawn after a backlash, driven in part by the ASA, and now Curtis is denying shareholders the opportunity to reflect on his efforts seeing as he has never formally been elected by shareholders as chairman.

Donate to help prosecute the Murdoch governance campaign

The Mayne Report has wracked up gross losses of about $300,000 since we launched in October 2007, partly because of the expense involved in travelling to hundreds of AGMs.

It has been wonderful to receive about $5000 in donations since the Murdoch scandal erupted and the better half has signed off on a fourth trip to New York for the News Corp AGM in October which will involve staying for more than than two nights to try and attend to various media and lobbying issues.

However, we're looking at hiring some additional help to prosecute the campaign which, if finance is available, would probably involve retaining a governance professional and possibly having more than one person at the AGM.

Therefore, the more support we get the better so if you fancy making a contribution, click on the image below:

Alternatively, if you don't like using Paypal, a cheque can be snail mailed to PO Box 925, Templestowe 3106 or you can transfer a donation directly to the low turnover Mayne Report bank account (BSB: 036 406 Ac No: 130 897).

We will be doing a number of member only email editions throughout the coming AGM season and anyone who donates as little as $20 will receive these. Think about it as a very cheap AGM season ticket which also helps fund a good cause at an important time.

Why it is okay to look at Gillard's AWU dealings

The Australian's timing couldn't have been worse yesterday when it botched a Glenn Milne attack on the Prime Minister's integrity, dating back to a relationship she had in the mid-1990s with Bruce Wilson, a dodgy former secretary of the Australian Workers Union.

And because the issue has been so shoddily trawled over by Liberals abusing Parliamentary privilege and nasty right wing journalists running a jihad against our first female Prime Minister, it makes it difficult to have a dispassionate discussion about the issues.

But we'll try all the same and probably get howled down by the Left and some female readers in the process. Email Stephen@maynereport.com if you're concerned.

Crikey's Andrew Crook had this excellent summary on the issue which finally went out at 6.15pm yesterday after the website and publishing system crashed. Whilst it it true that 2UE's Mike Smith pulled his much-touted interview with AWU whistleblower Bob Kernohan, grabs and summaries can be heard from this interview Smith himself did yesterday with 2UE morning presenter Jason Morrison before his own afternoon shift.

Meanwhile, Fairfax's Tony Wright has today filled in the detail on how aggressively the PM played the ball in threatening legal action and calling Murdoch's Australian point man, John Hartigan. Wright also made one key mistake because there is no "fraud conviction" against Wilson.

After Bob Hawke secured millions in secret defamation settlements whilst PM, legal threats from powerful political figures are not usually something to be welcomed. Gillard clearly freaked out Hartigan with whatever she said, but at least the PM has not yet issued her first defamation writ, even if her party was prepared to bankroll Craig Thomson to hush up damning allegations against him.

And how's this extract from Wright's piece as a classic example of The Australian as a rogue newspaper and Harto seemingly having no idea:

Ms Gillard's antenna began quivering on Saturday when The Australian had, for no apparent reason, published in its ''Cut and Paste'' column an item from the Herald Sun of November 11, 2007, headed ''Back to the future''. ''Julia Gillard has revealed she fell in love with a former union official and fraudster who broke her heart and threatened to destroy her political career,'' it read.

Also on Saturday, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt devoted part of his blog to ''A tip on something that may force Gillard to resign''. It began: ''On Monday, I'm tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds.''

Bolt wrote that he was not at liberty to reveal the contents of the statutory declaration, but added ''I suspect a friend of mine in the media will be authorised to release it first''.

Ms Gillard contacted Mr Hartigan on Sunday to ask whether Bolt or another journalist was planning to revisit the story, and after he made inquiries at the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph, she was assured there were no such plans.

But Mr Hartigan did not check with The Australian. And no one at The Australian, apparently, saw the legal danger in a paragraph beginning ''what the lawyers would not allow to be reported was …''

Media Watch briefly touched on the Milne saga last night and presenter Jonathan Holmes promised a fuller examination next week. Having seemingly taken a media inquiry off the table with her recent secretive visit to brief the News Ltd editors, it will be interesting to see if the PM cranks that one up again in light of Milne's blunders.

There are some genuine issues in the Bruce Wilson saga

Whilst it will be fashionable to adopt a traditional left-right posture and rip into the likes of Andrew Bolt, Milne and 2UE's Michael Smith over all this, I'm actually supportive of the idea that the PM provide a fuller explanation of the dealings involving her then partner Bruce Wilson in the mid-1990s.

Milne made about 6 errors but this is the inaccurate line which caused The Australian to capitulate yesterday:

What the lawyers would not allow to be reported was the fact that Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds. There is or was no suggestion Gillard knew about the origin of the money.

Gillard has strenuously denied this, along with claims that Wilson used the funds to buy her clothes.

However, given the Craig Thomson scandal at the HSU, the Wilson history does raise questions as to whether the PM is at all compromised when its comes to stamping out union shenanigans. Her support of Thomson has caused a lot of brand damage to Labor, similar to all the sleaze which engulfed the dying NSW Labor government.

One of the biggest conflicts going around in Australia is the union gerrymander over 50% of the votes at Labor Party conferences. This gives secretaries of the big unions ridiculous power and leaves them with enormous conflicts of interest when it comes to spending union funds on their own transitions into Parliament.

Craig Thomson and the HSU is a classic case, especially with this story in The Australian today about the HSU not disclosing rent subsidies given to the ALP for the running of the last Federal election campaign out of its office. Is this why Craig Thomson wasn't ditched as the candidate for Dobell, despite the party being well aware of the various allegations against him to the point of even bankrolling his ill-fated defamation action against Fairfax?

The man cranking up the allegations against Gillard is former AWU vice president Bob Kernohan, who lives in Castlemaine. His updated affidavit was quoted extensively by 2UE's Mike Smith on Friday.

There is a question as to whether Gillard was still being briefed by Bruce Wilson after they became an item. That would have been a clear conflict of interest invovling AWU funds going to the union secretary's partner.

Partners of law firms are directly paid according to the cash they bring in through billable hours. If the AWU was a major client of Gillard's after the relationship blossomed, that would also be an issue, albeit now extremely dated.

The other obvious conflict of interest would have come from Gillard's repeated attempts to win preselection and Wilson's control over ALP votes and his presence, alongside Gillard, on the ALP's powerful Victorian administrative committee.

If Wilson did support Gillard's 1995 senate preselection, he would have been open to charges of trying to sponsor his girlfriend into parliament. Clearly, there was no argument that she didn't merit selection. Gillard's initial push to win Senate preselection was foiled in April 1995 when the factions backed Senator Barney Cooney to stay at number two on the ticket, with Jenny George at number 3 and the PM missing out.

George then pulled out and Gillard secured the number 3 spot at around the same time Wilson was booted from the AWU, but she missed out in the 1996 Howard landslide and had to wait until 1998 when she won the seat of Lalor.

It is known that Wilson exited the AWU in August 1995, so it would certainly be helpful in clearing the air if the PM could put some dates around her relationship with Wilson and also clarify the housing situation. Was she a whistleblower in exposing Wilson's practices? Did she give any advice to help him defend those attacking him? When did she end the relationship?

It appears clear that they didn't live together but Gillard has confirmed she was renovating her house at the time and this would have had to have been funded by her earnings as a partner at Slaters. Seeing as her then partner was a union boss representing some construction workers, it would make sense that he would take some interest in this at the time.

That said, being one of the toughest Slater & Gordon partners, Gillard was presumably a stickler for good process, although one of her defences of the Wilson relationship in more recent years has been that she was "young and naive". Hardly. This was a decade after student politics when she was a partner in her early 30s and doing things like contesting Lindsay Tanner's pitch to win preselection for the seat of Melbourne.

What were Gillard and her then boss-turned-Judge doing in mid-1995?

One of the PM's Slater & Gordon bosses at the time was Bernard Murphy, who the Gillard Government in April elevated from chairman of Maurice Blackburn to the bench of the Federal Court, a position from which he will be highly unlikely to ever proffer an opinion on this saga.

Frankly, in my opinion this looks like pretty ordinary cronyism, especially given most judges have experience at the bar and Murphy has only ever been a solicitor.

Murphy did some great work for shareholders on the class action front at Maurice Blackburn, but he also engulfed Slaters in a mini crisis of its own at the time of the Bruce Wilson blow up when he deployed some controversial tactics in taking the long handle to Jeff Kennett's former Finance Minister, Ian Smith.

Slaters was acting for Smith's embittered former chief of staff Cheryl Harris and Bernard Murphy was calling the shots. I had exited a year earlier as Smith's press secretary but returned for a brief moonlighting effort in helping write this personal explanation to Parliament two days after he resigned from Cabinet.

The Smith personal explanation on June 2, 1995, began as follows:

On Tuesday evening of this week I was first made aware of the allegations against me in the Magistrates Court earlier that day. This information was conveyed to me by a Herald Sun journalist who had been given a copy of the lodged documents before they were served on me. The documents were not served on me until approximately 9.50am the next morning, Wednesday, in a blaze of media coverage. This is the first serious breach of the legal process. The second breach is in the unsubstantiated allegations being publicly aired by Slater and Gordon before the court hearing. Slater and Gordon will be called to account for these disgraceful and unethical actions. Any action by me against Slater and Gordon for redress will be commenced once the Magistrates Court allegations have been disposed of and my name is vindicated.

This was an example of Slaters absolutely going the knuckle against a political figure in a sensational story with a sexual element. It would be interesting to know if Gillard helped her then boss in this or assisted in negotiating his subsequent exit from Slaters.

I can remember Smith talking openly at the time about the Slaters partners having their houses on the line and he did hold a celebratory function at Parliament House after securing a big settlement in early 1997, by which time Julia Gillard was chief of staff to Opposition leader John Brumby. The legal bill would have been substantial and I'm guessing that the whole saga would have cost the Slaters partners several hundred thousand dollars.

As a result of this, Murphy was out of Slaters before the end of 1995 and it was over this exact same period that the Bruce Wilson saga blew up because he exited the AWU in August 1995. This package of past coverage by The Australian and Glenn Milne shows how it all unfolded in the media.

Finally, here is a story which Crikey declined to run from 12 months ago which is worth resurrecting given the current dramas. I hope people don't take it the wrong way and claim it is sexist. If a male politician had a similar record, I'd be supporting a free and open discussion about their judgment too and remember that the PM does not seem at all outraged by Craig Thomson's behaviour at the moment.

Does Gillard have a thing for aggressive and colourful blokes?

Unpublished Crikey story submitted by Stephen Mayne in August 2010

Does Julia Gillard have a blind spot when it comes to making character assessments about some of the blokes in her life?

Whilst dismissed as a Glenn Milne smear when it re-appeared here and here two weeks before the 2007 federal election, the PM did date a union shonk called Bruce Wilson in the mid-1990s and inadvertently helped him misdirect hundreds of thousands of dollars from the AWU.

Exactly two weeks before the 2010 election, we've seen another old Gillard favourite emerge in remarkable circumstances. Whilst Mark Latham's menacing confrontation on Saturday damaged him more than Gillard, she was previously one of his biggest and most loyal supporters in the Federal Parliament.

And then you have Julia's decision to embrace Kevin Rudd in a joint hatchet job on Kim Beazley. We're now told Rudd was a shocking dictator, so bad that friends of right wing factional machine men have produced extraordinary videos comparing his Prime Ministership to the last days of Hitler. Clearly, the party concluded that Rudd wasn't psychologically suited to the job, yet it was Gillard more than anyone who backed him in.

No one goes through life without broken relationships and bad blood – especially leaders of major political parties – but one of the questions for Gillard is who of credibility is standing by her side in the hour of need. During the past six weeks she first trashed her own government's record by declaring it had “lost its way” and then she sledged her campaign team by revealing they were making her fake it.

And then you have the lack of support from natural allies. Labor's two most credible and honourable cabinet ministers – John Faulkner and Lindsay Tanner – both supported Rudd in the leadership showdown, even though Gillard was a fellow traveller in the Left faction. And both have now quit her Cabinet for good.

And if Gillard is so good, why wouldn't fellow Left luminaries such as Anthony Albanese and Jenny Macklin back her strongly? Even her former partner Craig Emerson declared he would have backed Rudd in a ballot.

Whilst it is clearly unfair to judge a politician by their partner, Tim Mathieson's drink driving conviction when he was 4 times the legal limit is not exactly something you'd be proud to tell your parents, let alone the nation.

The Sunday Telegraph even suggested he was loose with the truth as follows on July 31:

Despite previously claiming to have lost his licence in 2001 for about eight months over the drink-driving charge, documents show the incident was much more serious and recent. Mr Mathieson was charged on May 16, 2003, with driving under the influence of liquor at Simpsons Rd, Elanora, on the southern part of the Gold Coast. He was taken to the Palm Beach police station where a blood alcohol test taken just before 3am recorded a reading of 0.211 per cent - four times the legal limit.

Not a good look for Australia's first man.

Some of the other key blokes in Gillard's life are the ruthless factional and union machine men who persuaded her to knock Rudd. Gillard is steeped in the union movement from her time representing unions at Slater & Gordon and also from her long relationship with CFMEU heavyweight and forestry division boss Michael O'Connor, as Australian Story detailed in 2006 and again the week before she deposed Rudd.

She seems very comfortable dealing with these aggressive characters. I asked Federal Labor backbencher Kelvin Thompson on RRR last month whether there had ever been a “machine woman” and his 1am Sunday morning answer could only point to the little known member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou , who apparently counts numbers for Gillard's left faction.

Even on something as asinine as Gillard's beloved Western Bulldogs, the character judgments are questionable. She started by declaring the self-obsessed media tart Jason Akermanis was her favourite player and when he got sacked, she embraced Barry Hall who has an appalling record of violence and indiscretions over the years.

When you put it all together, our Prime Minister seems to like associating with some colourful men. Which perhaps explains why she seemed to quite like Tony Abbott, at least in the early days of his leadership.

Update from the Australian Shareholders' Association

We're gearing up for what should be a lively AGM season at the Australian Shareholders' Association.

CEO Vas Kolesnikoff will be interviewed on Lateline Business about the end of the profit reporting season tomorrow night so tune in if you get a chance.

Seeing as tomorrow is the last day of the reporting season, we'll be tracking all the last day tiddlers, although it will certainly not be as bad as February 28, 2009, when 17 differerent companies declared losses of more than $100 million.

Check out this chronology of the biggest red ink day in Australian history.

I'm doing plenty of talking at the ASA and am enjoying attending the monthly meetings of the Manningham group.

There was a trip to Albury last week for a talk, although I didn't enjoy presenting in a giant pokies club which is waging war against the Wilkie reform package.

The Victorian ASA committee is meeting next Wednesday and we've got a board meeting in Sydney later this month, which will be the first face to face gathering since I was elected in May as the July meeting was on the phone.

The ASA relies on its members to keep going so why not sign up today.

Pokies shaping up as one of Gillard's tough but right reforms

The Gillard government is to be commended for soldiering on with pokies reform.

Media reports suggest the PM and Jenny Macklin remain determined to deliver their agreement with Andrew Wilkie, who has recently repeated his threats to bring down the government if the legislation is not through both houses of parliament by next May.

Labor will almost certainly be flogged at the next election, unless it can negotiate a mid-term change of government to a Turnbull-led government, conditional on taking action on climate change.

Besides making a leadership change (see below), the best option for Gillard is earning credit for pushing through tough but necessary reforms such as ending Australia's status as the world's biggest gambling nation.

Pricing carbon, the Charities Commission, cleaning up campaign finance, a media inquiry, plain packaging for tobacco, bedding down federal-state health reform and clawing back some lost value from the largely foreign owned resournces industry would all constitute worthwhile reforms if they can be delivered.

Like with the pokies package, they government just needs to hang on and deliver on these programs.

Why is the pulp mill so friendless?

I've given two speeches in Tasmania over the last two weekends at the University of Tasmania open days in Launceston and Hobart and also written these two Crikey pieces about Gunns and the pump mill.

Fairfax, Gunns and Bluescope write-downs should have been larger
Crikey, Friday, August 26, 2011

Gunns, logging and the pulp mill
Crikey, Friday, August 19, 2011

The Gunns permit for the $2.3 billion pulp mill expires tomorrow if substantial works are not underway but it is hard to find anyone in the Tasmanian government who wants to make that call and the protest groups are getting ready to launch a legal challenge.

Gunns seem pretty friendless and have even slipped down to number three in market capitalisation for Tasmanian-based companies, behind financial group Mystate and salmon giant Tassal.

With the stock suspended at 20.5c, Gunns has a market capitalisation of $174 million and debts of $600 million. How on earth could it deliver a $2.3 billion pulp mill without global partners?

Gunns also needs someone like Paul Howes out there extracting generous cash contributions out of Canberra.

CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor is clearly uncomfortable in the public eye and as a former long-term partner and adviser to the PM, it would be very uncomfortable for both of them, not to mention Labor's Green alliances in Hobart and Canberra, if Federal cash started flowing to the pulp mill.

Why give money to Bluescope to partially shut down an industry and refuse to help an important new value-adding industry open up in Tasmania, where investment is clearly needed.

With gross state debt of $3 billion and unfunded super which has spiralled to $3.5 billion, Tasmania needs private investment to grow and it is a shame the pulp mill is seemingly friendless.

The Gunns directors and institutional shareholders who backed cowboy executive chairman John Gay for so long clearly have a lot to answer for. Spending $70 million on a trophy wine business which is then sold to Brown Brothers for $20 million is not how to build an integrated timber company.

Similarly, the Auspine takeover has also cost Gunns shareholders close to $200 million in lost value.

Gunns is one of the few major listed companies to have never had a female on the board or in a senior executive position. It has suffered from all these blokey ego driven takeovers and aggressive political posturing against critics.

If institutional shareholders had foisted three or four quality female directors onto this board years ago, shareholders probably wouldn't have dropped the $1 billion-plus which has disappeared.

That said, the company should be given credit for exiting old growth logging and it is shame they look unlikely to be appropriately compensated for this move.

The surging dollar and weaker woodchip prices have also hurt them badly since the stock peaked at $3.65 in November 2007.

In hindsight, Julia Gillard was wrong to oppose the Mark Latham compensation package in 2004 because of her relationshop with Michael O'Connor. That $800 million deal looks far better today than what her Government is serving up and Gunns is getting out of old growth logging anyway.

Labor's options for a leadership change

Seeing as all the cross-benchers told Fairfax's Misha Schubert on Saturday that they prefer Malcolm Turnbull over Tony Abbott, I'm surprised this isn't a live option being explored.

The fastest way to lift Labor's poll ratings would be to negotiate a short term Liberal government under Malcolm Turnbull with conditions, such as not unwinding the carbon tax once it is introduced.

Labor would do much better in 2013 if the previous year saw the Liberals have a difficult time in minority government.

Much as Bill Shorten would love to roll Gillard, it will be impossible for the factional bovver boys to pull this off unless Gillard voluntarily exits and she is many months away from reaching that point, despite the woeful polls.

With unionists on the nose like never before courtesy of the Craig Thomson affair, the knifing of Kevin Rudd and an increasing business backlash against the excessive re-regulation of the labour market , I reckon the Simon Crean option is also dead.

If Labor wants to save some of the furniture at the 2013 election, the most viable option is the likeable cleanskin Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who is not a former union official and took a principled stand against Brian Burke, unlike many others in the ALP.

However, this could only happen if Gillard engineered it and she would surely only embrace such a move to a non-threatening competent factional clean skin like Smith if there really appeared no other way to avoid a landslide. Think about what Smith as leader would also do to Labor's woeful polling position in WA.

Wayne Swan has always been out of his depth as Treasurer and Chris Bowen has been poisoned by the refugees issue. The other option would be Tony Burke but he doesn't seem to have the hunger and somone from the NSW Right wouldn't be a good look, even though he is one of their honest, decent and principled creations.

Whilst all of this is idle speculation, the PM does seem determined to simply try and get a few policy runs on the board so at least she can point to some difficult reforms as Labor's legacy.

If Labor called an election now, history would treat this period as almost as bad as Whitlam. And the landslide would probably be worse than 1975.

Asset values soaring at Manningham City Council

The City of Manningham was very efficient with its financial statements in 2010-11 as we got through the audit committee process, a special council meeting and Auditor-General sign-off by August 25.

And it is great to see that one of Victoria's best managed councils remains in great financial shape with fully funded super, cash of $50 million, lower than average rate rises and soaring asset values.

The councillors voted 8-1 in favour of adopting the accounts last Tuesday and you can listen to the debate here.

The most interesting aspect of Manningham's annual financial statements is to look at what has happened to the value of council's land holdings over the past 4 years:

2007-08: $287m

2008-09: $378m

2009-10: $671m

2010-11: $801.4m

Similarly, over the past 4 years we've written up the value of our buildings from $67 million to $221.4 million.

Any fears that we are being too bullish on property valuations were dispelled this year when we sold a site on Tram Road in Doncaster for $9 million. It was on our books for about half that.

In terms of disclosure we're currently having a discussion about whether we can provide a bit more detail online or in our printed materials about the breakdown of these holdings and we'll let you know what the outcome is.

We're also poised to embark on a $100,000 independent financial review and if this happens, I'd like to see it examine whether there is any scope to deliver more infrastructure outcomes by realising assets.

The model is our path-finding new $38 million civic precinct project on Doncaster Hill which we've just named MC2. It was funded with $10 million from Westfield, $12 million in grants from the state and federal governments and more than $10 million from asset sales.

There is literally hardly any ratepayer money directly involved.

That's the way forward for an asset rich council with sprawling property holdings. Sell something to help fund the construction of something better.

Manningham, Wesfarmers, Aldi, Woolies and Doncaster rail

These are interesting days with the big retailers at Manningham.

Bunnings have shelled out more than $25 million for a 3 acre site on Doncaster Rd between Westfield and our civic precinct.

It is clear the hardware war with Woolworths has led to an aggressive land grab and ratepayers have benefitted because as part of this we managed to sell a little lane way for more than $500,000 when it was unvalued on our books.

However, selling was the easy bit. Under our vision for Doncaster Hill, we expect Bunnings to build something which is 8 or 9 storeys.

Whilst the big green shed might reach 4 levels, Bunnings have never built anything more than two storeys above an outlet, if you've visited the stores in Hawthorn or Chatswood.

We're looking at hundreds of apartments above this Bunnings and this will create lots of discussion with the neighboring Doncaster Primary School, especially around drop up and pick time in Council Street.

One solution will be for the Baillieu Government to turn its $6 million study into Doncaster Rail into reality. We are delivering the billions of dollars of investment on Doncaster Hill and we remain the only council in Melbourne without a rail or tram service. No wonder we have the highest level of car ownership in Australia.

Westfield have recently spent $600 million creating Melbourne's best shopping centre on Doncaster Hill and Mirvac last week predicted the nearby 48 ha Eastern Golf Club site would deliver it $401 million of revenue.

It would be much more with a train station and Mirvac, like Westfield, should be asked to pitch in.

Manningham's relationship with Woolworths remains a sore point at the moment given the ongoing Supreme Court litigation where Woolies is trying to stop us selling our car park at Jackson Court in East Doncaster to a rival supermarket operator.

The case is set down for 5 days in November and our legal bill is already pushing towards $200,000.

In a totally unrelated matter, Woolies also owns 4 of the 5 pokies venues in Manningham that would be covered if we pushed ahead with a special rates scheme to fund problem gaming programs similar to what Moreland and Darebin have done.

This is being examined for a July 1 start next year, but nothing formal has happened yet and it won't be easy to get it up. We'll keep you posted on how it progresses, along with all our other dealings in Manningham with the big retailers.

Firing up our Youtube channel again

When The Mayne Report first launched in 2007 we were posting daily videos on our Youtube channel. Alas, the cost and time of in-house video production, plus the lack of any revenue, made this model unviable. Besides, daily videos wasn't necessarily the best way to campaign for better corporate governance through shareholder activism.

In the end, it made more sense to channel our efforts into appearing on other people's videos, such as these two appearances last year on Ten's The 7pm Project, rather than trying to build an audience from scratch.

However, when you look back at all the video we've got spanning our own productions, one-off interviews, profiles or lengthy interviews such as Nine's Sunday program or ABC TV's Talking Heads, the regular spot on Sky's Business View and webcasts of AGMs, it turns out we've got a rather large library of material.

Cross-posting has become much easier now, so we are maintaining our Youtube channel and hope you enjoy our many playlists of material, which include the following:

11 rounds with Rupert Murdoch

A few rounds with the Millionaires at Macquarie Group

Bye bye Babcock & Brown

The pokies

Oz Minerals and Owen Hegarty

Gender equity and media trustworthiness in Intelligence Squared debates


Highlights from SBS Insight debate on executive pay

Campaigning to end the farmer gerrymander at AWB

Three goes on A Current Affair

Interviews with Dean Paatsch on corporate governance

The 2009 NAB AGM in Brisbane

Skewering Col Allan on Channel Nine's Sunday program

Herald Sun declines to publish letter defending council pay and travel

After yet another predictable attack on Victorian councils, I submitted this letter to the Herald Sun yesterday for the online discussion and the printed letters page today:

How predictable that the Herald Sun has once again attacked the travel costs of elected local government councillors and the salaries of council CEOs.

Whilst elected officials and bureaucrats are fair game, it should also be noted that the Herald Sun's proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, was paid an exorbitant $US16.8 million in 2009-10 and that he flies around the world in private jets that are paid for by long-suffering News Corp shareholders.

The Murdoch family owns about 13% of News Corp yet the shareholders who own the other 87% of the company are never told how much money is spent on private jets.

At least Melbourne City Councillors are transparent by seeking specific approval in open council each time they travel overseas on council business.

Stephen Mayne
City of Manningham councillor

Why is anybody surprised that such a letter has been censored. So much for the Murdoch culture of supporting free speech and transparent societies, even if some powerful people don't like what is said.

The Mayne Report Rich List

BRW magazine does a great job with its various Australian Rich Lists but we've broadened their efforts to track any Australian who has ever been worth more than $10 million. We've got more than 1500 names with those who've fallen back below $10 million now italicised. Below are our latest new or updated entries:

Children of Ian Woods: the late professional gambler died in 2008, leaving an estate worth more than $900 million, largely thanks to winnings from his computer betting program in Hong Kong. The vast bulk has gone to his son and daughter who are based in Australia.

Mitchel Martin-Weber: owner of Inenco, the holding company for Australia's leading bearing, power transmission, driveline and hose, fasteners and sealing componentry supplier.

Difficult times for Manningham listed company which promised big things

We've previously covered the story of Mi Media Holdings, a Manningham-based company trading under the brand miRoamer and listed on a small stock exchange in Germany. It has made some big promises such as this website claim that it is "Leading the world in business to business digital media solutions - internet radio, smart phone interface, development and value-added content provision."

CEO and local boy George Parthimos generated plenty of good publicity from The Age and even became the major sponsor of the South Melbourne Football Club which trumpeted one achievement as follows in June 2009:

South Melbourne FC would like to congratulate George Parthimos and the team at miRoamer for their recent accomplishment of winning the AIIA (Australian Information Industry Association) 2009 iAward in the media and entertainment category.

In what is an amazing accomplishment for SMFC's major sponsor, miRoamer was rewarded and selected for their introduction of the world's first Internet car radio. This enables drivers worldwide to access internet radio through their car stereo from any location in the world.

Click here to see George with the famous South Melbourne soccer jumper.

Miroamer did indeed have great technology prospects 5 years ago, but it has been slow to commercialise them and now both shareholders and staff are hurting.

Shareholders have been impressed with a barrage of Tier 1 company names, but it seems MOUs and NDAs haven't materialised into money spinning real contracts.

The monetisation strategy has seen miRoamer generate little more than 1 million cumulative hits from their main outlet, BlackBerry, over the past six months. The direct competitor, Intune Radio, scores about 250 million hits every month.

The CEO has racked up a few debts to staff and service providers as he scrambles to monetise the technology, but there are now questions about how long the promises can keep coming.

The Tax Office is now seeking payment on a six figure obligation held with a company called Torian, which morphed into Mi Media. Torian is now in administration.

There is another attempt to raise captial at the moment at 10c a share, but some long term supporters have had enough, especially with the share price hovering between 2c and 6c.

MiMedia Holdings has also been holding some discussions about possibly doing a back-door merger with a small listed company called Motopia (ASX code:MOT).

It will be interesting to see if this comes off and we do hope staff and shareholders can salvage something from their commitment over the past few years.

Australia doesn't produce enough global technology players so good luck to George and those around him in trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but there also needs to be plenty of reality and transparency about what is going on.

Tales from the talk circuit

I've got a big presentation at a major planning conference in Victoria on Thursday which is titled: "Taking politics out of the planning process".

Most of the industry heavy hitters will be there, so if any of you councillors or officerrs out there have any thoughts, drop us a line to Stephen@maynerport.com.

Whilst the big picture issues of plannnig and development are easy enought to understand, I find the detail incredibly challenging and complex. We've got three planning issues at council tonight which, as usual, won't be easy.

Now, here is a list of recent action on the talk circuit since the last edition:

Wednesday, July 13: speech to local Toastmasters group.

Monday, July 18:
evening launch of two new humanities courses for Latrobe University.

Thursday, July 28: sharemarket talk to Manningham U3A class.

Tuesday, August 16: morning speech to Probus Club in Footscray.

Sunday, August 21: speech at University of Tasmania open day in Launceston. See flyer.

Tuesday, August 23: visited Albury-Wodonga branch of the Australian Shareholders' Association for lunch-time talk.

Wednesday, August 24: breakfast presentation to Moreland Rotary Club.

Wednesday, August 24: dinner speech to Albert Park Rotary Club.

Sunday, August 28: speech at UTAS open day in Hobart. See flyer.

And here are some of the upcoming commitments:

Thursday, September 1: speech at conference of planners and architects in Lorne. See program.

Monday, September 5: speech to Probus Club that meets in Hawthorn.

Wednesday, September 7: speech to dinner organised by a Bendigo Community Bank branch.

Saturday, October 1: debating at the Opera House about media ethics in Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Sunday, October 2: breakfast speech to a group of share traders.

Thursday, October 6: breakfast debate with Property Council of Australia.

Friday, October 7: Investment Expo speech and workshop in Melbourne.

October some time: speech at Victorian State Library once have News Corp date.

Thursday, October 20: speech to annual dinner of the Mornington division of the ASA.

Thursday, October 20: speech to independent supermarket operators.

Friday, October 28: speech to Local Government Managers Association conference in Tasmania.

Friday, November 4: speech to Institute of Internal Auditors local government forum in Sydney.

Tuesday, November 8: speech to local Probus club in Manningham.

Thursday, November 10: dinner speech to local government corporate planners.

Friday, December 2: dinner speech to ASA Christmas function in Canberra.

Meanwhile, click here to read feedback after some speeches and click on the image below if you fancy an engagement as the talk circuit helps subsidise the losses of The Mayne Report and we're hopefully an interesting speaker worthy of engagement.

Sign up for campaign and governance Tweets

Click on the image above to join almost 6000 followers on Twitter. We are regularly dropping out observations about journalism, politics, breaking stories, local government and shareholder activism and go here for all our recent tweets.

From the member edition archive

The Mayne Report goes to more than 15,000 people but if you're a relatively new reader, here are some links to some of the more interesting email editions sent out so far this year:

Elected to ASA board, pokies, Rio, Santos, RHG, Hartigan, Manningham, capital raisings and Rich List
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Council super slug, rate rises, Woodside AGM, lost $1000 bet, pokies article and then some
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rio, Santos and ASA board tilts, councillor misconduct, David Clarke, Woolies, pokies, Rich List, capital raisings and Murdoch
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mark McInnes, Hanson, Boomers, Manningham, MAV elections, defamation, expense claims and conflicts of interest
Friday, March 25, 2011

Bumper March monthly edition: sued, Rio, Packer, MAV, Cornwall, Rich List, Westfield, AGMs and much more
Monday, March 7, 2011

Meetings chairmen, Fairfax, Murdoch, pokies, VLGA, Santos, Alumina, Rich List, SPPs, Manningham and staffers
Monday, February 7, 2011

Donate to support the Murdoch governance campaign

Finally, don't forget we need your support to survive and prosecute the Murdoch governance campaign so if you fancy making a contribution, click on the image below:

Alternatively, if you don't like using Paypal, a cheque can be snail mailed to PO Box 925, Templestowe 3106 or you can transfer a donation directly to the low turnover Mayne Report bank account (BSB: 036 406 Ac No: 130 897).

We will be doing a number of member only email editions throughout the coming AGM season and anyone who donates as little as $20 will receive these. Think about it as a very cheap AGM season ticket which also helps fund a good cause at an important time.

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by Stephen Mayne with occasional email editions. To unsubscribe from the emails click here.