Murdoch special, media inquiry, Manningham, secretive councillors, Vodafone, Zara, tweets, Briffa, Rich List and then some

September 15, 2011

Dear Readers,

Greetings for the first time since our last bumper email edition on August 30.

First up today, I've written this 1600 word piece for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald business website,, about the emerging investor campaign to substantially reform corporate governance at News Corp.

It's an important piece which appears at the top of our package of links to coverage on Rupert Murdoch as follows:

Inside the News Corp governance campaign
Fairfax's, Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here is a brief taste of the action but do read the full version which has been well received by those commenting online:

The pre-AGM arm-wrestling gets under way in earnest today when News Corp's two leading independent Australian-based directors, Sir Rod Eddington and Peter Barnes, meet in Melbourne with representatives of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.

The International Corporate Governance Network need to appoint a global spokesman authorised to co-ordinate action with various shareholder bodies, class action lawyers, media commentators and regulators around the world. It also needs a strong presence at the AGM itself and intense engagement with News Corp directors and institutional shareholders.

Disclosure: Stephen Mayne is a director of the Australian Shareholders' Association, where he is company monitor for News Corp. He will be travelling to the October 21 AGM in LA and is having lunch with News Corp directors Sir Rod Eddington and Peter Barnes in Melbourne on September 28 to discuss governance issues. Follow him on twitter @maynereport or email

The question James Murdoch will struggle to answer

Meanwhile, it's been a busy day on the writing front as Crikey published the following today: The killer question to ask James Murdoch
The key point is at the end and reads as follows:

But the whole house of cards comes tumbling down with this:

James Murdoch: Now knowing then what I know now, would I have still directed to negotiate to settle that (Gordon Taylor) case? I would, actually, but I would have coupled it with the other actions that we have taken since the new evidence emerged at the end of September 2010.

So, James was aware of the new evidence in September 2010. The killer question for the committee to ask James is why he sat back in silence and watched his father say the following at the News Corp AGM on October 15 last year:

Rupert Murdoch: We have very very strict rules. There was an incident more than five 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.

James Murdoch knew his father was speaking rubbish. As a News Corp director, heir apparent and the executive with direct responsibility and knowledge why did he allow his father to broadcast this falsehood in front of the entire board and dozens of journalists and investors at the most important public governance meeting the company holds each year?

The answer will be most interesting indeed.

Why we need a newspaper inquiry

First things first, I will definitely be providing a detailed submission to the inquiry into newspapers and online publications. There will be much to say about events over the past few years.

News Corp's questionable journalistic practices, abuses of market power and corruption of the political process are all well known to those who have tried to go up against the world's most powerful family over the years.

Media analyst Roger Colman once described the commercial benefits that media moguls bludgeon out of cowering politicians as the highest level of corruption in Australia over the past few decades.

Having closely watched all the revelations out of the UK, that's a view I share and it was neatly demonstrated by Mark Day in his comment piece for The Australian today when he wrote the following:

The terms of reference leave open the possibility of tighter codes of practice and new regulation. If the inquiry produces such recommendations the media industry will push back strongly, which is hardly what a government polling in the 20s a year out from an election is likely to want.

That's a none-too-subtle threat to attack the Government with even more negative coverage if they dare to introduce even some modest regulatory reforms.

Has everyone forgotten David Cameron's brave declaration to the British Parliament that failing to regulate the media would end on his watch.

John Singleton, who controls 2GB and profits from Alan Jones's hysterical ravings, understands this concept extremely well. This is what he told Alan Kohler on Inside Business in 2005:

SINGO: I can tell you only this - there's sure to be no decisions made that are going to in any way affect the chances of John Howard being re-elected as Prime Minister in the next term, so...

KOHLER: What does that mean?

SINGO: Well, it means the terms are going to be, the changes to the media cross-ownership laws will be only those that don't make any existing media owners, doesn't disadvantage them.

KOHLER: And what do you think that turns into?

SINGO: It means life's a rort and it's only a rort if you're not in it, that's what it means. And John Howard likes being Prime Minister so he's not going to set out to upset the existing media owners by saying, "Oh, laissez-faire, let's have every available - let's have 50, 100 radio stations, 20 TV stations..." da da da da da. And the natural barriers to entry in other things like magazines and newspapers preclude it in any event, so...

It's this sort of unhealthy culture which Australia needs to tackle and News Ltd's brutal treatment of the Gillard government might just deliver a solid media inquiry that generates some useful reforms.

Internet sites should be regulated too

The Australian had an interesting line in its editorial today claiming that should be regulated by the Australian Press Council.

That's a proposition I would support.

Dead tree journalism is withering on the vine and publications will be increasingly online only. Any online journalistic enterprise which takes advertising or paying subscriptions should be prepared to meet the same modest standards overseen by the APC.

It would be very hard to force every last blogger to sign up, but anyone who wishes to be credible should sign up to a voluntary code of conduct administered by whatever body emerges to replace or enhance the APC after the forthcoming review.

It would be a bit like the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is a voluntary disclosure regime that most credible emitters feel they must sign up to.

To help encourage such a regime, a peak body for online advertisers should develop a policy which says that any website which declines to participate would not be supported by major advertisers.

Xenophon distracted, main pokies campaign continues

Whilst Senator Nick Xenophon is getting distracted from his prime goal of poker machine reform with a controversial move into s*xual abuse whistleblowing, the main game continues.

Tom Cummings from the website has posted this strong article pointing to the complete rubbish pushed by Clubs NSW that was swallowed by Andrew Clennel from The Daily Telegraph.

And Andrew Wilkie has also declared he won't be bullied after the thuggish industry threatened to sue him for defamation.

We gave Andrew Bolt a solid spray in Crikey on September 5 for grossly exaggerating the effectiveness of the campaign against pokies reform in his Herald Sun column and on Network Ten's The Bolt Report. Here was the key extract:

Bolt's worst offence over the weekend was to grossly exaggerate the impact of the NSW pokies backlash while failing to disclose his financial association with those involved in the campaign.

One of the reasons low-rating Melbourne radio station MTR lost $6.3 million last year was Bolt's hefty six-figure salary to appear in the Richmond studio after 8am every weekday with breakfast presenter Steve Price.

This salary is partly funded by 2GB controlling shareholder John Singleton, the bloke whose ad agency was hired by the pokies industry to come up with the "licence to punt" advertising campaign. Singleton also owns several Sydney hotels with pokies.

Media Watch criticised 2GB breakfast presenter Alan Jones in May this year for only mentioning this Singleton connection twice during his many hysterical raves against the Wilkie reforms.

But at least Jones mentioned it. Over the weekend, Bolt went on national television and into the pages of our biggest selling daily newspaper, complete with a front-page promotion, without disclosing his financial connection to John Singleton and the pokies campaign.

We were then heartened to read the following in Crikey on September 12 after some polling by Essential Media:

There is strong support for offshore processing of asylum seekers and mandatory pre-commitment technology for poker machines, today's Essential Report shows.

There's also very strong support for the government's poker machine reforms, instigated by independent Andrew Wilkie. Sixty seven per cent of voters back the reforms, up two points since April ... 80% of Labor voters back them, 59% of Liberal voters and 78% of Greens voters.

Contrast that with Bolt's daft analysis in the Herald Sun:

There is no way Labor can agree to Wilkie's demand. Its MPs in NSW have been stunned by the anger of many Labor-voting punters in the massive leagues clubs, particularly ones in Labor seats, against this "licence to bet".

This means an election within 10 months is likely, especially with the Liberals unofficially saying Wilkie would get their preferences, almost guaranteeing him his own seat.

The Gillard government has overseen the passing of 191 pieces of legislation since the last election, with nothing yet rejected. Despite the hysteria created by Tony Abbott and the merry band of mischief makers commanded by his great mate John Hartigan, the Parliament is working well and we all look forward to the successful implementation of long overdue pokies reform.

Is Hobsons Bay Victoria's most secretive council?

The ruling faction on Hobsons Bay council in Melbourne's western suburbs are coming under increasing pressure. I've been told this letter will be printed in next week's edition of the Hobsons Bay Leader

Secrecy a disgrace

What on earth were the ruling faction on Hobsons Bay council - mayor Michael Raffoul, deputy mayor Tony Briffa, Bill Tehan and John Hogg - thinking in voting to have the
adverse Councillor Conduct Panel finding against Cr Briffa dealt with confidentially at the September 6 council meeting.

The legislation requires these reports to be released publicly and formally discussed at the next council meeting.

When our former deputy mayor at the City of Manningham, Fred Chuah, received an adverse panel finding last year, no one even mentioned the idea that it could be kept secret from the public.

If Cr Briffa really believes in transparency, as he claims, he should open up all the motions and items of business that he has used his numbers to keep secret over the past two years, especially when advice from outside lawyers or the officers have supported public discussion.

As things stand now under the Briffa clique, Hobsons Bay appears to have more confidential items than any other council in Victoria.

Stephen Mayne
City of Manningham councillor

The ruling faction were warned how stupid they would look pulling this stunt when the following appeared in Crikey on September 6:

Sticky wicket for Conroy's mayor. ALP factional strongman and Communications Minister Steven Conroy has an interesting dilemma with one of his local government apparatchiks tonight as Hobsons Bay council in Melbourne's western suburbs gathers to consider the adverse Councillor Conduct Panel finding against deputy mayor Tony Briffa. Briffa was instrumental in elevating Michael Raffoul, a member of Conroy's local ALP branch, to the mayoralty this year. However, the deal to give Briffa the robes next year is now looking difficult, we're told, especially after this recent Herald Sun story about his abusive emails to a female resident who had previously worked in PR for the chemicals industry.

We're told that under the Brumby government legislation to deal with conduct breaches by councillors, a council is required to debate the findings of a Councillor Conduct Panel report at the first council meeting after the panellists deliver their public findings. That would be tonight, but the
agenda on the Hobsons Bay website makes no mention of it. Surely the local Conroy-sponsored mayor isn't going to take the governance low road and vote to make an adverse public report against his factional mate confidential? Could the 2012 mayoralty swing on this? Such a move might mean the report could never be publicly discussed, even by former Hobsons Bay mayor Peter Hemphill, the News Corp journalist who successfully brought the action.

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:

Mark Read: the Melbourne bookmaker is currently trying to sell his apartment for $7 million.

Wayne Kent: long time Macquarie investment banker who has just announced his retirement after many years on a big package.

Fairfax also produced this interesting story today on Australian entrepreneurs who have made it big in Silicon Valley.

Crikey yarns since last edition

Hmmm, looking at this, we do seem a little Murdoch-obsessed:

The killer question to ask James Murdoch
Crikey, Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who will go first - Julia Gillard or Rupert Murdoch
Crikey, Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why isn't anyone reporting Rupert's $US33.3m salary?
Crikey, Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Andrew Bolt fails to disclose association with anti-pokies campaign
Crikey, Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mayne: it all comes back to Bolt's Gillard resignation prediction
Crikey, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zara, Bunnings, trains, Vodafone towers and “bribery” – exciting times at Manningham

Life as a City of Manningham councillor remains as exciting as ever with big developments, political drama and a possible multi-billion train project all attracting plenty of attention.

As Melbourne's most pro-development council, last Friday we had one of our regular developer breakfasts where planning director Paul Molan announced that Westfield would be modestly expanding to facilitate the arrival of Zara.

This was exciting news and the story made the Herald Sun on Saturday and scored the page 3 lead in The Manningham Leader this week.

Doncaster was the first expansion out of NSW for the Lowy family back in 1969 and Manningham's Westfield is now proudly held up as one its 4 global signature properties – along with Bondi Junction, San Francisco and London.

After a $600 million redevelopment completed in 2008, we knew Manningham had Melbourne's best shopping centre but to hear that Zara had been lured out our way was huge news.

But how will all those Zara's high fashion customers get there?

Deliver the train, fix our shameful car ownership record

Manningham is the only council in Melbourne without a train or tram link, hence we also boast the highest level of car ownership per household of any council in Australia.

But that could all change as the Baillieu Government this week let the contract for a $6 million feasibility study into the long talked about Doncaster rail connection.

If this happens, Westfield will be a big beneficiary and should kick in strongly. The same goes for Mirvac which has paid about $100 million for the 48ha Eastern Golf club site (Melbourne's biggest in-fill development site) and expects to generate $401 million from developing 621 lots.

Manningham is one of the few councils that has ever taken developers to VCAT for under-developing sites because we're serious about getting more than 10 developments above 6 storeys on Doncaster Hill.

This way we accommodate most of our share of Melbourne's annual population growth of 75,000 near Westfield and retain our green wedge areas and acres lots with their 1400 private tennis courts and 4000 private pools.

Wesfarmers has boldly stepped into this environment by shelling out more than $25 million last month for a 3 acre site on Doncaster Rd between Westfield and our brand new $38 million Manningham City Square (MC2) project.

This land grab was triggered by the Woolworths move into hardware but a standard giant green Bunnings shed on Doncaster Hill would be an under-development.

We won't wear it and Bunning will be required to build hundreds of apartments above its 4 storey hardware outlet to get this unique proposal up to 8 or 9 storeys.

Seeing as Bunnings has never done anything more than two storeys above a store (anyone been to Hawthorn or Chatswood?), this development will be of national significance.

And the traffic issues it will generate with the neighbouring Doncaster Primary School will probably turn into one of strongest arguments for local member and Cabinet Minister Mary Woolridge, sister of Michael, to deliver on Doncaster rail.

Vodafone rolled by people power

Another big story in Manningham has been the rolling of Vodafone's proposed phone tower at Warrandyte Reserve after a huge campaign driven primarily on health grounds run by the nearby kindergarten.

After issuing a planning permit and running the gauntlet of VCAT, council officers have backflipped and recommended against leasing our land to Britain's most valuable company.

At one level, this shows dreadful double dealing by council, but at another it also demonstrates we take community consultation seriously and with a market capitalisation of $US132 billion, Vodafone will get over this rare defeat at the hands of people power.

I was quoted as follows in this week's edition of Fairfax's Melbourne Weekly Eastern:

‘‘I do feel sorry for Vodafone but at the end of the day, council can choose who it leases its property to, and the Warrandyte community have overwhelmingly told us not to enter this lease. I'll be voting against.''

We've got a formal submitters meeting on Monday but the heat should have come out of this now that the officers are opposed and there simply aren't 5 councillors who will be prepared to support the proposal and upset the community.

Manningham finance committee abolished as independent review proceeds

The other significant news at Manningham came when councillors last month voted 5-4 in favour of my motion to abolish the Finance and Governance Advisory Committee (FAGAC), which was first established against officer advice 12 months ago.

This was part of a proposed compromise after the endlessly negative FAGAC chair, Cr Graeme Macmillan, put up a motion in July to spend $100,000 on a hostile financial review of council, which was also supported 5-4.

Seeing as we'd spent hundreds of hours and almost $400,000 on lawyers and accountants prosecuting Cr Macmillan's campaign against the leading Manningham's Aged Care provider, I wasn't keen for another $100,000 fishing expedition led by our most negative councillor.

Therefore, I put in a rescission motion to the $100,000 financial review, something one councillor can do up until 11am the day after the council meeting. All it does is delay the decision until the next council meeting when you have the debate and vote again.

The proposed compromise involved withdrawing the rescission for the financial review provided we abolished the Macmillan-chaired FAGAC committee, something which was supported by council officers.

I've been called a few things in my time, but it doesn't get much more hostile than Cr Macmillan and deputy mayor Meg Downie accusing me of “bribery”, “blackmail”, “vandalism” and “bullying” in the debate. And this from the two councillors who whinge the most whenever they are mentioned in this publication. Have a listen to their extraordinary sprays here, starting at about the 35 minute mark.

The motion abolishing FAGAC was approved 5-4 so, as promised, my rescission motion lapsed without a mover and we'll be having Cr Macmillan's long-desired financial review. And after railing against the undemocratic way that one councillor can rescind a motion, Cr Macmillan responded to the abolition of his beloved FAGAC committee by ...putting in a rescission motion.

The September council meeting should be fun.

The Cornwall collection

Former Fairfax and Crikey cartoonist Mark Cornwall has been contributing to The Mayne Report since March 2009. Here is a collection of his best cartoons and there are now also some amusing animations.

We particularly liked his two latest animations:

Aussie English for new migrants

Shock jocks as PM for the day

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 have relaunched our Youtube channel and hope you enjoy our many playlists of material.

Some of the playlists on our video site including 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

Donate to help keep us going

The Mayne Report has wracked up losses of almost $300,000 since we launched in October 2007 and we moved to a free model in June 2009 after struggling along seeking subscriptions for the first 21 months.

It has been nice to receive more than $10,000 worth of donations over the past two years and if you fancy giving us a hand to help fund our activism and keep us going on the political and AGM circuit, just click on the image below:

Tales from the talk circuit: pressure on for State Library lecture

The talk circuit is going to be busy through until the end of the year and there's even the likelihood of delivering a completely written lengthy oration, something I've only done once before in thousands of media and public appearances over the years.

The event is the State Library of Victoria Stephen Murray Smith Memorial Lecture.

Previous speakers have included Gareth Evans, Geoffrey Blainey and Anne Summers and the convention is to deliver a prepared text.

After receiving a formal invitation, I pitched the following topic: "Governance, transparency and power: how does Australia rate?".

That's a very wide canvas to draw on. Check out the draft flyer and feel free to book and come along for what should be an interesting discussion on October 13.

Meanwhile, click here to read feedback after some speeches and click on the image below if you fancy an engagement as the talk circuit is emerging as a modest offset to the growing losses of The Mayne Report:

Sign up for campaign and governance Tweets

Click on the image above to join more than 6200 followers on Twitter. We are regularly dropping out observations about journalism, politics, breaking stories, local government and shareholder activism and here are some of the more recent Tweets:

September 15: Murdoch and Carl Williams

Today's story on the killer question the UK pollies should ask James when he reappears:

This Carl Williams murder trial is a cracker for getting some underworld war details out into the public. This is huge:

Comments support this tough Fairfax oped piece aimed at pressuring "independent" News Corp directors to do their job:

September 14: Geoff Dixon and Geoff Gough

Amusing to see Crown director Geoff Dixon will be attending big Star City Casino relaunch wearing his Tourism Australia chairman's hat.

What the hell is Manningham's Liberal mayor Geoff Gough doing on page 4 of the Herald Sun today vox popping against a media inquiry?

September 12: Zara, Lacy, Overington and Murdoch cover story

Jonathan Chancellor also getting into excitement of Zara coming to Westfield Doncaster. See Property Observer article:

Interesting cover story on Sarah Murdoch in empire's Sunday tabloid magazines. Included the line that Rupert "owns News Ltd". Err, only 13%!

After two weeks of Diary columns from Nick Leys in The Australian's Media section, it is already so much better than Overington's efforts.

Good to see Saturday Herald Sun went big on Zara coming to Westfield Doncaster. This is great cache 4 Manningham. See:

Excellent details on PBL Media debt battles & financials from Christine Lacy on back of AFR today. But, should disclose she's a former 9 PR.

Fun scoop in The OZ Media Diary about Nick Davies tipping wine on Guy Runble over Wikileaks battles. Hope Crikey has Rundle's version today.

September 9: defending Paul Molan and Bolt re-write

Our excellent Manningham planning director has been copping it in the local Murdoch paper, so offered a contrary view:

Crikey have unlocked this Andrew Bolt re-write to create savage attack on Rupert Murdoch. Most proud of it. See:

September 8: News Corp, Greg Baxter and Baillieu cronyism

Just emailed News Corp independent director Peter Barnes laying out the topics to be discussed at a pre-AGM ASA meeting, hopefully next week

Check out this interesting exchange between Jonathan Holmes and News Ltd spinner Greg Baxter on the Media Watch website

Gave Baillieu cronyism a big serve on 774 ABC Melbourne but defended Alan Stockdale as new City West Water chair given ex Vic water reformer

The family's top Aussie political commentator has launched an amazing attack on...Rupert. See:

September 7: Mike Smith, High Court, Bolt

Have done lots of interviews with Mike Smith but support Fairfax standing him down 4 endless baseless hectoring of PM:

High Court decision will be turning point for Gillard. Attacks have been way over the top as even Kohler explains:

This mock up on Andrew Bolt's Herald Sun opinion page today of Gillard stumbling into her early grave is appalling:

Glenn Milne sacked from Insiders, Mike Smith stood down by 2UE, yet News Ltd has seemingly done absolutely nothing to discipline Andrew Bolt

Alex Mitchell got a great run in Private Eye magazine with his call for Rupert's 1993 Camillagate tape to be probed:

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

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.