tip off

Mayne: Packer’s ill timed donation to Bob comes back to bite

When James Packer threw himself into Scientology after the disastrous One.Tel collapse in 2001, many eyebrows were raised, including his father’s.

According to veteran journalist Alex Mitchell, Kerry Packer made some late changes to his will, which ensured executors David Gonski and Lloyd Williams would be able to prevent Tom Cruise and his mates from getting their hands on the family fortune.

While young Packer appears to have moved away from Scientology since his father’s death in late 2005, the puzzling ebbs and flows of his political associations are a little harder to fathom.

Kerry Packer very effectively played the game of picking political winners as he benefited from Labor Party largesse during the Hawke-Keating years and from the Wran and Carr governments in NSW. Graham Richardson was a key player in this, although James Packer finally ditched him from the family’s payroll two years ago.

Kerry Packer wasn’t so lucky during the Greiner-Fahey governments in NSW, most notably missing out on the Sydney casino licence, but Victoria’s Kennett government more than made up for this with a series of obliging regulatory changes during the 1990s that delivered big profits on his Crown Casino investment.

When the winds of change were blowing in Canberra, Kerry Packer made a decisive move to back John Howard, which delivered the ultimate payday when the Channel Nine franchise was protected from competition until Steve Fielding’s vote saw foreign ownership restrictions lifted, enabling PBL Media to be sold for $5.5 billion to private equity firm CVC in 2006.

The fallout from this political switch was substantial as Keating lashed Packer and Howard at every opportunity. According to Nikki Savva’s memoir, Packer intervened to unleash Paul Lyneham’s hugely aggressive 1998 60 Minutes hit on Keating’s piggery wheeling and dealing.

Keating is one of Labor’s great tribal haters, so was it any wonder he used his position as head of the Barangaroo design committee to summarily dismiss James Packer’s aspirations to build a high-roller casino on public land?

The most amazing thing about this saga was that Packer had the chutzpah to request a meeting with Keating and expect endorsement of his hugely controversial proposal so soon after the divisive compulsory precommitment debate. If that debate demonstrated one point, it is that the community is concerned that Australians have become the world’s biggest gamblers, losing $20 billion a year.

One of the surprising elements of Australia’s political duopoly is the way they allow opportunistic families such as the Packers to walk both sides of the street.

For instance, despite relying on regulatory support for his Crown and Burswood casinos from state governments in Victoria and WA respectively, James Packer still went out and did a deal with colourful Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon to allow Betfair to enter the Australian market.

This was a direct attack on the wagering tax revenues of state governments across Australia, yet Packer still expected them to obligingly cop it sweet.

You then had the Gillard government’s attempt to introduce mandatory precommitment on poker machines, a move that would have cost Packer’s Crown Ltd tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

The Packer response was to hire former ALP national secretary Karl Bitar as his government relations manager, while also appointing the politically connected Harold Williams and former Howard government communications minister Helen Coonan to the Crown board.

Coonan is a moderate Liberal from NSW and close to Barry O’Farrell, which perhaps explains why the NSW Premier has so glowingly endorsed Packer’s vision for Barangaroo. However, as Malcolm Turnbull demonstrated on Q&A last night, there is widespread disgust in moderate Liberal ranks about Bob Katter’s homophobic attack ads against Campbell Newman.

Given that these ads were partly funded by James Packer’s ill-timed $250,000 donations to Katter’s red-neck party, it will be very interesting to see whether this damages Packer’s standing with the Liberal Party. After all, he is currently seeking probity approval from the NSW and Queensland governments to lift Crown’s stake in rival Echo Entertainment above 10%.

Packer has this morning released a statement condemning the ads, asserting that he’d done “enormous work for North Queensland and Indigenous Australians”:

I admire his passion for this great country and that’s why I donated to him,” Mr Packer said.

But I don’t agree with all his policies and views and I certainly don’t support this advertisement or his attack on Campbell Newman.”

If Campbell Newman is elected Queensland premier in 11 days, he would surely be sceptical about giving some Katter-backing southern billionaire control of Queensland’s three casinos.

  • 1
    cheryl hunt
    Posted Tuesday, 13 March 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I think it is time we stop laughing at/with Katter. He is demonstrating his
    true nature with his homophophic slurs. As for Jamie Packer, his endorsement
    of Katter, shows he has not his father’s nouse. Jamie Packer makes his money
    off other peoples misery. Why am I not surprised!

  • 2
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Tuesday, 13 March 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    as Malcolm Turnbull demonstrated on Q&A last night, there is widespread disgust in moderate Liberal ranks about Bob Katter’s homophobic attack ads against Campbell Newman.”

    If Campbell Newman is elected Queensland premier in 11 days, he would surely be sceptical about giving some Katter-backing southern billionaire control of Queensland’s three casinos.”

    Massive own goal by Packer, reducing his own chances of the Sydney casino and guaranteeing that if the LNP gets in and Newman doesn’t he will get the blame.

    What on earth was he thinking? Certainly doesn’t have the nous of his father or grandfather.

  • 3
    Posted Tuesday, 13 March 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    You mustn’t forget the past. Turnbull and Kerry Packer fell out over Tourang. James Packer should not get Malcolm Turnbull offside.

  • 4
    Posted Tuesday, 13 March 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I just feel ill when such a person, who makes his money out of other people’s misery, is lauded & feted by legislators who should know better.
    Let him relocate to Macau, where he is partner with that carbuncle’s gambling kingpin, and spare us any further sight or sound of him.

  • 5
    Posted Wednesday, 14 March 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Ever get the feeling “the rich” live on some world above us, with most politicians to administer to their every whim - and look after the gate – while the politicians just like being agisted on those lush pastures, with the connections?
    That as long as the milk and honey are flowing, they’ll keep sucking – “elections costing what they do”?
    That maybe “we’re” all alone in our ordinariness?

    Because we have to have somebody “up there” to keep reporting back to us down here – someone created “viewsmedia” - to cohabit up there?

  • 6
    Posted Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I think its about time that ordinary voters started joining the dots here. The political duopoly is utterly focussed on implementing public policy that deprives desperately needed tax revenue to the polity, in order to feed the bottom lines of billionaires. Hence, we have seen enormous pressure from the media driven by the billionaires to drop the pokies reform legislation which would have hit Packer’s and other powerful vested interests bottom line in the multi-millions (delivered by the ALP), the pressure to overturn the carbon and mining taxes (to be delivered by the Coalition), if not the High Court, courtesy of greedy Clive’s legal intervention with respect to challenging the validity of the carbon tax. And we are supposed to believe in this smoke and mirrors chimera of a “democracy” prosecuted by the political classes for the benefit of the general public!? Give me a break!