Hawker Britton are lobbyists with incredible power in NSW yet it seems only Crikey is interested in their clandestine door-opening affairs in a state where the big-spending Labor machine is receiving far too little media scrutiny.

Crashing the Hawker-Britton Christmas Party was an absolute cracker, the highlight being presenting our flyer to NSW Premier Bob Carr and engaging him for five minutes on the O’Connell St footpath outside the groovy Republic Bar.

Firstly, check out this flyer which we distributed to guests as they entered and left the power-packed Labor Party function.

www.crikey.com.au (36 point type)

PRESS RELEASE ON SPIN DOCTORS HAWKER BRITTEN (16 point type)

Monday, December 18

Dear Hawker Britton Christmas Party Guest,

as an interested party in the world of spin doctoring and political door opening, can you afford not to subscribe to www.crikey.com.au, the only publication in Australia which exposes the dark underbelly of the PR industry.

Just to confirm how well-connected they are, Premier Bob Carr, who used to employ principals David Britton and Bruce Hawker, will be VIP guest number one at tonight’s party.

There is no better way to demonstrate your polly-pulling ability than getting the Premier to your Christmas party so the Hawker-Britton boys have done well.

It will be interesting to see how many self-respecting journos accept the free food and grog from these door openers tonight. We’ll be naming them on www.crikey.com.au, along with many of the corporate and political guests. Hawker Britton have a blue chip list of corporate clients because there is no more effective door opener in NSW.

There activities in the US would be under a microscope because it is against the law for former staffers to work for the government for a period of two years after they leave office.

But Hawker Britton rightly claim that they don’t do much work for government – they work for the wide-eyed corporates trying to get regulatory and policy favours out of government.

They charge like wounded bulls but are said to be extremely effective. The Registered Clubs Association paid them merely not to act for the NSW Hotels Association when the Carr government was turning NSW into the pokies capital of the world back in 1998.

Hawker Britton are one of the great unwritten stories in NSW and the business-political journos need to wake up to themselves and start looking into their activities.

Two former Carr staffers are probably millionaires after doing this for more than three years. A former Hawker Britten staffer, Graham Wederbern (sic) is now Carr’s chief of staff.

Are messrs Hawker and Britton trying to emulate former Greiner staffers Ian Kortlang and Sue Cato who built up the Gavin Anderson-Kortlang spinning business and then sold it for $12 million to the multi-billion dollar New York-based communications giant Omnicon?

All these and other issues about spinners and door openers get covered on www.crikey.com.au. You need to subscribe to get immediate access to the sealed sections which contain the best of our content.

Have a great and ethical Christmas.

For further information:

Stephen Mayne: www.crikey.com.au or [email protected]

ends

Now a subscriber who I’ll call CC met up with Crikey and we plonked ourselves across the road from the Republic for a courage-enhancing ale before getting into the pamphlet distribution game.

I wondered across first and handed out about 10 of them. Bruce Hawker was typically on the phone on the footpath and was immediately alerted to these pamphlets. The exchange went something like as follows:

Hawker: “What’s with this press release, what are you doing?”

Crikey: “It’s a PR stunt, I’m handing out press releases at the front of a PR Christmas party,” I told him in a sudden burst of transparency.

Bruce reluctantly shook the hand and before reading the flyer suggested that I come inside for a beer rather than hang out the front pushing negative propaganda.

At this point I retreated across the road for an ale with CC. We returned about 10 minutes later at 6.30pm by which time Bruce Hawker had clearly read the flyer.

If the memory is correct he said things like the following:

“Look, we’re just trying to have a Christmas drink…this is not in the festive spirit.”

“Do you think you can stop this, you’re ruining our Christmas drinks.”

CC was keeping a low profile throughout this process whilst diligently handing out our material to arriving guests.

At this point Bruce’s partner David Britton appeared out the front and asked me: “Do you know that I’m a millionaire? Why didn’t you call and ask first?”

CC then chipped in with an excellent suggestion that Hawker Britton be given ample space to respond on Crikey to the charges as laid.

Hawker was coming into his spindoctoring own by this point, as he complemented his sympathy line with a veiled threat saying that they had not yet sued Crikey or pursued our sources as they had taken all that we had published in good spirits.

CC had to go off to a sporting engagement and a mate thankfully rang at this time so I agreed to meet him at a bar around the corner to cool the heels. Hanging around this gig on the Pat Malone was not an appealing proposition so at 6.45pm Crikey departed as the hosts looked more and more agitated.

After a couple of beers with the mate we decided to clear the decks at 8pm but given that the Republic bar was so close to Martin Place, the Crikey tee-shit was donned again along with the Daily Telegraph hat.

With a few flyers in hand I returned to the Republic Bar alone and, lo and behold, there was Bob Carr standing on the footpath entertaining a gaggle a smiling supporters.

Could these have been high-paying Hawker Britton clients honoured to have met the emperor of NSW.

After getting nowhere on small talk with the door bitch (we’ve already had one complaint from a male reader about this term but it is a fairly common way to describe female bouncers skilled at rebuffing wannabe patrons), Paula thankfully rang so we were able to survey the situation whilst looking otherwise occupied on the phone under a tree outside the Republic bar.

After spotting the Telegraph’s state political reporter David Pemberthy near the rope separating the public footpath and the private function, we approached for a quick chat.

Dave reported that Bob Carr have given a speech a few minutes earlier but it was not as good as the previous year’s effort which was delivered after a long lunch and with a glass of pinot noir in hand.

This was too much for Crikey so we headed straight for Emperor Bob and offered him one of our flyers.

This is what the memory says the exchange sounded like. It is after about four beers so can’t completely vouch for the accuracy or the order in which it was said:

CRIKEY: Bob, can I give you this press release.

CARR: Thanks mate, sorry, what’s your name?

CRIKEY: Stephen Mayne, I run this website which covers some of the things the PR industry get up to.

CARR: (Pauses to read the document for a bit) You know if I was advised that it wasn’t appropriate to come down and have a drink with a couple of former staffers then I wouldn’t come next year. You know I can’t think of a single situation when a lobbyist has changed a government decision…whether it’s Kortlang or whoever, I reckon these lobbyists are absolutely fucking useless. If someone wants to make an investment in NSW, the CEO would just ring up and get an appointment, they don’t need any lobbyist.

CRIKEY: That’s reasssuing.

CARR: You used to work for Kennett didn’t you Stephen?

CRIKEY: Yeah back in 1993 and 1994 but since then I’ve worked in various posts including chief of staff of the Daily Telegraph and doing Rear Window on the Fin Review. Now I’m running this website Crikey.

CARR: How do you make a living from that?

CRIKEY: People subscribe but it’s not much of a living.

CARR: I noticed The Daily Telegraph hat, Col talks fondly of you all the time.

CRIKEY: I’ll bet he does. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin your night, thanks for your time. Best be off.

CARR: Nice to meet you Stephen? (Hands are shaken and we take our leave.)

Now it will be interesting to see if any media outlets pick up on either this specific stunt on the general issue of Carr being at the Hawker-Britton Christmas party.

After Anne Davies wrote that big piece about the PR industry in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald (see this week’s Crikey), it will hopefully become a more mainstream ethical and political debate in Australia.

It is far closer to the public consciousness overseas. In the US they even produce sitcoms such as Spin City and there is a great website called www.prwatch.org. In the UK there is a tremendous public distrust of spin after a huge public debate about it.

Carr’s claim that lobbyists don’t change government decisions is disingenuous. Someone has already rung to point out that Michael Edgeley hired Hawker Britton and got what he wanted with the Luna Park redevelopment in Sydney when it was taken out of the hands of North Sydney Council and the department or Urban Affairs and Planning and given to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. If anyone else can think of government decision changed by lobbyists such as Hawker Britton we’d love to hear from you.

Ends

Now, this is a story we carried a couple of weeks ago about the week media in NSW and how they let the Carr Government get away with absolute murder when it comes to financial management.

The Carr Labor government is getting worse and worse when it comes to governance, transparency and financial responsibility.

Next Thursday, November 30, is the deadline by which listed companies with June 30 balance days have to have held their AGM. Prior to this they have also released their annual results and sent the annual report to shareholders.

Compare that with the reporting requirements of NSW departments, agencies and government business enterprises, most of which have yet to publicly release any details about their performance in 1999-2000 because they have until December 28 to do it.

Crikey popped into the NSW papers office on November 24 and found there was very little material on the public record about the government’s performance in 1999-2000.

Memories came flooding back to that glorious incident when former WorkCover Minister and Attorney General Jeff “burp” Shaw tabled the 1997-98 WorkCover annual report at 5pm on Christmas Eve in 1998.

Surprise, surprise, the report showed a loss of about $800 million for the year as the scheme’s deficit blew out to about $1.8 billion. What a disgracefully cynical act. That’s what you call deceitful PR.

Disasters of a similar magnitude are lurking in the accounts of the NSW electricity companies yet none of them have yet reported their financials for the year even though books closed five months ago.

A lot of people are waiting to see how the small matter of a $600 million loss suffered by Pacific Power, then chaired by Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer, is treated in the accounts this year.

One report that has been tabled is the NSW Treasury Corporation, the body that manages the sate’s $27 billion debt.

The press has not yet picked up on the fact that it refers to TCorp indemnifying one of hte generators for contingent liabilities to the tune of about $300 million. Could that be Fred’s Pacific Power?

More worryingly, the TCorp refers to a plan to regear the balance sheets of the three ailing state-owned generating companies.

NSW government sources have told Crikey the government is planning on ripping one-off payments of between $500 million and $1 billion from the generators in the current financial year.

This will then be fed into the budget so that Bob Carr and Treasurer Michael Egan can stand up and boast about another budget surplus which in reality will be a breath-taking fiddle that Joan Kirner would have been proud of.

How many times can this tax and spend government get away with their sheer profligacy without any media pressure being applied? How many more hollow logs will be raided to cover up the fact that spending has risen by more than 60 per cent since Carr assumed office?

NSW is now easily the highest taxing state in Australia yet they still blow their spending every year.

Basic infrastructure such as road building is being handed over to rapacious private sector operators because the government can’t afford to pay for roads themselves.

The Fin Review ran a front page story on the emerging financial problems facing the Bracks government in late November yet in NSW the problems are much worse.

Take Workcover as an example. Woolworths have just moved to self-insurance because the NSW WorkCover system is out of control with labour lawyers running rampant and claim costs surging to the highest of any Australian state.

Even Labor-connected outfits such as Tempo Services are quitting the system. Tempo has former NSW Labor Premier Barry Unsworth on their board. Unsworth abolished common law from WorkCover in 1987 only to see if reinstated and then made even more generous by successive Labor and Liberal WorkCover ministers. Unworth was appointed chairman of WorkCover by the Carr government in 1996 but quit a couple of years back in disgust when Jeff Shaw, now back burping at the bar, refused to properly tackle the problems by throwing his lawyer mates out of the system.

Tempo is one of the largest employers in NSW, in part because it has a $95 million a year contract with its friends in the Labor government to clean NSW schools.

Its WorkCover premiums have surged to an unbelievable 10.56 per cent of payroll so it is now desperately looking to bail out of the system and self-insure. What a disaster?

Small businesses across NSW are going broke because of Workcover yet the media are putting no pressure whatsoever on the government to do anything about it.

Then you have the issue of poker machines. In one of the most reprehensible public policy decisions ever taken, Pokies Bob decides to let hotels install poker machines to help pay for the Olympics. To its credit, the Daily Telegraph is belatedly campaigning against this but where were they on this issue during the last state election.

The hotels decision saw pokies numbers rocket from about 70,000 when Carr took office in 1995, to an incredible 110,000 today. This is bringing enormous misery on many NSW families but the government doesn’t seem to care because it is ripping more than $1 billion a year out of it.

Let’s be precise about this. The Auditor General’s report number 5 for 1999-2000 (at least he’s got his reports into the public arena in reasonable time) show that tax revenue from Clubs rose from $557 millioin in 1998-99 to $597 million 1999-2000.

But the bigger jump occurred in hotel tax revenue from poker machines which leapt from $255 million in 98-99 to $360 million last financial year. So, the grand take for the year was up from $802 million to $956 million which amounts to a lot more misery for typical Labor working class voters who can’t afford the losses.

Other things that the media have yet to adequately explore in NSW are the exact cost of the Olympic games. For instance, it appears that SOCOG missed an opportunity to get an additional $200 million in revenue from the broadcasting rights by locking in most of the $US700 million handed over in October at an exchagne rate of US73c.

At least that is what Neil Chenoweth reported in the Fin Review in September and that is what the chairman of a major investment bank recently told Crikey.

But try getting a straight answer from the government about this. It is impossible. The person who decided to lock the broadcasting revenue through a hedging contract at US73c should be sacked for costing NSW taxpayers about $200 million.

The other issue that the NSW have not properly reported is the role of long-time fund raiser Sam Fiszman, who is bowing out from his role of Labor Party cash generator after almost 30 years of hard work raising well over $50 million.

Why does this little chap have virtually no public profile in NSW? Ron Walker is constantly written up as being the Liberal Party bagman but Sam Fiszman just goes about his business without the slightest bit of accountability or media scrutiny, save for one recent by article by Lisa Allen in the Fin Review noting that Labor powerbrokers from across the country attended his farewell dinner.

Hawke and Keating had little Sammy on the Australian Tourist Commission from 1988 until 1997 when the Howard government did not reappoint him.

However, once Carr was elected it didn’t take long for Sammy to pick up a few taxpayer funded gigs to support his fundraising efforts.

In 1995 he was appointed chairman of Tourism New South Wales. Copying the Kennett tradition with Ron Walker, Carr also appointed him chairman of his NSW Major Events Board. This is a great networking opportunity for Sam to meet new donors.

Carr also appointed him to the board of the Darling Harbour Authority. Many a Labor Party fundraiser has been held at Laurie Brereton’s great monstrosity by the water there.

So what skills does little Sammy bring to the job? Afterall, he’s a carpet wholesaler isn’t he? Oh, he’s also chairman of CIC Insurance which makes plenty out of WorkCover, god bless it.

Why oh why does no-one in the NSW media bring some attention to these issues. Surely there are some hard-hitting media outlets prepared to look at Labor’s fundraising machine and how it pumps things like the gambling industry for every Labor party dollar it can get.

Don’t expect people like John Laws to have a look at it because he is a Labor mate from way back and won’t beat up on Carr over gambling because the Penrith Panthers have him on the payroll for six figures a year.

And why don’t the media start putting those door-openers at lobbying outlet Hawker-Britton under the pump.

They have incredible access to Carr because David Britton and Bruce Hawker were at one time Bob’s chief of staff and media director.

They are both probably millionaires by now. The Registered Clubs even paid them simply not to act for the NSW Hotels Association during the debate about putting pokies into pubs.

All of this is really just touching the surface in NSW. The flow of money and power in this state is one of the unwritten stories at this point. It just remains to be seen which media outlet will put some resources into a project that would deservedly carry the headline “INSIDE NSW INC”.

Peter Fray

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