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Victoria has been protected from any HIH fallout by having government run workers’ comp and third party insurance schemes but they’ve now put a controversial figure in charge of both administrations.

Steve Bracks is putting his faith in one of James Packer’s mates and the move will make Mackenzie a man responsible for about $9 billion in assets and more than $2 billion a year in government-underwritten insurance premiums for workers’ compo and compulsory third party.

David Elias has an excellent piece on the issue and MacKenzie’s interesting past in The Age on Saturday which you can check out right here.

Crikey has had the odd drink with MacKenzie over the years after we first crossed in 1995 when he was the CEO of the TAC and trying to offload the Southgate complex in Melbourne and the Fountaingate shopping centre in Melbourne’s outer east.

Then Treasurer Alan Stockdale had set up the Victorian Funds Management Company to manage the assets for the likes of the TAC and WorkCover but an almighty barney broke out between MacKenzie and the VFMC board over who would conduct these big property sales.

I made some comment to a Stockdale adviser asking when MacKenzie would be sacked and the next thing I knew he was ringing from a public phone booth saying I’d be sacked from the Herald Sun before he was. In discussions with MacKenzie and his offsider Ian Forsyth, I’d said a few things about lawyer Guy Jalland, his brother in law John Stevens from legal firm Minte Ellison and Michael Kroger’s brother Andrew Kroger who are a group of old university friends who’ve had some dealings over the years in the Cook Islands and with Tricontinental and were now involved in these property sales.

Nothing came of these cronyism lines being pushed by the VFMC directors who went gunning for MacKenzie who was in turn defended by then TAC chairman Margaret Jackson. Jacko met with Stockdale who then fired most of the VFMC directors and appointed MacKenzie and representatives from WorkCover and VicSuper to the board.

Now it appears that Jackson is upset about MacKenzie replacing her as TAC chairman and two other directors have just walked out in protest, including AMP director Patricia Cross, who once headed up the trading operations for National Australia Bank and is now a mother and part-time company director.

Jackson should be consumed at the moment by her duties as Qantas chairman but she’s finding plenty of time to run a campaign against MacKenzie’s apppointment. She wanted her “girl” Patricia Cross to get the gig but when Bracks and Brumby went for MacKenzie, Tricia resigned in a fit of pique which is probably a good thing because AMP is in the business of compulsory third party insurance just like the AMP.

Frankly, I reckon Jacko reputation should have dived just as far as uncle Alan Jackson’s has because she was a director of Pacific Dunlop for 7 years as it went from glory to grief and she also chaired the BHP audit committee for 5 years as the Big Australian made blunder after blunder and wrote off $5 billion.

Jacko appears to have been running her campaign against MacKenzie through Mark Skulley on the Fin Review. Jacko has long been close to AFR editor in chief Michael Gill but I’ve no knowledge that he got involved in this. Jacko is said to have contacted Gill directly a couple of years back when then banking writer Jeremy Flint was poised to write a piece saying that ANZ chairman Charles Goode was exerting way too much influence at the bank and inhibiting the new CEO. Jacko is a director of ANZ and a member of the Charlie Goode/John Gough court of patronage.

The MacKenzie campaign has apparently been augmented by a couple of disgruntled Norwich employees who have been sending anonymous emails around the traps. James sacked one of them and the other was sacked by Norwich funds management boss David Slack.

Jalland, you might remember, now works for Packer and was in the One.Tel affidavits having a barney with Jodee Rich for not even opening the email he’d sent about the proposed bridging loan from PBL. Crikey had a great barney with Jalland in 1995 when he tried to claim I’d defamed him in conversations with MacKenzie. It was a classic piece of bullying by a lawyer and I simply explained that he should be far more worried about what would be subsequently appearing in the Herald Sun rather than comments to one or two people.

At the end of all this I wrote a feature under the headline “Trauma at the TAC” which Jalland claimed bruised him for years but MacKenzie felt was reasonable in the circumstances. Since then I’ve followed MacKenzie from the TAC as he first went to be Steve Vizard’s chief executive at Artist Services, then was chief executive of Norwich Union before taking over the gig briefly as head of ANZ Funds Management. This ended abruptly and he’s now been selected by Bracks to put WorkCover and the TAC together. Fittingly, the last time I saw him was the night we pinched the guest list from the Steve Bracks $1000 a head fundraising dinner in December 1999 and he came over and joined Paula and I for a drink at the Hyatt on his way out. Something is beeping in the memory bank about MacKenzie having once worked for Labor’s Victorian heavyweight David White on the land deal scandals that helped bring down the Hamer government but don’t hold me to that.

Victorian government’s have milked about $3.5 billion out of the TAC in 10 years and it has also shielded us from any HIH exposure like Queensland and NSW have because down here in Victoria we run a very effective government monopoly.

However, the big issue is whether the government will fudge its emerging financial disaster in WorkCover by merging the books with the TAC which runs a big profit every year because Victoria has the lowest road toll per registered 10,000 vehicles in the western world and makes it very tough to lodge common law claims.

The idea of the government taking any money out of the TAC is an outrage in itself and we only have to look at what then Opposition Treasury spokesman Alan Stockdale told Parliament back in 1990 when the desperate Kirner government was proposing a raid:

“The money in the Transport Accident Commission is not the government’s money,” he thundered. It was “money for the protection of the future interests of people injured or maimed on our roads”.

Bushy Brows then proceeded to rip out about $3 billion during his seven years as Treasurer and the Bracks government has continued this fine tradition of ripping off motorists who they administer this monopoly scheme for.

And thank god we don’t have a privately run scheme because HIH were one of those pushing hardest to get a slice of it back in 1993 when Jeff and Stockers were examining proposals put up by Macquarie Bank to break up and sell off the much-loved TAC.

Having said all that, Crikey reckons MacKenzie has a colorful past and some interesting friends but he’s a good hand and should be given a chance to make WorkCover and the TAC work together. He puts a lots of people offside but also gets the job done.

Peter Fray

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