Many players in the PR industry will sit up and read this amalgam of pieces about spin, influence, friends of the Victorian Premier and ethical clients.

Australia’s biggest and best community radio station, RRR in Melbourne, has an interesting show called The Spin which goes to air at 1pm each Sunday.

It is put together by a group of former Kennett spin doctors who don’t reveal their real gigs in life and manage to put plenty of dirt around about their various rivals.

For instance, Gavin Anderson spin doctor Nick Maher was one of the guests last week and got stuck into the Labor-connected firm CPR. More on them later.

Nick was the Courier Mail’s reporter covering the Fitzgerald Royal Commission in Queensland in the late 80s before he ran a couple of difficult campaigns for the Queensland Liberals and then headed south to be a Kennett spin doctor and later Alan Stockdale’s chief of staff.

When Kennett lost, he headed to Hill and Knowlton for a few months before joining four other Kennett spin doctors – CEO Ian Smith, Tanya Price, James Tonkin and Mark Triffitt – in the Gavin Anderson Melbourne office.

Damon Johnston reported in the Herald Sun last year that Gavin Anderson had been formally black-balled by the Bracks government because they have several high profile clients such as union-hating Yallourn Energy, Virgin (which went to Brisbane), the failed Studio City project at Docklands and, going back a bit, the NFF during the docks dispute.

This hasn’t stopped Gavin Anderson rainmaker Ian Smith from pulling in the clients and they did act for pokies pushers Tattersalls in fending off a tax grab by the Bracks government earlier this year.

All that aside, it was interesting to hear Nick Maher tell RRR listeners that CPR appears to have “a monopoly over government work” that has so far yielded about $2 million in two years.

He was commenting on this story in The Age last week:

Bracks friend awarded $635,000 state contract

By Adrian Rollins

A public relations company owned by a friend of Premier Steve Bracks has been awarded more than $635,000 to publicise the Victorian Government’s new cigarette sales and smoking laws.

The government revealed yesterday that CPR Communications, owned by former Labor staff member Adam Kilgour, was awarded the contract by the Department of Human Services the latest in a string of government consultancies received by the firm. The opposition claims the contract lifts the value of consultancies received by CPR since the Bracks Government came to office to more than $2 million.

Speaking on radio yesterday, acting Premier John Thwaites defended the decision to engage CPR rather than use the department’s own resources to publicise the new laws.

Mr Thwaites said that the changes to ban smoking in public dining areas and restrict point-of-sale advertising of tobacco products were complex and affected thousands of businesses across the state.

“We said quite publicly that we would have a communications strategy around this new change because it was vital that everyone the tobacco retailers in terms of point of sale advertising, the restaurateurs in terms of smoke-free restaurants be fully informed about the new laws,” he said.

Mr Thwaites, who is also Health Minister, said it was appropriate to use experts in communications in a situation involving a shift in attitude by particular groups. “It’s cheaper if you have an expert that you can bring in just to do a campaign like this than to try to have someone permanently on staff to handle this sort of thing,” he said.

A spokeswoman said so far $430,000 of the $635,800 contract had been spent, with half going on advertising the new tobacco laws, while $70,000 was used to prepare, print and distribute pamphlets and another $40,000 was spent to translate information about the new laws into seven different languages.

She said the eventual bill could be bigger, depending on how much advertising was done.

The spokeswoman said the new laws affected not only restaurants and other dining businesses but also pubs, clubs, supermarkets and milk bars, and “a lot of documentation” was supplied to inform them of the changes. She said the Human Services Department did not have the resources to carry out the work and CPR was awarded the contract after the original winning bidder Stratcom Communique Australia withdrew because of a conflict of interest.

Opposition health spokesman Robert Doyle said it was reasonable to use a consultant in such circumstances, but he questioned whether taxpayers had had value for money.

Mr Doyle said the CPR campaign seemed to amount to little more than some letters, information packs, stickers and newspaper advertisements.

He said that by contacting media organisations to arrange interviews with Mr Thwaites, the consultants also seemed to be taking on the work of the minister’s media advisers.

“This is not what you use consultants to do,” Mr Doyle said. “This is why you have a large department and a press secretary.”

Mr Doyle said CPR was a “major beneficiary of Labor Party largesse” and the government should provide an itemised breakdown of the money spent on the contract.

The government said CPR had also won contracts worth more than $1.5 million from the Kennett government.


Rebecca Cooper sticks the boots in on RRR

Former Kennett adviser and Crikey ex Rebecca Cooper then stuck the boots into CPR asking the question: “Do you think that CPR have earned there money as there still seems to be a lot of confusion out there?”

Rebecca is well placed to talk about cronyism. She is the daughter of Kennett’s former numbers man Robin Cooper and owned 25 per cent of a company called Troughton Swier which was paid $24 million to sell off the Victorian power assets. She did a fine job and power privatisation was probably the greatest achievement of the Kennett government but you don’t see many advisers become millionaires that quickly in politics.

Rebecca and her RRR mates also got stuck into Mike Smith’s Webber Shandwick spindoctoring outfit saying that “they will do anything for money” because they’ve been paid to defend whaling and that dodgy Mexican banker Carlos Cabal.

It probably should be disclosed that Spin panelist Rowan Lee works for Burson-Mrstellar which in the past has acted for luminaries such as the Nigerian government during the Biafran War, Romania during the reign of Ceaucescu and the military junta in Argentina during the 1970s.

This story is an amalgam of pieces so let’s now look at a piece I sent to subscribers a few days ago exploring CPR’s expanding operations nationally and its role in the Melbourne City Council elections.


Speaking of vote rorting, self-confessed rorter Mike Kaiser has popped up as a door opener in Queensland for Adam Kilgour’s CPR ( Communications and Public Relations). Now Adam is a good operator and a nice fellow, but Crikey cannot condone this hiring so soon after Labor’s former Queensland state secretary skulked out of the Parliament in disgrace.

And while on the subject of CPR, their Melbourne-based flack Scott Thompson has denied Terry Maher’s account of some discussions around his accreditation for Melbourne City Council press conferences and says that Terry, Crikey’s council correspondent, is welcome to all press conferences.

The CPR role in the council election is interesting. Council CEO Michael Malouf has hired CPR a few times over the years and they are back in there again on the city elections running the candidate website, a press conference and a public meeting. CPR founder Adam Kilgour has been widely reported to be a close mate of Premier Steve Bracks. Malouf is said by some Labor types to be feeding information to the Peter McMullin ticket which is favoured by some to win the election. McMullin, a long-standing ALP member and former deputy Lord Mayor, has the backing of both Bracks and Kennett who is close to Spotless (Felicity and son Angus both worked for them) which was founded by Peter’s dad Ian.

Spotless have about $40 million worth of catering, maintenance and cleaning contracts with the council thanks to Jeff’s compulsory competitive tendering legislation for councils. McMullin has declared that he’s sold all his Spotless shares but his dad still sits on the board and Peter is presumably a beneficiary of his estate. Ian McMullin is listed in the last Spotless annual report as owning 4.5 million shares which at the time were worth about $35 million. He also picked up director fees of $162,338 for the year and presumably will get a handy 7-figure retirement payout when he finally does leave the board.

Peter McMullin is talking up development of the north bank of the Yarra and this would just happen to benefit Peter O’Brien (the O’Brien family are big in Spotless too as Peter’s brother Brendan sits on the board and owns 309,006 shares worth about $2.2 million) who part owns the Melbourne Aquarium which has aspirations to expand. Peter O’Brien is a big player on the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce which is backing the McMullin ticket. The Property Council are members of the Chamber and is headed by former ABC journalist Jock Rankin who is married to state education minister Mary Delahunty.

When the Aquarium got into strife with the Legionaires outbreak last year it was Liberal heavyweight John Fetter who was brought in to handle the crisis and Fetter is now running the McMullin campaign. Fetter is being assisted on the PR by Webber Shandwick. Interestingly, Shandwick chairman Mike Smith appears on Virginia Trioli’s ABC Melbourne program each week in a segment called The Spin Doctors and his fellow guest is often former Laurie Brereton spinner Cameron O’Reilly who is currently a director of CPR and was formerly the man who helped land Spotless all those wonderful Olympic contracts.

That is a lot of names and a lot of connections but I’m not convinced it all means much at the end of the day. However, McMullin should disclose exactly who is funding his campaign and how much he’ll be spending. Meanwhile, his running partner, former ABC broadcaster Elaine Canty, must be wondering what the hell she has got herself involved in.


The great CPR expansion game

This commentary elicited the following response from someone familiar with CPR’s expansion plans.

Dear Stephen

I have been very interested in your recent assessment of the CPR/Kilgour “comrades connections” throughout Australia. Whilst he has been very successful in Melbourne, he has had some difficulty making it elsewhere – in Sydney he needed to buy out another company to get into the market – MDK. This gave him some good contracts including Lion Nathan, MasterCard and ABN AMRO and Gabriel McDowell (ex-MDK) on the board. He moved to Sydney about two years ago and now lives there with his partner Lisa Gates (who is ex-Tim Fischer’s staff). Because he had acquired a couple of Brisbane contracts he opened up a Brisbane Office in 2000.

With the sniff of the “comrades” coming to power nationally in 2001 he started to plan a Canberra Office last year and whilst it opened in April it was closed by June after a visit by executive director Cameron O’Reilly, who is a former staffer to Labor head-kicker Laurie Brereton.

Then they opened the Perth Office and as you reported engaged another “comrade” to run it. They have also recently engaged Tim Fawcett (doesn’t that conjure up some names) who is ex-Crean’s staff to work in the Melbourne office.

The Canberra market is tough and they’ve clearly decided to wait for the comrades to get into office before rehanging the shingle. Interestingly, Hill and Knowlton also closed its Canberra Office because of lack of work. The whole market has changed in Canberra – the Departments now tend to use contractors on “non-ongoing” appointments costing about $65,000 per year rather than consultants like CPR which would charge up to $2,400 per day for the Directors or $1,600 per day for consultants.

Regards, anon