BRW reckons Westfield controlling shareholder and executive chairman Frank Lowy is worth $4.2 billion and closing on Kerry Packer fast. We reckon much of this wealth has been accumulated through dodgy business practices and here is a compilation of material Crikey subscribers have recently been sent.

Sealed section May 16

So, the building industry royal commission has been told Frank Lowy’s Westfield Holdings gave the CFMEU (the Come F**k Me Union) $80,000 for industrial peace on three Victorian shopping centre building sites.

How many dodgy payments will it take before the blue-blood non-executive directors of Westfield stop taking the Lowy cash and resign in protest. Frank Lowy thinks money will buy him everything he wants and his ethics are dubious to say the least.

For instance, what do Westfield NEDs such as Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer, former Bankers Trust CEO Rob Ferguson, former Coca Cola Amatil CEO Dean Wills, Australia Council chairman David Gonski and fashion queen Carla Zampatti think of the following cash trail:

* $80,000 to the CFMEU for Victorian peace when the CFMEU are the biggest pack of thugs going around.

* $750,000 for British Labor Party funds raiser and Blair mate Lord Levy.

* $100,000 to alleged green groups opposing a rival shopping centre outside Sacramento.

* Several million to the ALP over the past decade with luminaries such as Stephen Loosely and Neville Wran getting rich on Westfield cash.

* More than $100,000 to Nick Greiner’s former chief of staff Ken Hooper to run bogus community groups opposing rival shopping centres in Australia.

* $70,000 defamation settlement to a Gold Coast councillor who allegedly changed his stance on a planning approval although we’re not sure that the two are connected.

And based on Westfield’s incredible success around the world, I’m guessing this just touches the side.

Crikey believes Westfield is one of Australia’s most unethical companies but we’ll happily take a $100,000 payment in return for agreeing not to run for their board again this year. Just joking.

Can you believe that Westfield spindoctor Mark Ryan, a former Keating adviser, had the temerity to go on the record saying that my approach of asking questions as a journalist and also standing for their board was a breach of due process.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The only process that Westfield understands is the one that says money can buy you whatever you want. I’ve heard this over lunch with a Rich List member so we’re not alone in our opinion.

Frank Lowy should be more generous

Responding to that initial missive, a subscriber wrote in the May 17 sealed section:

It is Frank Lowy’s stated intention to replace Kerry Packer as Australia’s richest man. However he will never replace the Big Fella as Australia’s most generous. Packer beneficence is legendary but seldom acknowledged by a mealy-mouthed media. He has given millions to good causes as diverse as St Vincent’s Hospital and Sydney Festival but Lowy is notoriously stingy.

His tenure as President of the Board of Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales was unmarked by any significant gift whereas Rupert Murdoch kick-started that institution’s foundation, now a significant source of funds for acquisitions, and other private donors like Ed and Goldie Sternberg, Margaret Olley and John Schaeffer put Lowy to shame.

While funds are forthcoming to smooth the way for building approvals and construction there is little to assist the community that made the man rich. Some years ago Bob Carr put it on Lowy to fund a music shell akin to Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl. Lowy was duchessed at lunch but gave Bob the thumbs down, and yet the Labor Party continues to give Lowy projects the thumbs up.

A few years ago, a planner with Waverley Council, then dominated by time-serving Labor mediocrities, showed an eminent Sydney architect the model for Westfield’s monstrous re-development of its Bondi Junction site. The architect looked incredulous. “Are you going to do anything about it?” he asked the planner. “We’ll fiddle around the edges”, replied the disillusioned municipal functionary, “but basically, whatever the Lowys want, the Lowys get.”

Which may be why Bondi Junction, better known to locals as Bondi Jungle, is the choicest example in the country of appalling urban planning.

Classic Westfield play unfolds in Brisbane

From May 17 sealed section

A self-confessed white-shoe developer high in the QLD food chain writes:

Regarding Westfield’s litany of naughtiness, a typical Westie conspiracy is unfolding in Brisbane, where certain dark forces appear to be mustering opposition to a planned retail, business and tourism project on a site owned by Brisbane Airport.

The site is only 1.5 km (as the Lowy jet flies) from Westfield’s Toombul Shoppingtown, and within a week, a whole bunch of state, city council, chamber of commerce and “local retail associations” have been crying fould about the “competition” to their business.

The “key messages” are remarkably consistent (the usual wail about driving local traders to the wall, riding roughsod over planning laws, etc). Westfield has deep pockets to finance PR, lobbying and media campaigns, and you can only grudgingly admire their strategically coordinated approach to government relations, media skills, business lobbying and straight out corporate thuggery.

Some of their Sydney heavies have apparently been swaggering around Brizvegas threatening all sorts of legal doom and gloom for the project, promising to invoke everything from the Airports Act to the Brisbane City Council Strategic Plan, to the Kyoto Treaty (I made that last one up – but you get the point).

It will be interesting to watch this one unfold.

Ugliness at Bondi Junction

Sealed May 21

A Sydney subscriber writes:

Westfield Bondi Junction is a classic set piece by this bl**dy awful company. The Junction straddles two municipalities – Woollahra and Waverley – and negotiations have been hard and long over the site.

Both councils thought it was too big and fought to have it made more people friendly. This they achieved but at the last minute the state government through Planning NSW snatched away the development so councils have no control over it. Planning NSW is allowed to do this on developments of state significance but why a shopping centre fits that definition is not clear.

Have a look at how much Westfield donates to both parties and you understand why it gets such a free ride. Since the takeover by the government, Westfield has boasted that they had got back all the things the councils had taken out.

A disgrace.

Westfield and the World Trade Centre

Sealed section May 23

A subscriber in New York writes:

“Yo Crikey!

Saw this in New Yorker – Issue# May 20, 2002. Part of an extensive and extremely well researched story by Paul Goldberger on the World Trade Center history and the reconstruction planning maze – which resembles a Gordian Knot.

The entire article is 27 pages long including photos. It’s a must read.

Excerpts:

‘Six weeks before the WTC towers were destroyed, the Port Authority completed the process of leasing them for 99 years to Larry Silverstein, the developer who had built 7 World Trade Center. Simultaneously, the retail space underneath the complex was leased to Westfield America, the US division of an Australian company that is one of the worlds largest operators of shopping malls. Silverstein and Westfield were given the right to rebuild the structures if they were destroyed, and Westfield has the right to expand the retail space by 30%.”

And a little further on in the article

“Childs and Taylor (architects) are proposing putting back the biggest streets that were taken away, like Greenwich Street and Fulton and Dey Streets, which run east and west, but not restoring every part of the grid. Most people would go along with that, although Silverstein’s (lease holder of WTC) partner in the Trade Center lease, the mall developer Westfield America, made more money on the trade Center’s retail space – about (US) $900 a square foot than it did on any of it’s suburban malls anywhere in the United States, and it has been pushing hard to build a new enclosed mall on the site that would bridge several streets. Westfield is not a company known for paying much attention to design, and it’s chairman, Frank Lowy, is not particularly attuned to what you might call the cultural meaning of streets in Manhattan. Silverstein is an old time New Yorker who can read the city’s political winds, and he felt that the pressure to put back the streets was not something he wanted to resist. Westfield has been slower to catch on. The company will probably not oppose the notion of letting some streets go through the property, but it still wants as much of the retail space as possible to be indoors, as in a suburban mall.”

Westfield and Helensvale

Sealed section May 24

The Marlboro Man David Jull has the pleasure of dealing with the following lovely battle around a proposed Westfield shopping centre in his Queensland electorate. A local writes:

“This area is no stranger to controversy – there is a Westfield Shopping Centre mooted for the region. In line with some commentary in Crikey on Westfield practices the most vocal proponents for the Centre are the Helensvale Residents Association. This association has received very generous funding from Westfield in the past, and one of the key election promises of the Labor State MP in the last state election was to enable the Westfield decision to by-pass Council by him introducing a Private Members Bill to allow the development. Of course this was a false promise and Council has worked with Westfield, causing Westfield to significantly reduce the size of its centre.

Did I mention that the President of the Residents Association (if he is still President) – one Phil Gray, was also previously President of the Helensvale Labor Party Branch (since resigned from the Party), and is also (or was recently) the President of the Studio Village Residents (or progress or something like that) Centre. And for his full-time job he’s a senior Education Dept bureaucrat. He is certainly a very strong, but not at all transparent figure between the Labor MP, the community, and Westfield.

Finally, check this out. The maiden speech of Robert Poole is more like something an executive of of Westfield would say rather than a representative of the people.

Peter Fray

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