Sunday morning, time for the changing Business Sunday, Michael Pascoe, and Inside Alan Kohler, sorry Inside Business on the ABC
Back to the Future for Business Sunday. The new mix of news, features
and interviewers in a softish approach with the ‘cover’ story at the
end, changed. The old pattern of good, hard, newsy interviews placed in
the second half. Exclusives some of them especially Leightons Wal
King.

The styled approach dictated by News and Current Affairs chief, Jim
Rudder and his advisers at the start of the year has been weakened to
accommodate a turn off at 8.30am when the plug to Sunday and the News
appears. Viewers apparently believing Business Sunday is now half an
hour.

And the ‘new’ new look, looked a little better for the change.

So what did they have. Firstly Ross Greenwood, the program’s boss, has
a decent chat with Chris Anderson who produced all the inevitable
responses. No to Telstra, John Fairfax etc.

But there was Ross in there flogging his “Ziggy’s got to go line”, the
last couple of broadcast questions “Ziggy Switkowski still
pushing” the line that he can get his market share in mobiles back to
50 per cent. “That didn’t happen” last quarter. It’s “pretty tough” for
him to hang on.

Ross face it. Ziggy’s there and if he goes in the next few weeks it
won’t be because of you and your masters at Nine and PBL, it will be
because there has been a change in attitude inside the boardroom.
Presumably Samuel Hewlings Chisholm still dislikes Ziggy and approves
of any attempt to whiteant him. But Sam Chisholm has signed off on the
strategy being used by Ziggy and the management, didn’t he? Or is there
another message emerging here on Business Sunday?

Anyway, a good interview with David Morgan of Westpac where he became
the second bank to go on the record as revealing a cooling in the love
affair with the mortgage broking set (the Bank of Qld has abandoned
them completely. Strange that! Its CEO is David Liddy, a former senior
executive with Westpac!)

Memo business journalists. Is there a trend developing? In the midst of
a shakeout in housing, are the banks using their muscle to start
re-claiming lost market share from the originating sector and brokers
by writing less business? Chase it.

Adam Shand had a nice colour yarn about a rich Aztec who still can
remember the sixties, while the highlight was an interview with a very
subdued Leightons boss Wal King.

Watching Wal he wasn’t his usual restrained, optimistic self. It was a
quiet, rather resigned Wal. Clearly these three contracts and
write-offs, Southland, Hilton and Spencer Street, have shaken his
confidence and that of the board.

He talked about how risk management had become more important to the
board and senior management (“tightened” was how he described it,
echoing Crikey’s point) and he highlighted the track record of Leighton
(and thereby himself) for stable good management and high level of
“focus”. Clearly a CEO suddenly under pressure.

A good show from the Nine team, even for Ross Greenwood’s Ziggy obsession.

But the highlight of the morning was Michael Pascoe’s spray on Seven’s
Sunday Sunrise at the Rupert Murdoch proposal to decamp and re-list in
America by shifting News’ domicile to the wilds of pro-management
Delaware.

Pascoe, who must be away because there was no interview, in a
pre-recorded commentary, sank the boot and bared his fangs, with the
help of BT funds manager Scott Maddocks.

By using good grabs from Maddocks, Pascoe highlighted the growing
unease among Australian institutional shareholders in News about the
loss of News Corp from the Australian market.

Maddocks made the vital point that if local fund managers vote in
favour of the Murdoch proposal, what they are really saying to their
clients is “we are voting for a proposal that will lower returns to
you” (the client). That’s a nice touch of honesty from a fund manager.

He also made the very good point (which Crikey has done time and time
again) that the Queensland Newspapers part of the Murdoch transaction
is ‘finely priced”. Maddocks said there must be a price at which
the Qld Newspapers deal doesn’t happen for Murdoch. Meaning that if the
price is cut from the current very high $2.5 billion valuation by very
much, any new price might not be enough to enable Murdoch and his
private Cruden interests, to do the deal.

Pascoe also echoed the very point Crikey has been banging on about and
asking: Where are the truly ‘independent’ directors on Queensland
Newspapers?

That is perhaps the best question in all of this.

Pascoe went on to suggest, quite strongly, that after having rolled
Murdoch on the options question at last year’s AGM (and probably the
real reason for fleeing Australia) the chances were rising that local
shareholders could repeat the dose at the News meeting to consider this
issue later in the year.

Rupert’s fight will clearly be the big story in Australian business
over the remainder of this year. And we know how all the trained
mouthpieces in the News papers will bark on this issue!

With an election approaching watch Murdoch’s support swing to those who
favour his flight and against those who oppose it. Aussie fund managers
will need a tough hide and nerves of steel to withstand the bagging
they’ll be coping from News organs if this one goes down.

But after the win at the NAB, come on lads, Rupe’s fair game.

On the ABC Alan Kohler rounded up Chris Anderson of Optus and Gail
Kelly of St George. Both played a very straight bat. Anderson on
another CEO’s job, such as Fairfax. No interest. Pretty straight to on
Telstra. Gail Kelly very, very straight on the NAB and the role and
performance of former director, Cathy Walter.

And speaking of the NAB. Alan Kohler got to the nub of the problem on
that and every board in Australia (including Qld Newspapers). A board
might like to be a team, but in reality each and every director has a
fiduciary duty not to each other or themselves, but to ALL
shareholders, and not just the nosiest or most dominant one.

He finished his commentary by pointing out that the reality is, all
directors are on their own in the end. No hiding behind the face of
camaraderie, group think, or the team.

When it comes to doing your job and assessing risks and management, it is a difficult, thankless task that HAS to be done.

“The Club is dead”. Yes, it is, but some of those who are on boards still think it is alive and their members of it.

Leighton could very well be the next candidate for enlightenment.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW