Terry Television looks at the Sunday morning business shows and concludes that business and sport don’t mix.

It was an airy start to the day on Business Sunday, with a FAQ style of program that offered little of note. Meanwhile, over on Channel Seven Michael Pascoe chatted to a local corporate.

Woodside’s Don Voelte (who Business Sunday interviewed a couple of months ago), had some better profit forecasts to talk about, as well as high oil prices and the border dispute between Australia and East Timor. That gave it a bit more currency and was something Business Sunday could have slotted in to go with the longish report from Britain’s Channel Four on the surge in oil prices.

In Business Sunday’s interview with Elmo de Alwis of Sigma Pharmaceuticals, you got the impression that he thought the kafuffle over the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, was just that, a kafuffle. He saw it strengthened, not weakened, from the FTA and associated changes. He liked the review process and the greater transparency.

That’s when Terry realised that Sigma, which Elmo runs, is Australia’s biggest locally-owned drug company. It is our player in Big Pharma in this country and the record of drug companies, ours and theirs, in trying to get their way in the health sector, is well-known. It’s just that our companies, like Sigma, and to a lesser extent, Mayne, have been left out of discussion about Big Pharma.

They will benefit if the US companies manage to get the changes. Sigma has the largest contract pharmaceutical manufacturing operations in the country and produces many drugs for foreign Big Pharma – and that includes those European companies, like Aventis, Novartis and Glaxo Smith Kline, many of which have US operations, and will try and slip deeper into our market by claiming to be American companies!

Elmo’s cool “fire” on this issue on Business Sunday made me wonder, if he thinks the FTA is such a good thing, what does it mean for us consumers? Despite his nice bloke persona, he didn’t want to play when Ali Moore started asking whether the process of “evergreening” patents by their big foreign drug company holders to extend the lives of rich drug products had happened here. Elmo suddenly became a little uncertain. Hmmmm.

Elsewhere on Business Sunday, the Nine program had a nice story on business helping charities run in a more business-like fashion, which was a worthy story, but one that has struggled to get shown on the program in recent months.

Felsie was there getting stuck into the silly Part X of the Trade Practices Act, which protects Big Shipping from scrutiny under the Trade Practices Act and allows price fixing. But he was a bit shrill towards the end of his chat – still trying to get square after all these years, perhaps?

Pascoe, at the end of his interview, made a very nice point. He reminded us that Treasurer Costello rejected the Shell bid for Woodside three years ago and played a nice clip from big Pete rabbiting on about the importance of the North West Shelf to Australia.

Pascoe then pointed out that under the FTA, Big Pete’s government had effectively exposed Woodside to a takeover bid from the US. Pascoe should have continued that bids from all other countries would have to run the FIRB hurdle. Bids from the US won’t. Crazy isn’t it and not a very rational set of regulations, despite the blatherings of a lot of commentators and business leaders on the importance of a “level playing field”.

Business Sunday won’t be around next Sunday because of US golf. Who will be watching because it is the start of the Olympics next weekend. And that also means that the Sunrise program next Sunday is also pre-empted. It’s actually pre-empted for two weeks.

So next Sunday Alan Kohler’s Inside Business has the field to itself. The choice from the likes of David Murray from the CBA and Telstra’s Ziggy Switkowski. That means Ziggy’s mate, Nine’s Business Unit Executive Producer, Ross Greenwood, won’t be able to ask the Telstra boss about his continuing career at the telco. A pity, but then after his performance with NZ Telecom CEO, Teresa Gattung, perhaps Greenwood might be a little more inclined to do his homework.

Asking her whether she knew about the Hutchison-Telstra deal this week, Gattung said, “yes, we’ve known about it for a while”, we’re on the board (of the Hutchison subsidiary that holds the 3G business). NZ Telecom’s Australian arm, AAPT is a 20 per cent shareholder.
Oh dear. It was a struggle to remain in the game with the gal from NZ’s South Island.

Strange isn’t it how the telco announces its final profit in the same week as a Tri-Nations Rugby Test between Australia and NZ and there has to be a briefing in Australia late in the week? But then Ms Gattung would have been as disappointed as the other Kiwis at their loss. What about the sheep?

On the ABC’s Inside Business an interview with Hutchison’s Kevin Russell, who was smiling and relieved that the 3G had been paid for.
A nice story on Hardie and asbestos, a sort of update.

And a good commentary from Alan Kohler on the test for the board independents on AXA Asia which will have to be as tough with the parent as the independents on the GPT board were with Lend Lease.

Yes, independence, a key thought to leave you on and wonder about sport and business. They do mix as the Australia-NZ Rugby test showed, but on television sometimes they don’t. More’s the pity. And what is Pay TV for if not to take up the slack? Is there an anti-syphoning law against running more business on Sky News? Or is the ownership involvement of Nine, Seven and News which prevents it from happening?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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