There was a little bit of everything for business enthusiasts this Sunday, as Terry Television explains.
On reflection, September 19 was one of those Sunday mornings where there was something for everyone on each of the business orientated television programs. Business Sunday had another skimpy look at the James Hardie situation after last week’s meetings in Sydney and Holland and ahead of the report from the New Special Inquiry that’s due on Tuesday.
Seven’s Sunday Sunrise saw Michael Pascoe comment on Rupert Murdoch’s shift of domicile deal and the News Corp purchase of 58% of Queensland Press owned by the Sun King and his family, while Alan Kohler looked at the executive and board pay issue after the flood of annual reports and notices of meeting last week.
So watching all three, which would have meant a bit of channel hopping, and occupied more than two hours, would have left you not much the wiser about Hardie from Business Sunday, a little more sceptical about the Murdoch dealings after watching Pascoe (but what else is new) and just plain wondering after watching Alan Kohler talk to the affable Charles Macek (Telstra and Wesfarmers director and chairman of the Financial Reporting Council).
Besides its once over of James Hardie, Business Sunday talked to the ACTU’s Sharan Burrow about Hardie’s performance and that of the Federal Government. They were at least linked.
The rest of the program was election, and some forgettable stuff on Darwin, Henry Walker Eltin and GWA, while Ross Greenwood managed to get Fairfax publisher, Michael Gill (a former Business Sunday reporter and the man who moved Ross on from the editor’s chair at BRW) to the starting line on his yarn on the Financial Times’ Australian adventure. But there was no mention of News Corp or CEO and board pay. Which, for the premier business program in the country, were important omissions.
Kohler’s talk to Macek left the impression that the business community is aware of the problem, but utterly helpless to do anything to control executive pay or the performance of boards, no matter the pages of guff in annual reports about corporate governance and the companies’ adherence to these rules.
At one stage in the discussion it seemed as though Macek was lost for a rational excuse or explanation about how to control spiralling executive pay, and Kohler was equally as lost with suggestions. Neither wanted, it seem to mention some sort of statutory system(nobody does want that, I know) but that seemed to most logical suggestion to make by Kohler, simply to get a debate going.
What is clearly apparent is that most Australian boards and their senior executives are collectively a bunch of greedy drongos too interested in keeping up with the neighbours, and not much interested in the way it looks to the wider community or shareholders.
The big test will of course come when earnings slow or fall and all we will find out just how much ‘at risk’ are the ‘at risk’ and performance linked components in executive pay packets. My bet is that the boards will simply redo these packages to take account of ‘changed circumstances’ so that executives pays or non executive board fees do not drop, as they should do if this is truly performance-based remuneration.
Michael Pascoe looked at Rupert’s big move offshore and its associated Queensland Press deal and wondered why the independent experts, Grant Samuel had neglected to consider the impact of competition in the Brisbane market to The Courier Mail and The Sunday Mail.
Pascoe pointed out that Spanish publisher Javier Moll is on the record as wanting to start papers in both Adelaide and Brisbane, two of Rupert’s most profitable markets. This is what Pascoe has reported in the past on Sunday Sunrise.
Pascoe asked what this would do to the high price of $2.95 billion for Qld Press. And whether Grant Samuel had really investigated possible new sources of competition.Or whether the Murdochs had, by chance, mentioned the Spaniard version of Rupe, to the Grant Samuel sleuths?
And is Grant Samuel truly independent. Hasn’t Grant Samuel done work for Murdoch’s Cruden group of companies in a dispute with the Tax Office from 2000 to 2004? And hasn’t the property arm of Grant Samuel done work for News Corp in the past? They were disclosed, but does that make Grant Samuel more, or less independent. Its a bit like the audit function in a big accounting firm, isn’t it?
Pascoe ended by announcing that he was restarting his Business Sunday competition to find an independent expert report that didn’t recommend to the board of a major Australian company, what the board really wanted to hear. The prize is that venerable bottle of 1996 GIO port. And why GIO port? Because, as Pascoe disclosed, Grant Samuel valued GIO shares at $6 each in the silly takeover from the AMP. In the end the GIO shares were worth less than half that and the Grant Samuel valuation was useless.The AMP lost billions while some GIO shareholders were dudded, and started a class action to recover their losses.
Check out what Pascoe said on the Sunday Sunrise website: www.seven.com.au/sundaysunrise