Ever since Anne Keating sued him for defamation, Piers Akerman has been solidly in the corner of Nick Whitlam as those Labor factional brawls inside the ALP played out over the past few years.
And so it was in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph when the Big Toad produced this column which painted our Nick as some sort of wronged saint. Try these lines for size:
If he (Justice Einfeld) were minded, he might also offer some thoughts about those formerly on the NRMA Insurance board, and their allies in the media, whose wrongful and vindictive pursuit of Mr Whitlam have cost IAG shareholders millions. In August, 2000, the successful demutualisation of the NRMA, driven by Mr Whitlam, freed up about $4.5 billion for its shareholders, now worth about double to those who held on to their shares. However, that huge success did not deter his boardroom detractors within the newly-created insurance group or his media critics, and he was faced with bitter guerilla tactics which crippled the board.
This sort of stuff is a perfect example of a columnist becoming captured by their source. Just because Nick Whitlam has given Akerman an inside run on some of the NRMA twists and turns over the years, doesn’t mean he should rewrite history.
Crikey attended two general meetings of the NRMA chaired by Nick Whitlam and remains of the view that he was the most arrogant and divisive chairman we’ve ever come across. He was also at one point the highest payed non-executive chairman in the country, earning $500,000 a year.
It is true that the demutualisation has worked well for IAG shareholders, but this is largely because the board settled down when James Strong replaced Nick Whitlam and Michael Hawker was hired to be CEO.
The perfect storm of tort reform, low claims, high investment returns and a cartel-like industry structure after the demise of HIH was also a major factor.
As with most battles, there is no clear right or wrong. Nick Whitlam and Anne Keating both had quite a few flaws and both were to blame for many of the problems. However, Akerman is right to point to the role of SMH NRMA campaigner Anne Lampe with these lines:
On May 2, 2001, that shareholder action was revealed in the form of a requisition for a special general meeting at which a call was to be made for a change to the constitution which would deny any retirement benefits without prior approval of shareholders.
One of the requisitionists was Roger Parks, Ms Lampe’s partner. Ms Lampe continued to cover the case for The Sydney Morning Herald. Though her connection and the obvious conflict of interest were well known to many in the media it was not, and apparently until today has not been made public, though it would appear to be in contravention of the Sydney Morning Herald’s own code of ethics.
CRIKEY: Indeed. Not a good look. Anne Lampe’s coverage was about as one-eyed against Nick Whitlam as Akerman’s commentary is was one-eyed the other way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a media that tried to objectively report and analyse the facts?