Seeing as only 43% of you survey respondents thought we had a problem with Melbourne-centricity, we may as well regale you with the entertaining 10-year saga of Rich Lister Max Beck, defamation threats, Jeff Kennett, the original Crikey bunker and the redevelopment of Melbourne’s Jolimont railway yards nestled between the CBD and the MCG.

Why now? Well, new Victorian planning minister Rob Hulls has just knocked back a proposed 26 storey tower on the block directly opposite the original Crikey bunker in East Melbourne which we sold to pay Steve Price back in 2002. Check out The Age’s coverage here.

Max Beck and his former Becton partner Michael Buxton are both on the Rich List thanks to the incompetence of the Cain-Kirner Labor governments. Victorian taxpayers dropped $75 million when failed merchant bank Tricontinental partly underwrote their $350 million office tower at 333 Collins St 15 years ago. However, this was nothing on the $200 million dropped by the South Australia government when it bought the building for $520 million under the craziest put option ever concocted in corporate Australia. It wasn’t just entrepreneurs doing stupid deals in the 1980s. Two state Labor governments dropping $300 million underwriting a Labor friendly developer’s office tower was one of the stupidest things we’ve ever seen.

As banking writer on The Age in 1992, I wrote a story listing Becton as one of the 10 biggest disasters for Tricontinental. Becton instantly threatened to sue so I decided to look Max in the eye a couple of days later by attending the turning of the first sod ceremony at the Jolimont development by my then next door neighbour and Melbourne Lord Mayor, Des Clarke, now John Howard’s chief censor.

The Age’s lawyers quickly sorted Max out and a few months later I joined Jeff Kennett’s staff and decided to take the plunge and buy a three bedroom apartment at Becton’s Jolimont development off the plan for $339,000.

It wasn’t meant to settle for 18 months but Max suddenly finished it 12 months early and I didn’t have the cash to settle, so this ended up being the major reason I quite Kennett’s staff because the Herald Sun was offering $65,000 to be business editor and the best Jeff could do was $55,000.

After taking the boss down to see Mark Phillippoussis’s first Australian Open match in 1993 to help shore up the Greek vote, we drove back past the Jolimont development and Jeff remarked that it was an outrageous Kirner deal in which Max was given options over a huge site and only had to pay for it when he decided to develop each section.

During a subsequent interview, Max confessed that his two most profitable projects were 333 Collins and Jolimont – both sweetheart Labor deals.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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