It hasn’t been widely remarked upon in the media, but there is a certain irony in the fact that Natasha Stott Despoja’s husband, former Liberal staffer Ian “Smiffy” Smith, has been handed the plum gig of spinning T3 to the media and the broader electorate.
The Sydney Morning Herald mentioned it in passing on March 9 in this story which concluded as follows:
PR firms Gavin Anderson and Cox Inall have been appointed as communications advisers for the scoping study into T3. The study role will be minor but both firms are expected to be retained to handle the communications strategy for the actual sale. Gavin Anderson’s team includes Jen Eddy, who resigned as press secretary to the Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, late last year.
Smiffy is CEO of Gavin Anderson and in 1999 he personally won the pitch and handled the lucrative T2 spinning gig. Given this was the only change to the advisory team from T1, the government was happy with the T2 spinning outcome and Gavin Anderson’s New York bosses at Omnicom loved the fat margins, Smiffy was quickly elevated to CEO as founders Ian Kortlang and Sue Cato bailed ship after pocketing most of the $12 million sale price after a three-year earnout.
Critics who thought Smiffy’s relationship with Natasha, which started in mid 2001 and now sees Mrs Smith parading new son around Parliament House, would jeopardise Gavin Anderson’s chances of landing big Federal Government contracts have been proven wrong. However, it remains to be seen if Natasha concedes there is a perception problem now that her husband will profit handsomely from a policy she bitterly opposes. If anything, it locks in her vote against the sale.
Hiring Minchin’s immediate past press secretary when he’s the man making the T3 appointments was certainly a handy piece of insurance for Gavin Anderson and wouldn’t have happened in America where a 12-month cooling off period prevents these sorts of appointments. Jen Eddy would want to be on a big package.
Smiffy tried a similar tactic in 1996 when he hired Jeff Kennett’s personal press secretary Tania Price to the Melbourne Gavin Anderson office he was running to try and beat a perplexing ban imposed by the then Victorian Premier.
It didn’t work but the office flourished anyway as big fees were generated by advising the various foreign buyers of power assets. This happened because Smiffy was able to gloat about three other important and close personal relationships he had with the following:
- Rebecca Cooper, Kennett’s personal political adviser on the power sales;
- John Wylie, the then CS First Boston investment banker who ran the remarkable $30 billion in power auctions; and
- Nick Maher, the then chief of staff to Victorian Treasurer and privatisation mastermind Alan Stockdale. Maher later joined Gavin Anderson where he still works alongside Smiffy to this day.
Check out our list tracking what happens to Howard Government staffers here.