Mark Westfield, arguably Australia’s
most controversial business commentator in the past 20 years, was
noteworthy for both the Walkley Awards and the blizard of litigation
that followed him around. But it all came to an end about 18 months ago
when an amicable departure from The Australian was negotiated

Westfield
then popped up as a spin doctor for Sydney financial relations outfit
Cosway. Someone who amassed so many media and corporate enemies over
the years was always going to have an interesting time trying to
glad-hand his way around the public relations industry.

For instance, check out this amazingly vitriolic slug-fest
between Michael Pascoe and Mark Westfield which featured on Crikey in
2002. Let’s hope Westfield never has to spin a yarn to the
straight-talking Pascoe, who was fired by Channel Nine in 2003 but now
features on Sunday Sunrise and Sky BusinessReport, in between doing corporate gigs like hosting the big AICD annual conference.

Westfield
is currently acting as company spokesman for General Re, the Warren
Buffett-owned reinsurance firm that is in hot water with APRA over
dodgy reinsurance contracts. General Re first got into trouble over
contracts it wrote for FAI that inflated the bottom line shortly before
Adler, advised by Malcolm Turnbull and Goldman Sachs, flipped the
family holding onto a primed market and got a bid from HIH which turned
out to be $500 million-plus disaster.

This is certainly ironic
because Westfield was the leading critic of HIH for a couple of years
before it collapsed and earned himself the 2001 Walkley Award for
business reporting. Check out the citation here, which includes the following comments from the judges:

Mark Westfield was well ahead of the pack,
reporting the company’s problems six months in advance of its collapse.
Against an aggressive public relations campaign mounted by the company
to neutralise his reports, Westfield provided sustained and
groundbreaking coverage over an extended period. It’s rare for one
journalist to so completely dominate a story as Westfield did with his
unrelenting coverage of this unfolding disaster.

His
outstanding journalism repeatedly exposed information the company did
not want revealed, and which in hindsight clearly foreshadowed the HIH
collapse. It’s rare to find an example of informed and probing
journalism that could have averted such a disaster – if only the
regulatory authorities and the investment community had taken more
notice.

To see evidence of that aggressive PR campaign against Westfield by HIH, check out this package
from the Crikey archive. Who would have thought he would then turn up
as a spin doctor for one of the naughty corporates that helped FAI and
HIH cook the books, a fact that was well documented in his book on HIH.
Then again, people somehow have to earn a living.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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