By Stephen Mayne

The Fin Review’s
Chanticleer columnist John Durie had an interesting item this morning on sacked Amcor CEO Russell Jones’s meeting yesterday with lawyers from Allens Arthur Robinson, at the well-known Nick’s Cafe Bar in Melbourne’s legal precinct.

Given that Jones was sacked, would you expect him to be meeting with Amcor’s high-powered Allens partners Paul Meadows and Patrick Ryan? Meadows advised the NAB non-executive directors during last year’s battle with Cathy Walter and is married to Patricia Cross, a former NAB treasury boss and AMP director who now sits on boards such as Wesfarmers and Qantas.

Ryan has spent 23 years specialising in competition law and his CV says that “he has also been involved in the defence of some of Australia’s price fixing and market sharing court actions.” Is Amcor now regretting dobbing itself in to the ACCC? The board, led by Sydneysider Chris Roberts, fired Jones after allegedly uncovering illegal cartel behaviour. Presumably this was on the advice of Allens.

As we all know, it takes more than one party to run a cartel and Visy’s former box boss Rod Carroll stepped aside around the same time Jones was shown the door without a payout.

Durie made the following salient points today about market shares in the box industry: “It is worth noting from the start of 2002 to late last year Dick Pratt’s Visy Group increased market share from 47.2% to 52% and Amcor’s fell from 49.9% to 46% amid falling prices. In New Zealand, Visy’s share of the box market has increased from zero to 30% since 1996. Carter Holt Harvey and Amcor used to have the Kiwi market to themselves.”

This will be a very interesting test of Melbourne’s clubby business establishment. ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel, a Melbourne lad who would know Pratt and the Amcor players well, has been talking very tough in recent months about cracking down on cartels, so what he does about apparent collusion at the top end of town will be a very interesting test of his resolve.