Here’s a story that says a lot about the power of the almighty dollar
at Macquarie Bank, the power of the NSW government to silence criticism
and the amazing inability of The Australian Financial Review to follow up a good story, when the paper caused the whole kerfuffle in the first place.

The lead story on page 3 of Monday’s Fin reported that the head
of Macquarie Community Assets Group, Peter Wright, was casting doubt on
the Carr government’s plans to build a desalination plant in Sydney
(see a similar story in today’s SMHhere).

Wright said that if the Carr government’s call for expressions of
interest was simply “kite flying” then the private sector would not be
interested. He said the government had to demonstrate a “serious
commitment” to the idea otherwise Macquarie would not have much

Within hours of the story appearing in the Fin, Wright was out
of a job at Macquarie Community Assets Group, and NSW Treasurer
Andrew Refshuage had written letters to the media – including the AFR and The Daily Tele
– saying that Macquarie had informed the government that it was
interested in bidding to build and operate the desalination plant.

In his AFR letter Refshuage revealed it might be a public/private partnership type of deal. But nowhere in the Fin story was there a mention of the fallout at the Millionaire Factory following Wright’s comments. It was left to The Tele, in a small story on the bottom of page 2, to report:

The head of Macquarie Assets Group, Mr Peter Wright was
out of a job yesterday after discrediting the state government’s
commitment to building a desalination plant.

A spokesman for Macquarie Bank said Mr Wright’s views did not represent those of the bank and that he had resigned.

Oh! You can just imagine the conversations between the Carr government
and Macquarie Bank early Monday about the comments. Perhaps they were
conveyed via the very well connected former NSW government bureaucrat
and former close adviser to Premier Carr, Professor Tom Parry. He was
the former head of the NSW Independent Pricing Tribunal and joined
Macquarie just over a year ago and moved into the Community Assets

They certainly know how to move quickly and carry a big stick at the
Millionaire Factory, and the NSW government knows how to make even
the mighty Macquarie Bank jump when there’s a multi-million dollar pot
of gold in the offing: just suggest to the MacBankers they might not be
in the running, it seems.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey