By Stephen Mayne and Michael Newhouse

Steve Vizard told the assembled press pack he received “a fair
hearing” yesterday, but it’s unlikely he’ll be saying the same about
today’s media coverage. “What an absolute joke,” Alan Kohler declared to readers of The Smage. “Most honest company directors believe Vizard’s behaviour was disgusting and
has brought their profession into disrepute. They’re right, but this view was
not represented in court yesterday.”


The AFR’s
Chanticleer columnist John Durieloudly
snorted
when Vizard’s counsel announced they would accept ASIC’s proposed
five-year ban and $390,000 fine, and his column today was savage.

“The Australian Security and Investment Commission’s reputation as
a corporate regulator lies in tatters… The suggested outcome is a
joke and smacks of a regulator prepared to do back room deals for the
sake of a corporate scalp.” And yet it remains to be seen how harsh
Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein will be next week in sentencing,
but it’s not going to help ASIC’s reputation one bit because the damage
has already been done.

We should apologise to Durie. Yesterday we said he wasn’t in court but he was actually there most of
yesterday. We also somehow missed the presence of The Age’s Stephen Bartholomeusz, which led to this this column today. Bartho took a slightly more measured approach to proceedings, claiming
that although Vizard’s actions were “disgraceful” he has already “lost
his standing and reputation in the community and years of public
service have been discredited.” And even though he’s not going to jail,
the agreed punishment is still rather severe.

When you consider that The SMH’s business commentator Liz
Knight flew
down for the day, it was a reasonable turn-up from the business
commentariat with only Alan Kohler and Terry McCrann missing in action.
That didn’t stop them hopping into Vizard as you can read Kohler’s
effort here and Terry McCrann’s Herald Sun piece here.

McCrann puts the boot into ASIC and gives a good run
down of the humiliation the case has brought ASIC. In his own humble
opinion McCrann believes Vizard’s behaviour was so “egregious” that’s he shouldn’t
be allowed to serve on the board of a company for years. “Yet ASIC
would be happy if he was back in the boardroom at the age of 54.”

Kohler says that yesterday’s proceedings only highlight Vizard’s
glaring guilt and lack of any real contrition. “It is plain that the
only “mess” Steve Vizard got himself into
was getting caught.” The Australian got to the heart of Steve Vizard’s modus operandi
in its excellent front page splash yesterday and the same two reporters, Katrina
Strickland and Lara Sinclair, have followed up today with another cracking read about Vizard’s time as the president of the National Gallery of Victoria.

But The Fin’s Neil Chenoweth opens with a warning for all those
who are willing to prematurely bury ASIC over this. “Before you
conclude that the legal system is going soft as blancmange on white
collar crime just remember the judge has the last word.” And he reminds
readers that Justice Finkelstein is certainly “no fan of people who exploit
their position as insiders for personal gain.”

The Age’s
Malcolm Maiden didn’t show a lot of sympathy for Vizard, opening today’s column as follows: “The reason we are all having difficulty suspending disbelief over the Vizard
affair is that the authorities and the Vizard camp are both operating within the
confines of a surreal compromise.” The Australian’s Richard Gluyas took the time to delve into some of the tendered documents that weren’t handed out by the PR people, so his piece pushing the prospect of criminal charges still being laid is worth a read today.

Meanwhile The 7:30 Report’s
Emma Alberichi probably got the scoop of the day, reporting on a
year-old letter Vizard’s lawyers didn’t want tabled in court that
suggests that Vizard sought to collaborate with his accountant Greg Lay
about how they would handle evidence if Vizard was ever charged.
Her report also brings up the good point that Vizard can still be
criminally charged after his civil case, but that none of the same
evidence can be presented.

After giving him such a slamming today, Crikey waits eagerly to see how
Australia’s business commentators react to Vizard’s sentencing next
week.

Peter Fray

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