Lachlan Murdoch was reportedly opposed to his father’s insistence that News Corporation last year move its incorporation from Adelaide to Delaware. Now his decision to return to Sydney means that the Murdoch family is arguably more Australia-focused than it has been for years.

Lachlan was never really an Australian – he was born in London and grew up in New York. However, he’s now the second Murdoch child to settle here permanently. Prudence Murdoch, the only child from Rupert’s first marriage to Patricia Booker, moved back to Sydney two years ago when her husband, Alasdair Macleod, left his job running The Times in London and took charge of News Ltd’s Sydney suburban newspaper chain.

While Rupert is an American citizen running an American company, the family’s $9 billion fortune is not completely controlled by the Sun King. As part of his divorce settlement with second wife Anna, Rupert revealed that the family’s News Corp stake had been placed “in unbreakable trusts for the children and grand children.”

This $9 billion is tax-free in Australia and it now appears that a good chunk of it could finish up here. When Anna Murdoch walked away with a reported $100 million divorce settlement in 2000, she remained in New York but ploughed about $25 million of this straight into a Gold Coast radio operation called Hot Tomato. Similarly, when Rupert settled with his sisters after almost sending News Corp broke in 1991, another $600 million stayed largely in Australia.

Given the negotiating position that Anna Murdoch had, it would be fair to assume that her three children, Lachlan, Elisabeth and James, will be entitled to the largest single chunk of the empire. The Sunday Age and Sun-Herald ran with a Crikey estimate yesterday that Lachlan is presently worth about $60 million and has $1.5 billion coming his way when his father dies. This means Lachlan is probably the latest Australian billionaire-to-be, which raises another fascinating possibility – that Lachlan Murdoch could emerge as an Australian media player in his own right. It’s most unlikely that Lachlan could liquidate this entitlement before Rupert dies. But he might be able to borrow against it.

Newspapers are Lachlan’s greatest passion, so what’s to stop him picking up a slice of the News Ltd empire as part of a settlement with the ACCC when Rupert launches the inevitable tilt at one of the free-to-air networks once Australia’s media ownership restrictions are relaxed?

Lachlan would need to resign from the News Corp board but Rupert has thrown Australian scraps to his relatives before – witness the $12 million sale of some magazines to his nephew Matt Handbury after the 1987 takeover of the Herald & Weekly Times. Under the deal done with the Hawke Government when the HWT was taken over, News Corp must have at least two Australian-based directors, but Lachlan’s return to Australia means there will now be four, given that Rod Eddington is returning to Melbourne and Ken Cowley and Peter Barnes both live in Sydney.

We all know that News Corp’s global operations are dotted with Australians, but it has been many years since four of the directors have lived Down Under. Maybe Rupert could actually hold a board meeting in Australia to coincide with one of his visits to his mother, who still lives at the family farm on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Without the annual meeting in Adelaide each year, family functions will probably be the event that brings the Sun King home more than anything else, but it’s ironic how the Australian connection remains strong when Rupert turned his back on Australia last year.

Peter Fray

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