At quarter-time in Saturday’s AFL grand
final, a hard-hitting ACTU industrial relations ad featuring John
Howard promising no worker would be worse off was run on the big
screens at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of almost 92,000
people.

It just so happened that MCC CEO Stephen Gough was
hosting the PM at the game and the next 15 minutes proved most
intriguing. A call was placed to someone from Harold Mitchell’s media
buying agency, which handles MCG advertising, instructing that the ACTU
ad not be shown again. It was scheduled to run at half-time and
three-quarter time.

This caused a flurry of phone calls,
including one to ACTU secretary Greg Combet at home. Crikey hears that
it was only when it became apparent that the story would leak to the
media that the MCC reversed the decision to drop the ads shortly before
half time.

Harold Mitchell was asked about this during his regular Monday segment on 774 ABC Melbourne’s Drive
program on Monday and downplayed the incident, claiming that nothing
happened and he hadn’t spoken to Stephen Gough for a couple of years.

Why
then did someone ring Greg Combet shortly after quarter-time and tell
him the ads were being pulled – as Combet explained on the Drive program an hour before Mitchell appeared?

All
parties except the ACTU are now trying to play down the incident, but
Crikey knows it happened. The big question is whether the PM took
umbrage and personally asked the MCC to pull the ads, or whether Gough
took it upon himself because he was our dear leader’s host for the day?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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