Has anyone noticed The Australian’s
aggressive campaign against private public partnerships and tollroads
deals in particular? Here’s a sample of what has been produced over the
past week:

Row over Carr’s plum bank job – October 11
Editorial: highway robbery – October 14
Pay per trip and then a whole lot more – October 15
Toll barons drive bargain – October 15
Ports, railway under cut by tollways – October 15
PM’s man wants rules on toll deals – October 17

Does anyone else think this might just be the latest round
in the paper’s campaign against Macquarie Bank for daring to sue the
Murdoch empire over a Michael West feature on Tasmanian mining company,
Allstate Exploration?

“Michael West and The Australian Business Team” must certainly be feeling vindicated to have been short-listed for the business Walkley Award.

Poor old Bob Carr might find himself as collatoral damage if this legal dispute continues to escalate. The Australian
is obviously looking at ways to maximise the damage to The Millionaire
Factory after they refused to settle, although they need to be careful
not to aggravate the damages in any adverse judgment.

The first
strategy was a flurry of stories on the remarkable Allstate saga in
which Macquarie bought about $50 million worth of inter-company loans
for $300,000 and now look like getting satisfaction in full after a
turnaround at the Beaconsfield Gold mine.

The next move has been
to put the spotlight on private public partnership and particularly
tollroad deals as these have been Macquarie’s biggest earners in recent
years.

For instance, if the Murdoch-owned Courier Mail
was to suddenly campaign ferociously against the plan of Brisbane Lord
Mayor Campbell Newman to use private equity to deliver all his
ambitious infrastructure projects, it would be pretty difficult to
proceed.

With the Macquarie juggernaut now sitting on more than
$100 billion worth of assets around the globe, it will be interesting
to see if they blink, particularly given their media aspirations and
the prospect that commercial deals with News Corp could be on the
agenda.

Peter Fray

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