John Howard is leaving no stone unturned in continuing to ingratiate
himself with the Packer family, but does anyone else think the
extravaganza planned for the Opera House on February 17 is going way
over the top? That was certainly the sentiment that came through from calls and SMS
messages when 774 ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine had Channel Nine
Melbourne’s news director Michael Venus in his media hotseat this
morning.

Venus straight-batted questions about whether Packer’s mistress, Julie
Trethowan, should be invited and also said that any complaints about
the taxpayer-funded memorial service should be directed at John Howard as it was
his idea – he called Ros Packer with the offer shortly after Kerry’s
death.

Indeed, Crikey understands that NSW Premier Morris Iemma declined
to offer a state-funded funeral, clearly sniffing the breeze about a
public backlash against a Labor Premier with a budget problem spending
public funds on the richest bloke in Australia who openly gloated that
he minimised his taxes and had his ultimate private holding companies
based in The Bahamas.

None of that stopped John Howard from coming to the rescue and he even confided to The Bulletin
that he used to share a meal with Kerry about once every six months, usually at the Big Fella’s home.

John Howard is exactly the sort of boring bloke that Kerry Packer would
normally despise, but their shared interests have been laid out
for all to see – Packer publicly backed John Howard before each of his
four election victories and Howard has produced media policies that
helped build his $7 billion fortune.

For an intensely private man who was buried at his Hunter Valley
property Ellerston with just immediate family present, the excessive
nature of the celebration is quite extraordinary and now includes the
following:

* a 100-page special tribute edition of The Bulletin which is now the biggest selling edition of the magazine in 25 years
* 20 pages of tribute in the February edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly
* a two-hour state-funded memorial service to be broadcast live on Channel Nine on February 17
* a one-hour uninterrupted documentary on Channel Nine around the time of the state funeral

The scale of the broadcasting challenge for the memorial service is
such that outgoing Channel Nine boss Sam Chisholm has been ringing
around the other networks asking to borrow some cameras on the day.

It sounds like it is being designed to go international, especially
to places like England and India where the World Series Cricket
revolution raised Kerry Packer’s public profile like nothing else could. Indeed, Michael Venus said this
morning that orders for The Bulletin’s tribute issue are “flooding in from all over the world”.

There is no doubting the intense public interest in Kerry Packer’s
life, but John Howard might yet come to regret spending hundreds of
thousands of federal funds on this memorial service. Don’t be surprised
if the Packer family ends up making some sort of federal donation that
more than covers the cost.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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