The
steady stream of stories about the redecorating of the walls in Sydney Italian
eatery Machiavelli have one common link that tells a lot about how James Packer
is trying to position PBL in the wake of his father’s death.

A range of signals suggest that James and his scheming PBL CEO John
Alexander are trying to retain the undoubted unspoken power that Kerry
Packer possessed that enabled him to become the most powerful person in the
country’s
biggest city.

At Machiavelli, it’s out with the politicians and in with the mates of PBL (and JA) in
the shape of business people like Chris Corrigan of Patrick, and the chefs
of leading Sydney restaurants that JA and others like to graze at.

In the most absurd move so far, John Howard’s photo came down yesterday and was replaced by Eddie
McGuire, AM. Does anyone else sense a touch of the “‘only we at PBL
have the
power to make this happen”?

James is certainly not mucking around stamping his authority on the
empire. The AFR’s Chanticleer columnist John Durie has today followed
our tip about the impending revamp of the PBL board with KP’s friends,
Robert Whyte, Laurie Muir and Rowena Danziger, set to make
way for people like Chris Corrigan and investment banker, Chris Mackay
of UBS.

Another sign has been the grabbing of control over the Nine Network by
James and JA, something they were unable to do while Kerry Packer was
alive. Eddie McGuire is a long-time MoJ (Mate of James) but his vision
so far –
let’s start with a blank screen, but ratings are out and profit is in –
hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

Another
is Russell Crowe, who became involved in the Packer service and
documentary shortly after ditching the Murdoch-associated Wendy Day as
his spokesman for Grant Vandenberg, the man who runs JA’s court.

Then there’s been reports of phone calls to many in the Sydney business community
from the Park Street
bunker trying to get things done the Packer way. One
such call was to the Sun-Herald last week to try and sack gossip columnist
Annette Sharp for daring to write stories about James, David Gyngell and various Nine people,
as well as ACP staffers that upset Park
Street and John Alexander.

Some of the power is quite real. James Packer described the
ascension of Ron Walker to the
Fairfax chair as “an inspired choice” and we received this email from
someone closely connected to the quality end of Fairfax recently:

You didn’t hear it from me but Ron Walker has stopped articles on Packer appearing in The SMH, The AFR and Sun-Herald of late. One journalist was threatened with the sack.

Ron Walker has publicly revealed that he copped a call from James last
year complaining about being photographed in his swimmers. The kid
clearly doesn’t get it. You shouldn’t even try to micro-manage power
like this in the internet age.

When you consider the funeral, the memorial service,
the doco on the Nine Network and the broadcasting of
the service from the Opera House, it looks like a process designed to send
very strong signals that James is his father’s son, but in
a focused, business fashion, depending more on proper management decision-making than gut instinct.

And
yet a bit of public arm twisting, weight throwing and other expressions of
power are handy to make sure the general public and those in business know
their place and acknowledge the new Emperor of Sydney.

Peter Fray

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