Which business leader has arguably been more feted than any other by the Howard Government? I reckon it’s lawyer, investment banker and professional director David Gonski, the co-executor of Kerry Packer’s estate.

Gonski was first appointed by Richard Alston to do a review of the film industry in 1996-97, an utterly inappropriate gig given he was chairman of the Hoyts cinema chain at the time, although he persuaded Kerry Packer to take it over in 1999.

After that the government appointed Gonski chairman of the Australia Council and chairman of NIDA, two other important cultural institutions. It is worth asking the question whether Gonski was the Packer candidate for such positions because the debate about the influence of Kerry Packer gets very interesting when you mention Gonski. We saw how Packer’s aura reduced our prime minister to unbecoming grovelling, so what did it do to Gonski over the years?

Neil Chenoweth’s fascinating new book, Packer’s Lunch, tracks various member of the Sydney set who moved in the Big Man’s circles and Gonski gets a mention on page 127 as follows:

James Packer was determined to prove himself by making money on his own account; the endearing thing about his new friends was that they were equally determined to help him. When Packer and Onisforou began marketing their property development, the Friends of James formed an instant queue. They loved Packer’s Medina executive apartments near Randwick Town Hall, which went on sale in November 1994.

Rodney Adler was naturally there with his cheque book, buying 12 apartments for $2.8 million for a family company. Packer advisor David Gonski and his friend and fellow lawyer Jillian Segal outlaid $4.7 million on apartments.

Where this gets interesting is the ANI debacle. Gonski was a director of ANI from 1987 to 1996 and was presumably at the 1991 board meeting which disastrously voted to buy Packer’s bleeding ABT environmental waste business, which ended up contributing to the company losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

James Packer and Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap were both at the board meeting as “observers” and presumably saw Gonski vote in favour of the move. Two weeks later Kerry Packer sold his remaining 30% stake in ANI, crystallising a $200 million profit.

Gonski self-evidently continued to deal with the Packers after this as he happily paid James Packer millions for these apartments and presumably ended up making good money on the play as Sydney’s property bubble took off.

Segal’s dealings are also interesting because she was a statutory member of ASIC from 1997-2000 and then deputy chairman from 2000-02. It would be interesting to know if she had any influence over ASIC’s decision not to take action over ANI, let alone release the 300-page report by Bob Ellicott QC in 1997, which ANI claimed it couldn’t release because of defamation problems.

There have been some interesting emails coming in about ANI and Kerry Packer more generally so keep them coming to [email protected].

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW