BHP’s corporate development manager Tom Harley has egg all over his
face today as his silly coded memos about wax donations to Italy
were splashed
across the nation’s papers as Terence Cole turns his attention to BHP’s
ham-fisted grab for a slice of Iraq’s oil riches whilst Saddam Hussein
was still in power.

So who is Tom Harley and where did he come from? For some reason the
media have yet to focus on his deep connections with the Liberal Party
because Harley is in fact the great grandson of Alfred Deakin and is
one of the Trustees of the Alfred Deakin Lecture Trust.

Indeed, Deakin’s Wikipedia entry concludes as follows: “His descendants
are still active in Melbourne political and business circles, and he is
regarded as a founding father by the modern Liberal Party.”

That’s a reference to the cigar and pipe smoking Tom, who has been
lunching regularly at the Melbourne Club ever since he first joined BHP
in 1984. Tom was prominent in the Young Liberals during the 1970s with Michael
Kroger and Peter Costello and David Kemp appointed him as chairman of
the Australian Heritage Commission in 2001. Check out this December
2003 speech by the PM which points to the role Harley was to play in the so-called culture wars.

He also has deep connections with the media, which might perhaps
explain the reluctance of some outlets to do him over. When Fairfax
went into receivership, Tom was one of the founders of the AIM tilt at
the company, which was not favoured by Bob Hawke or Paul Keating
because it was “the Melbourne establishment bid”.

I well remember taking a call from him about 15 years ago when he
argued that institutions would back the AIM consortium because they
were still angry with how Kerry Packer had ripped them off in the 1982
privatisation of PBL.

Many heavyweight journalists such as AFR publisher Michael Gill and The Age’s
business columnist Stephen Bartholomeusz are close to Tom and his
political connections, particularly with Liberal moderates such as
Robert Hill, are also very tight.

Whilst clearly not a member of Bruce Teele’s cultish Fellowship, Harley
is at the very heart of Melbourne’s establishment and its liberal
heritage, all of which should be pointed out as he gets dragged through
the Cole inquiry.

Peter Fray

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