Michael Pascoe writes:

There’s a more famous Good Friday agreement
than the one done by Toll and Patrick, but both brought degrees of peace to
kinds of war. And just like the Irish
troubles, the Australian transport shake-out isn’t all over with this one deal.

So much attention has been focused on the
Toll v Patrick battle and Paul Little v Chris Corrigan personalities, the
bigger questions of what happens next have been overlooked until now.

Just part of it is in the opening par by
Matthew Stevens in The Oz, quoting Linfox chairman Peter Fox: “Qantas can’t take over Virgin, but Toll
has been allowed to take over Patrick. What Graeme Samuel has allowed to happen
is for a player to emerge that is literally the closest thing to a monopoly you
have ever seen.”

There remains a lot of disquiet in the transport
industry about not just what Samuel agreed to, but how it was finally done as
well. Expect some rear-guard actions from assorted truckers and freight
forwarders.

There’s half of Pacific National to be
sold, with the ACCC curiously hoping for some investment bank to be the buyer,
and Toll’s control of Virgin Blue to be
sorted – will they let Dick Branson back in the game and at what price?

But the biggest question is simply whether
Toll paid too much for Patrick once it does enough to keep the ACCC happy. The
problem for a dog chasing a car is always what the hell to do if it’s actually
caught.

At the back of some folks’ minds is the
suspicion that Corrigan wouldn’t agree to sell unless he believed he was
getting a bit more than Patrick was worth. The test for Paul Little – after a
long series of smaller acquisitions – is to show how anything less than
extracting some monopoly rent will justify the price.

Peter Fray

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