As the former publisher of Jeffed.com (check out this biggest version
we’ve just rediscovered) which alleged vast media conspiracies to go
soft on Jeff Kennett, it came as a huge surprise last week when the
former Victorian Premier launched an unprecedented attack on Rupert Murdoch.

Kennett has long been cosy with various members of the Murdoch family
and once opened a Cabinet lunch for the Sun King by asking him: “So,
Rupert, how’s your mum?”

The Herald Sun strongly backed Jeff to the very end and there
were even detailed discussions in the late 1990s about him joining News
Ltd in a well paid executive position.

Unlike Kerry Packer and PBL, News Ltd refused to hand over a six-figure
defamation settlement when the Victorian Premier went looking for a bit
of extra cash. However, when The Australian successfully defended an action in 1998-99, the Murdochs went soft on Jeff by not pursuing him for costs as was their right.

So why on earth did Jeff ring Michelle Grattan last week and unload
on Rupert, challenging the old man’s right to pontificate on domestic
politics, especially given his own grubby practices such as the News
Corp poison pill?

I’ve got three theories. Firstly, Jeff hates Peter Costello with a
passion and would far rather see John Howard stay in power, given that
they have a reasonable relationship these days. He interpreted Rupert’s
comments as backing Costello and immediately moved to counter them.

Secondly, Jeff was upset by the quite unfair attack launched by Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun last month when he was contemplating a comeback. He was expecting the full Murdoch machine to fall in behind his resurrection.

Thirdly, Jeff still holds a grudge because Rupert didn’t eulogise his
government after its shock defeat in 1999. Indeed, Jeff used exactly
the same insult that Rupert used against him shortly after leaving
office in
November 1999.

Rupert was in town for the 1999 AGM and gave a detailed interview to Finola
Burke from The Australian in which he dismissed Kennett as follows: “He
was showing a dangerous amount of hubris.”

So what did Kennett say about Rupert when he rang Michelle Grattan?

Mr Kennett told The Age Mr Murdoch would have known the ramifications
of what he had said. His comments would have been deliberate and perhaps
mischievous and were “clearly a statement of hubris”.

My old Heinemann school dictionary defines hubris as “arrogant pride
inviting nemesis” and the Macquarie says “insolent pride or
presumption”.

Sounds like they’re both right.

Peter Fray

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