You’ve got to worry about journalism in Australia when the Qantas buyout team are being lauded for their PR strategies in our national financial daily.

The AFR’s big feature in Saturday’s paper by Jennifer Hewitt and James Hall talked about Geoff Dixon’s “very clever political move” to set up a charitable trust for his own long term incentive profits and lauded the “masterful spin that softened the public reaction” to the deal, including trotting out a 96-year-old retired Qantas engineer to endorse the takeover.

Isn’t it The AFR’s job to see through the spin? It’s not a good look when Qantas chair Margaret Jackson is close to AFR publisher Michael Gill and Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker. Similarly, former AFR investment editor John Hurst is now on the Qantas buyout spin team and the man breaking much of the story, Brett Clegg, was actually working for Macquarie Bank just a few short months ago.

Someone also clearly got to News Ltd’s Terry McCrann – perhaps it was his former News Ltd colleague turned private equity spinner Mark Westfield – because he could only see good news in the takeover. Indeed, McCrann even managed to claim in The Weekend Australian that Geoff Dixon is “giving away every penny of the private equity-bestowed wealth”.

Err, what about the $1.168m of Qantas shares, options and performance rights that he’ll be selling to APA for $6.54m – booking a profit of about $3 million?

If Geoff Dixon doesn’t want to be seen to be making money out of this private equity deal then he shouldn’t have taken up his slice of the free 1% that is being offered if he does indeed at least double the $3.6 billion of equity being injected.

And what about the rest of the management team who’ll be driving through the cost cutting and customer gouging that will be needed to make the deal pay?

Finally, isn’t it time the media held bid spokesman Bob Mansfield accountable for his corporate record? Telstra blew billions on his watch, Optus almost went broke after he left, Fairfax flicked him after just a few months and when Frank Lowy merged his three Westfield vehicles in 2003, Mansfield did not make the cut.

Having an ocker accent and being mates with the PM should not be reasonable grounds for such an appointment – but sadly that is the way in John Howard’s Australia going into 2007.

Peter Fray

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