After ten years in office, the Prime Minister’s corporate mates are pretty well known. People like Bob Mansfield, former Telstra director Tony Clark, new Telstra director Geoffrey Cousins, healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay and ABC and ASX chairman Maurice Newman.

However, the name of another close Howard mate name surfaced last week in the context of the Qantas takeover.

Trevor Rowe, the head of Rothschilds in Australia, ASX director, Bond University Chancellor and chairman of the Queensland Investment Corporation, was widely reported to have agreed to join the Qantas board as an independent director if the $20 billion (including debt) private equity takeover succeeds.

Rowe has been a dab hand at walking both sides of the political street since Peter Beattie appointed him chairman of the $50 billion Queensland Investment Corp in 2001.

However, as soon as the speculation appeared in the papers, Trevor suddenly withdrew. But the media didn’t explain why, and it is being suggested his close relationship with the PM was perhaps the issue.

The barbarians behind Airline Partners Australia, primarily Texas Pacific, Macquarie Bank and David Coe’s Allco family, are trying oh so hard when it comes to keeping sweet with the conservative politicians.

For starters, Texas Pacific’s Australian boss is Ben Gray, the son of former Tasmanian Liberal Premier Robyn Gray.

The decision was taken to make Mansfield chairman of the bid team and, given his chequered corporate record, it seems his folksy attitude and closeness to the PM were the prime reasons he was chosen.

If that wasn’t enough, the bid team have persuaded Andrew Peacock to join the board and Trevor Rowe was to be the final bridge to the PM for that elusive tick of approval.

However, it might be that John Howard is starting to have second thoughts courtesy of a very nervous backbench. Perhaps he warned his mate to stay out of this one.

Or maybe there were concerns that one of the government’s Future Fund directors was associating himself with what could yet become the most notorious debt-laden buyout the Australian markets have seen.

Macquarie Bank is said to be on the nose in Canberra but John Howard has always had a soft spot for Qantas.

Peter Fray

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