Crikey, the first five feedback items on Friday all defended the Rudd family’s business empire and suggested it was unfair to pursue the story. Let’s start by putting one thing to bed: there’s been no contact with any Liberal Party figures – it’s all my own work.
The Rudd family business presents the major conflict but the shareholdings are becoming increasingly material as the polls put Labor in front and Rudd drives Labor’s policy development.
Take banking as an example. Australian governments have delivered banks the full regulatory gamut over the years ranging from John Howard’s green light for cartel gouging to John Curtin losing office in 1949 after proposing to nationalise them.
Banking is licensed and highly vulnerable to regulatory decisions. British Labour is taking on the banks in a major way right now and New Zealand Labour set up a new government-owned bank to keep the Aussie cartel honest.
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What will Kevin Rudd do? And can he even be involved in the discussion when his family owns almost $300,000 worth of shares in ANZ, NAB and Macquarie Bank?
Rudd can’t win no matter what he does. If he sells now and then announces a policy that hurts bank profits, he’ll have profited from inside information. If he does nothing he’ll be accused of protecting his family investments. He should have sold before becoming leader.
The key thing about conflicts of interests is to take a consistently tough line no matter who is involved. While the News Ltd press refused to even mention it, we were stridently saying it was utterly inappropriate for Tanya Costello to take a six figure job with the ANZ Bank last year.
The same goes for the PM’s son, Tim Howard, who is on six figures devising strategy at Channel Seven. The most important strategy outcome for Seven was getting Tim’s dad to change the media ownership laws. He shouldn’t have taken that job.
Sometimes I do go in too hard, such as last week’s item about The AFR’s gun reporter Brett Clegg and Macquarie Bank. Clegg is arguably Australia’s best business news breaker and he’s had a good run of scoops lately, sparking claims that he’s on a drip from his old employers at the Millionaire Factory.
Truth be known, Clegg is actually said to have quite a tense relationship with the Millionaire Factory these days because his financial markets contacts are deep and he so effective at breaking yarns – such as the Qantas buyout proposal.