The Santo Santoro share trading “scandal” isn’t particularly exciting. The Minister hung onto his stock a bit too long but wasn’t exactly in a position to dramatically change the fortunes of CBio.

The same can’t be said for Peter Costello and John Howard who have allowed family members to be paid six figure salaries by companies which are directly affected by their decisions.

We’ve commented before about Peter Costello doing nothing to rein in the bank cartel and then allowing his wife Tanya Costello to land a six figure job at ANZ – an organisation that is directly licensed by the Treasurer.

Now, just take a moment to think about the $100 million grant to wannabe La Trobe Valley energy company HRL that was announced on Monday. Kerry Stokes is a 20% shareholder in HRL who also happens to be the executive chairman of the Seven Network, which decided to hire the PM’s son Tim Howard to work on “strategy”.

Isn’t a $100 million taxpayer hand-out to a businessman who employs the Prime Minister’s son a slightly bigger “controversy” than Santo’s two-bob share investments. Did the PM participate in the HRL decision? Surely he should have left the Cabinet room.

Trying to pick winners like HRL is fraught with danger and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is livid that an alternative proposal at Stanwell power station wasn’t selected for the largesse.

The Age’s Victorian political editor Paul Austin made an interesting observation on a political panel at State Parliament last Friday when he said that politics is like a triangle, with the government, the opposition and the media forming the three points. However, you need the interest of two of those points to create a story.

Australia’s political duopoly is petrified about upsetting powerful media owners, so don’t expect Labor to bang the drum on this HRL hand out. And any commercial media outlet that had a go would open a pandora’s box of nepotism and political patronage.

Take Fairfax chairman Ron Walker as an example. When he was a major shareholder and director of Melbourne’s Crown Casino he thought it was just fine for the sons of Jeff Kennett and then Treasurer Alan Stockdale to land jobs at Crown.

While the Kennett government did all sorts of favours for Crown, it never gave the company $100 million. When asked about the PM’s supposed admiration for Fortescue Metals billionaire Andrew Forrest yesterday, a mining insider commented: “He might like him but he never got any money out of Canberra and that’s the real test.”

The PM should be subjected to some serious scrutiny on the HRL handout and his son’s job but don’t hold your breath.


 

Seven Network spinner Simon Francis writes: Almost 13 years ago, Kerry Stokes invested in a Bain & Co deal on HRL. He didn’t instigate the deal. The Bain syndicate beat out another two syndicates. At the time, Jeff Kennett was in power in Victoria (pardon the pun) and John Howard was not leader of the Opposition let alone Prime Minister. To now claim that the Prime Minister’s son is somehow linked to a government investment in “clean coal” is approaching ludicrous. Kerry Stokes’s private companies own a 20% shareholding in HRL, which has invested $130 million of private capital into developing a pilot plant to test new technology. This new technology has been shown to reduce emissions from wet brown coal by around 30% and there’s now a joint venture with the electricity authority in the Chinese province in Harbin to introduce this new technology. The technology works. Hence the government’s investment in the project after a private investment of $130 million over the past decade. Mr Stokes would like to counter the “particularly grubby deal” allegation in Monday’s Crikey with the point that it was a competitive tender against two significant bidders. He would also like to point out that at no time during the process did he speak to the Victorian or Federal Governments about his initial investment or the tender process. We suspect that private capital developing a new technology that reduces emissions from coal by 30% and a government commitment to further develop and take this technology to the world would be welcome. Not something – as Crikey would claim – you’d call grubby.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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