Any Tabcorp shareholders who watched Morris Iemma’s victory speech on Saturday night should have sat up and taken special notice when it came to the thank-yous. There weren’t many for individuals but long-time Packer family fixer Peter Barron scored a special mention.
The NSW Right have long been known for their whatever-it-takes mentality where everyone’s a “maaaaate”, until you have to shaft them. Iemma used a touchingly pregnant pause when he spoke glowingly about Barron and then said: “Thank you… mate.”
Iemma and his political godfather Graham Richardson weren’t stupid enough to be in regular contact during the campaign. The Premier was able to say that he only had one brief 3-4 minute conversation with the alleged tax dodger after the leaders’ debate.
But Richo is still on the Packer family payroll and that doesn’t mean his influence isn’t felt through third parties. Look no further than Peter Barron, who remains one of Richo’s best mates to this day.
In between grumbling that it was none of our business, Barron yesterday said that he wasn’t presently working for PBL, Consolidated Press Holdings or any other arm of the Packer family empire.
But all that might change if the government decides to issue a second casino licence in Sydney once Tabcorp’s exclusivity arrangement at Star City expires in September this year.
Channel Nine reportedly gave Iemma a good run during the campaign while shafting Peter Debnam on a regular basis. Conspiracy theorists put this down to a Packer casino play, but such a deal would not be easy to deliver.
Kerry Packer famously pushed for the exclusive lotteries licence in NSW because he “just wanted to see if Neville Wran could deliver”.
Labor is not that cheap and easy these days. James Packer would have to work a lot harder and this would include giving Kevin Rudd a good run for the rest of the year. Kerry Packer endorsed John Howard at the last four federal elections, but such a move by James Packer would instantly doom any push for a Sydney casino licence.
The Coalition potentially has its own lever over big media companies through the still yet-to-be revealed proclamation date for the new media ownership laws. Nine and Seven’s private equity deals would have to be unscrambled if that happened because Labor opposes the laws. However, that would be a brazen piece of regulatory gamesmanship that doesn’t come naturally to Liberal governments.
If the polls stay where they are, I’m tipping James Packer will make the strategic switch.