At the beginning of the month the PR campaign kicked off with front page coverage in the Weekend Australian and a comprehensive profile in the paper’s color magazine. Richard Pratt would cop it on the chin and make admissions in the case that alleged price fixing between his Visy empire and competitors Amcor.

The result, pending the deliberations of the Federal Court, will probably be a fine nudging $40 million, for an offence tipped to have netted the cardboard billionaire something like $700 million. So a good day’s work all round.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel argued that offences of this type should attract a criminal penalty, being a “form of theft and little different from classes of corporate crime that already attract criminal sentences”.

It seems that the majority of Australian agree.

A special Roy Morgan Poll conducted on the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday this week found that 66% of all Australians consider that ”price fixing should be a criminal offence with jail penalties”. It only gets worse from there for Mr Pratt.

”If price fixing were a criminal offence, should Mr Pratt be sent to jail or not?”, the 690 respondents were asked. 71% said yes.

The PR campaign has been shredded as comprehensively as one of Mr Pratt’s own recycled products. 

After The Australian ‘s package other commentators rounded. Malcolm Maiden pulled no punches in Fairfax:

Visy is guilty of stupidity as well as breaches of the law. And the laws that were broken are not inconsequential: cartels are a cancer in the capitalist system, which stands or falls on the concept of fair competition.

Terry McCrann was blunt in News Limited tabloids:

The public Amcor company and the very private Dick Pratt Visy company conspired to rip-off every single Australian. All 21 million of us, year after year. To the tune of some hundreds of millions of very real dollars. 

All of which leaves Prime Minister John Howard and an increasingly lone voice.

I have found Mr Pratt to be a generous Australian. He’s been very successful in business and my own dealings with him have always been very positive. And I like him.

One that it now seems is out of step with 70% of his fellow, box buying, Australians.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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