Rupert Murdoch may have given Australian politics a wide berth at the News Corp AGM in New York last week, but the Sun King will have ample opportunity to try and influence the result when he comes Down Under in two weeks time.

Continuing a tradition started after News Corp relocated to Delaware in 2004, Rupert is hosting a shareholder information meeting in Adelaide on Tuesday, 13 November. This will also allow Rupert to attend his third successive News Awards – News Ltd’s in-house opposition to the Walkleys – which are being held in Canberra in the same week.

So, who will Rupert meet when visiting Canberra, and Australia more generally, just days before an election?

We all know he loves to back a winner and judging from The Australian’s more recent coverage, it almost looks like they have already changed sides. New Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie is also far more anti-Howard than his predecessor Peter Blunden ever was.

Meddling in politics is part of Rupert’s DNA, as we can see from a couple of exchanges at the News Corp AGM which still haven’t been reported in Australia.

The first was Rupert’s admission in the post-AGM press conference that his British newspapers had become decidedly more critical of Gordon Brown’s government in recent days. Could this have something to do with Brown’s Competition Commission releasing a recommendation on 2 October that BSkyB be forced to sell its 18% stake in ITV, thereby crystallising a $500 million loss?

Murdoch has long been close to Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair, sparking a comment at the AGM which was reported as follows in The Guardian:

Injecting a note of irony to the proceedings, Mr Mayne asked whether News Corp had considered inviting Tony Blair to join its board, pointing out that the former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar is already a director. Mr Mayne suggested the company could continue a pattern of “giving defeated leaders of the ‘coalition of the willing’ a seat on the board as a consolation prize”.

I was standing about two metres from Aznar at the time and he did not look happy. What I didn’t realise is that Rupert spent the previous evening with Blair in New York, sitting in the audience as the former British leader talked tough on Iran.

Despite any amount of lobbying from Rupert or hawks such as Dick Cheney, it is hard to imagine Gordon Brown or Kevin Rudd ever backing a pre-emptive strike on Iran given the disaster that has hit all those who followed Murdoch’s urgings to invade Iraq.

See today’s Mayne Report video on how James Packer avoids AGMs at his Crown Casino.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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