ANZ Bank is certainly attempting to mount a rearguard action to rebuild its reputation after the Opes Prime fiasco.

Despite being house banker to the Packer family — ANZ was offering an $800 million loan for the proposed privatisation of Consolidated Media Holdings — The Age was leaked the story last week about this so-called advertising ban on The Footy Show after the Sam Newman atrocity on Caroline Wilson and women more generally.

Rather than asking for ads not be run on only one Channel Nine show, ANZ would have had a bigger impact by saying they would cease to bank PBL Media unless Sam Newman was sacked, as he clearly should have been.

That said, PR issues are driving some pretty big decisions inside ANZ at the moment. Gunns was told almost a month ago that its primary banker of 13 years was not stumping up the cash for the $2 billion pulp mill.

Gunns failed to inform the market, such that it was left to green groups to reveal the decision because ANZ would have been breaching client confidentiality to make an announcement.

This is what John Gay said after the Gunns AGM last November;

“The financing of the mill is being held and dealt with by ANZ, and they have got banks around the world as part of the Gunns syndicate.”

ANZ’s decision to walk away was clearly material and the ASX should be crawling over Gunns as its shares tumbled 6% after Business Spectator broke the story last week. How on earth could Gunns CEO John Gay tell ABC radio last Thursday that he was unaware of the ANZ decision when it was apparently communicated last month?

Gunns shares only fell 5c to $2.97 in morning trade today, despite the resignation of Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, the biggest backer of the mill in recent years.

ANZ’s problems with Opes Prime certainly aren’t going away, although former CEO John McFarlane was trying to play it all down after the Westfield AGM in Sydney on Friday.

I gave McFarlane this spray about Opes and urged Westfield shareholders to vote against him. Frank Lowy hit back strongly and McFarlane came up after the meeting to complain that the comment was “out of order”.

We then engaged for about 10 minutes and he confessed to never having even heard of Opes Prime before it collapsed and also being unaware that ANZ and Merrill Lynch together dominated the security and margin lending business last year with a combined exposure of more than $5 billion to Tricom, Opes, Lift and Chimaera.

Since retiring on September 30 last year, McFarlane has chosen not to even speak to anyone at ANZ about the Opes mess and he certainly isn’t to blame for the botched way it has been handled.

His complaint about my attack was that the eventual ANZ loss will not be material, if anything at all. As a CEO he did indeed create $40 billion worth of shareholder value over 10 years.

*The Mayne Report Rich List has today cracked 1000 names.

Peter Fray

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