In a week when the focus should have been on the annual deluge of political donations data, another cut in official interest rates to record lows, continuing bailouts of mid-sized countries and Barack Obama’s remarkable attempt to curb executive pay on Wall Street, Kevin Rudd has played a bizarre game.

There he was last night in Sydney joining with Rupert Murdoch to pay tribute to Frank Lowy. Surely the author of that essay in The Monthly should have instead been slating both of these ageing billionaires for their greed and extreme capitalism.

The Westfield founder still hasn’t adequately addressed his questionable tax haven behaviour which was explored by Four Corners last October and led to his son Peter Lowy pleading The Fifth. Given that the ATO is now having another look at Lowy’s tax affairs, it is inappropriate for the PM to be eulogising his contribution to society whilst continuing to accept cash contributions from Westfield to fund his party’s political campaigns.

Instead, surely the PM should be calling for Frank to cut his greedy $16 million annual salary, something which was debated at last year’s Westfield’s AGM. Even worse, it is Westfield which has been privately leading the charge for the establishment of Ruddbank to bail out the commercial property sector and Westfield which benefits enormously from all these cash handouts to shoppers.

No wonder Frank praised Rudd’s $42 billion spending spree in front of Malcolm Turnbull last night. The PM has also repeatedly quoted from Westfield’s February 3 update on retail sales to justify December’s $10 billion welfare handout and the plan to do another $12 billion next month.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by all this given that on Monday we learnt Lowy’s empire had made the usual $200,000-plus donation to the ALP in the 2007-08 financial year.

In today’s dollars, Lowy has slipped more than $5 million to the ALP since Bob Hawke, who also attended last night, became Prime Minister. Sadly, we haven’t even had a decent debate about it because the PM has created the mother-of-all diversions.

The Murdoch press has been surprisingly soft on Rudd’s spending spree and, not surprisingly, Rudd has been grovelling away to the Murdochs.

Rather than calling for Rupert to cut his outrageous $US28 million salary, our Kevin instead dropped in to hand-deliver a birthday card to his mum and joined Rupert to salute the equally greedy Mr Lowy last night.

News Corp has this morning revealed a $10 billion loss — the second biggest in Australian history after Rupert’s $12 billion effort in 2000-01 as this list shows.

However, none of the journalists or analysts on this morning’s 66-minute conference call bothered to ask about the $US8.4 billion in writedowns or whether Rupert would be shedding some of News Corp’s jets or cutting his $US28 million salary.

This sort of weak journalism is just sad — the PM and Rupert Murdoch should be under extreme pressure for their behaviour right now.

I let fly at the press gallery in this debate with Michelle Grattan and Lenore Taylor on Fran Kelly’s Radio National Breakfast program this morning. Hopefully, some other braver hacks will take up the fight.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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