The great scandal of corporate life. It used to be said that it was top public servants who were impossible to sack, while in the harsh world of private enterprise CEOs lost their job when things stuffed up.

Clearly, that is another of the fictions about business life, especially at Rio Tinto, where Tom Albanese is still the Chief Executive. If ever the boss of a company has presided over a disaster then it is he. Rio under Albanese wasted tens of billions of dollars buying the aluminium company Alcan for no good reason other than keeping his company out of the clutches of BHP Billiton. Then, Albanese knocked off another lot of shareholders’ wealth, also measured in tens of billions, by fighting the takeover when it nevertheless came.

Desperate for a way of saving Rio Tinto from the gurgler after these Albanese-inspired losses, the company turned to the Chinese Government-owned Chinalco as a potential saviour, only to unceremoniously dump them when market conditions improved. The price paid for this particular commercial double cross is the complete alienation of the company’s major iron ore customer. Not that Mr Albanese has to worry yet. He’s not the one languishing in a Chinese prison but surely his day of reckoning must soon come. The only reason I can see to keep him in his job is to have him available as the necessary sacrifice when peace with the Chinese if finally restored.

Receiving not paying. An interesting twist to that story of Stern Hu’s imprisonment with the report this morning out of China that part of the bribery allegations against him and the other jailed Rio Tinto executives is not that they paid bribes to those involved in the Chinese steel industry but received them. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age once again led the Australian press pack with their report that Mr Hu owned $17 million worth of villas purchased with money received from small Chinese steel producers in return for giving them larger export quotas of Rio Tinto iron ore. Will this turn out to be yet another example of Malcolm Turnbull’s over eagerness making him look like a fool? You will recall that the Opposition Leader, unlike the Government, has not waited to find out exactly what Mr Hu is alleged to have done before pronouncing that Australia should do everything but send in the gunboats to rescue the innocent men. Time will tell.

A sensible independent. South Australian independent Nick Xenophon is destined for a lengthy career in the Australian Senate. He has very cleverly resisted the temptation of becoming the Government’s Senate stooge by siding with the Coalition on enough matters to show that he really is an independent. Others less skilled as politicians would have succumbed to the power of being able to get amendments made to Labor legislation and lost their status as an independent by so doing.

Scrap the labels. When consumers are advised by a senior government minister to ignore those “best before” or “use by” labels on all those products in supermarkets you have to wonder why we have them at all. In London overnight, Hilary Benn, Britain’s Environment Secretary argued that shoppers should use their own common sense rather than taking the labels as some kind of gospel truth. The waste, said the Minister, from following the advice was enormous. I bet this is one reform we don’t see in Australia in the near future, no matter how sensible it actually is.

Peter Fray

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