Will James Packer ever attend another public company annual general meeting in his life? Fair question, you would think, given the recent resignations from the Sunland, Seek and Challenger boards and all this talk of taking Crown private.

That was the question put at the end of yesterday’s Crown AGM, but we didn’t really get a definitive answer on a day when one of Australia’s richest men was speaking frankly about a range of issues.

Check out the six-page speech plus the 18 slides that accompanied them.

The man who used to like two-minute chairman addresses instead went on for half-an-hour.

Packer wanted to make two key points. The first was that shareholders in PBL when his father died in late December 2005 have made a small gain over the past four years.

In other words, the windfall from quitting Nine and ACP for more than $5 billion in 2006 exceeds the disasters from those $1.7 billion in write-off, courtesy of North American casino plays.

Unfortunately, the gain was only 4.1% and Crown and Consolidated Media have come back a bit since the figures were calculated last Wednesday.

However, the performance was certainly superior to the likes of Fairfax Media (-33.4%), Ten (-32.1%), News Corp (-26.4%) and Seven (-10.8%) over the same period.

The second key point he wanted to make was that Crown and Burswood are fundamentally different to the suburban pubs and clubs run by the likes of Woolworths. He’s clearly worried about the recent Productivity Commission report, loads of anti-gambling publicity and the effectiveness of people such as Senator Nick Xenophon, who has just succeeded in getting an anti-pokies screed sent to all Woolworths shareholders for debate at the AGM on November 26.

Packer’s claim that Crown generated $470 million in export earnings last year, courtesy of high-roller losses, is certainly a strong one, although not all those well-heeled punters are tourists.

Packer clearly hates public scrutiny and excessive media attention, especially after Four Corners, Paul Barry’s book, the attacks by Today Tonight and all the publicity around the spray given to Seven CEO David Leckie.

Yesterday’s speech was littered with references attacking recent press coverage and photographers and television crews were kept about 50 metres from the entrances to the River Room at Crown.

While most ASX100 companies webcast their AGMs these days, Packer remains in the dark ages and even had big signs near the registration desk claiming that recording devices were banned.

Thankfully, he wasn’t as bull-headed as Kerry Stokes at last year’s Seven AGM in actually confiscating recorders, so we do have a full record of what was said. The various audio highlights from both meetings are available here.

While you won’t get any sense of it in today’s media coverage, the shareholders in both companies were sadly disengaged yesterday. John Curry, from the ASA, got up twice on pay issues at Crown, but apart from that it was just me and the two boards engaging in about half-an-hour of debate over a dozen stints at the microphone.

There were numerous highlights and insights but it was particularly fun attacking Stokes’ best mate and new Consolidated Media Holdings director Peter Gammell for all those outrageous attacks on James Packer by those “low-rent slugs” from Today Tonight.

*Listen to this interview last night with Lindy Burns on 774 ABC Melbourne about the two Packer AGMs and listen to the AGM highlights here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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