Sydney-based spin doctor Sue Cato appears to be in a spin over conflicts of interest.

Cato is a regular guest on Deborah Cameron’s ‘Spin Doctors’ segment on ABC 702 Sydney, in which the good and great of the influence industry come together to talk about the issues of the day. Yesterday, as they kicked off a conversation about the Prime Minister’s Resources Super Profits Tax, Cato launched a strident defence of the big miners, who she thinks are crucial to the nation’s wellbeing:

“They’re a very easy punching bag … the fact is these corporations return enormous value to the wider community in employment and wider areas.

“But what I will say is that mining actually creates an enormous number of jobs for normal working Australians and yes there are people driving utes in Western Australia who are doing very nicely thank you very much…”

And then this:

“Let’s just cut to the chase here. Fact is Australia is a resource rich country. Fact, Australia has been built on the strength of these mining companies and their profitability here.

“Fact: shareholders of the miners, lots of them are Australians, so whether or not the miners are global the fact is and have shareholders and move around the world the fact is there are an enormous number of Australians who are totally reliant on these industry and when there’s uncertainly they don’t invest.”

“I’m not here to argue BHP’s case.”

At this point Anthony McClellan from AMC Media, the other spin doctor on the program, intervened: “It certainly sounds like it”.

Cato insisted she was “not here to advertise these guys,” but only last week Cato was doing just that, going into bat for Gloucester Coal in its takeover stoush with bigger rival Macarthur Coal. Cato was representing Gloucester’s independent directors who would, presumably, be taking a keen interest in the progress of the RSPT.

Cato, perhaps with the storm of controversy over her recent appearance on Q&A still ringing in her ears (she stridently defended the “Tasmanian economy” without disclosing her role as a spinner for Gunns), felt the need to say this to Cameron’s 75,000 listeners:

“Can I just say I do not have a brief for any of the miners here … so let’s be totally clear, I am not working for any miners.”

But as of last Friday, Cato was firmly in the pocket of Gloucester.

Cato told Crikey she’d “finished” her engagement with the firm, issuing her “final invoice” last week, but then said she would happily be re-employed “if they ask me.”

Macarthur’s bid for Gloucester remains open until May 27.

Cato’s counterpart at Macarthur, Alasdair Jeffrey, was in no doubt the veteran spin doctor would be “re-engaged by the company’s independent directors if both company’s boards agreed to proceed with the deal”. The Resources Super Profit Tax could prove crucial to whether that deal goes through.

On Wednesday, senior Peabody Energy executives, involved in their own takeover bid for Macarthur, were grilled on the tax, as dutifully reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Cato has been heavily involved in Peabody’s intervention. Jeffrey confirmed that if Peabody were to withdraw their offer then the Macarthur-Gloucester tie-up would ride again.

Crikey called Gloucester to clarify whether the deal was still on the table and were told we’d “have to speak to Sue Cato” for all media queries.

Cato then reacted frantically to Crikey‘s queries, dispatching independent Gloucester director (and Pacific Brands chairman) James MacKenzie to say she had “no current engagement” with the firm. Cato and MacKenzie came together last year after she was hired to calm public nerves over Pacific Brands’ Asian relocation controversy. MacKenzie also chairs developer Mirvac.

Cato also appeared to have some breaking news for Macarthur Coal shareholders: “As far as I’m concerned that transaction is over … Noble [Gloucester’s majority shareholder] has walked away.”

She claimed because the Resources Rent Tax had not emerged as an issue until Sunday — two days after she invoiced Gloucester — her statement on 702 was technically correct. However, after yesterday’s exchange, she felt the need to “disclose” the Gloucester connection in her article on the RSPT in this morning’s Business Spectator.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey