Flick through today’s The Australian and the reader is faced with this amusing scenario: Murdoch money is being used to buy full page ads supporting climate action as Rupert Murdoch’s paper simultaneously goes to war with the star of those ads.

The print arm of the “Say Yes” television campaign sprung to life today with full-page splashes in The Australian. The Oz even ran a front page strip right next to its critical coverage. But a quick investigation shows that the debate is being conducted for the most part well inside the confines of the Murdoch empire.

Yesterday actress Cate Blanchett was taken to task in The Sunday Telegraph under the amusing headline “Carbon Cate”, with the yarns themselves suggesting the “millionaire Hollywood actress” was a hypocrite for demanding a tax that would impact disproportionately on the poor (the Gillard government has indicated battlers will be compensated).

Millionaire Miranda Devine had some of the best lines: “Clearly Carbon Cate has no problem paying her own electricity bills, but for hard-working Australian families already buckling under the burden of soaring power, fuel and food prices, the carbon tax is a disaster,” she probed.

Devine also noted that (like James Murdoch), Blanchett owns a Prius (although hers is apparently “chauffer-driven”).

But while Blanchett and Castle legend Michael Caton have been slammed by News Ltd publications for their participation in the Say Yes campaign, another signatory — philanthropist Anne Kantor — seems to have escaped scrutiny.

Kantor, of course, is Rupert Murdoch’s sister who snagged close to a $US200 million windfall in the 1990s after Rupert bought out his three siblings.

According to Ronald Younger’s magisterial book on Keith Murdoch published in 2003, between 1991 and 1999 Rupert paid his three sisters a combined sum of $US600 million to buy back their stake in News Limited after the family company skirted close to bankruptcy. Alongside husband Milan Kantor, Anne’s been active on the progressive issues front ever since.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting. The TV and print ads are being partly-funded by the Climate Institute. The Institute was setup with $10 million provided by the Poola Charitable Foundation’s Tom Kantor fund in late 2005. Tom Kantor was Anne’s son who died suddenly in 2001 at the age of 35.

Poola is controlled by Eve Kantor — Tom’s sister — and husband Mark Wootton, who have been responsible for funding a number of eco-tinged causes including Ecotrust Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). The trust also constructed, on a commercial basis, the 60 Leicester Street headquarters of the ACF in Carlton. Wootton is the Climate Institute’s chair.

In addition to the initial $10 million, the Kantors have plunged a further $4 million into the Institute over the past six years (the commitment is believed to be about to be pared back). And in 2006, BRW estimated the couple’s total wealth at $315 million.

In 2007 Rupert, on the urging of son James, declared he wanted to give the planet the “benefit of the doubt” and committed to making the company carbon-neutral — a goal apparently achieved in January this year. Emails from inside News continue to spruik the firm’s climate change credentials.

Anne Kantor was in transit this morning and couldn’t be contacted. But the Climate Institute’s John Connor confirmed her strong belief in the goals of the campaign.

“This was an extraordinary, partisan attack that failed to get the other side of the story,” Connor said of the subsequent News Ltd coverage of Blanchett’s involvement, adding that “the full range of views will emerge this week.”

Meanwhile, questions continue to linger over the nature of yesterday’s tabloid yarns by Brenden Hills and former Australian journalist Sam Maiden. Only two dissenting voices were quoted — the Australian Family Association and renegade Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

However, a spokesperson for the Australian Council of Social Service informed Crikey this morning that Hills had rung the organisation on Friday afternoon for a comment but didn’t include a quote from them in the subsequent story.

“I made our position on climate change action clear and why we support action — he then asked me what we think of the ad by ‘a multi-millionaire actress like Cate Blanchett’ — I said this is not something we would usually comment on or enter into, but I couldn’t imagine it would be something that we would have a problem with.”

For the record, ACOSS are firm backers of people from all walks of life doing their best to agitate for a price on carbon.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey