(Image: Alan Levine)

Why is it that often the contenders for the Bosses Behaving Badly in a Pandemic Award have form in other dubious areas?

Take this week’s public enemy number one, Jim Penman of Jim’s Mowing, who caused widespread outrage after a television interview where he encouraged his franchisees to keep working in Victoria despite the lockdown. He even offered to pay the fines of mowers caught flouting the rules.

“It is a ridiculous measure that has caused misery to tens of thousands of Victorians,” he said without irony, given the misery of catching COVID-19 for millions more.

Premier Daniel Andrews quickly swatted him down, warning mowers are not essential. But Penman’s unlikely to disappear given his controversial background.

You see Jim’s expertise goes beyond cutting grass — lucrative as that is for him. He spends his millions in the bizarre pursuit of the “science” of epigenetics which believes in altering people’s behaviour by altering their actual genes.

He has admitted in previous interviews to conducting experiments on rats and guinea pigs to induce hormonal change.

In Sydney, we had a similar situation with the pushy owner of the garish Le Montage function centre in Western Sydney, Sal Navarra, who told Network Ten last month that he would not be abiding by new rules to reduce crowd numbers.

He too has priors. He made a similar threat on Sky News back in June during the first round of restrictions, vowing to host as many guests as he wanted because he “didn’t want to deal with angry brides anymore”.

Presumably dealing with sick customers is easier.

And it’s not just men behaving badly. Beauty influencer Kristin Fisher of Sydney’s upmarket Double Bay dared authorities to shut down her eyebrow salon to the stars over her disgust at being treated differently to hair salons. Eyebrows raised but no arrest so far.

Since then we’ve seen a few more people gaining attention, including Melbourne lawyer Juan Martinez — managing partner of the giant HWL Ebsworth legal — who encouraged staff to return work rather than work from home, only to record six COVID-19 cases in a “key outbreak”.

Martinez is clearly not one to back down. Last week he filed an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission about an AFR headline that punned on his name, claiming it offended, insulted and humiliated him, based on his Spanish heritage.

Hurt feelings obviously a priority even when your staff are actually hurting from COVID-19.

Penman and the more recent names join a growing list of business people putting self interest before the national interest since the pandemic began in March, as outlined in my Crikey column back in April.

So what of my first batch of Businessmen Behaving Badly?

Well, there is the selfish billionaire retailer Solly Lew who very publicly rushed to close shops and stop paying rent to his landlords at the outset of the crisis.

Lew is unpopular with many in the business community over his stance but is still obviously beloved by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who continues to consult him. Only this week Lew was once again handing out gratuitous advice to the government on economic policy.

Then there was Twiggy Forrest, who became a pariah in April over his close China links when he blindsided the federal health minister to do a bit of PR with the Chinese consulate-general.

This week ABC Chair Ita Buttrose made a captains pick to give him the prestigious role of delivering the annual Boyer Lectures.

Picking the controversial capitalist, whose wealth topped $20 billion only last week, will not just upset the lefties but plenty from the right who are angered by his constant spruiking for China. 

Good old Sky staple Gerry Harvey, who was criticised back in March when he boasted to 60 Minutes that he was making plenty of profits off the pandemic, looks positively benign given what his corporate counterparts have been doing since.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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