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Sep 18, 2017

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Today in Media Files, Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston and Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey are in a war of words, and newspaper ad spend was down by a third last month.

Good feud guide. The Australian Financial Review‘s Rear Window columnist Joe Aston has stepped up his latest feud with Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey. Aston picked a fight with Harvey in a column last week, reporting on the business’ financial state. And Harvey responded with a particularly nasty, unchallenged attack on Sky on Wednesday night. Norman called for Aston to be “stripped and flogged”. “He should be hung [sic] or he should be stripped and flogged, the bastard. The Fin Review is supposed to be this wonderful paper with quality journalists and instead of that they have this gossip writer telling lies. He should be sacked tomorrow. He’s an absolute disgrace.”

Aston has come in for another go in today’s column:

“In his 15-minute tirade, Gerry was unable to identify a single error in our analysis of Harvey Norman’s financial wellbeing. From all of our crap, lies and bullshit, he couldn’t name one specific example, resorting only to his proprietary brand of ill-defined, diversionary outrage … The threat of Amazon isn’t even Harvey Norman’s foremost headache (yet), but its chairman’s ostentatious disregard for the Seattle behemoth is comedy gold.”

Sky News must be embarrassed by the outburst because it is impossible to find any reference to it on the channel’s website (and Sky Business’ website as well). Imagine how the Sky chattering classes would froth at their restraints if Aston had made the same comments about Gerry Harvey? — with Glenn Dyer

Front page of the day.

The revolving door. Jon Faine’s longtime producer Dan Ziffer is stepping down from the job for a new job at the ABC, starting with a few weeks with radio current affairs program AM. Ziffer has been producing ABC Melbourne’s mornings program for six years.

Newspaper ad spend down by a third. Media agency ad spending on newspapers was down by a third in August. Ad spending was down in all markets, according to the Standard Media Index released on Friday, but the biggest drop was in newspapers, where it was down 33.5% on the previous year.

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. The Block’s night. 2.14 million nationally, down 270,000 from last Sunday but still a very, very solid figure. Seven’s Little Big Shots is hanging in there with 1.84 million national viewers, thanks to a very solid 686,000 in the regions. Overall it lost around 100,000 from the week before with a lot of that coming from the metros where it averaged 1.15 million — 400,000 short of The Block with 1.54 million. Seven’s Sunday Night won with 1.64 million nationally — Nine’s 60 Minutes was left behind with 1.09 million (it started half an hour later than Sunday Night at 8.30pm, but that should not have accounted for the big difference in audience figures).

Dr Blake’s Mysteries returned to the ABC at 8.30pm with 1.13 million viewers nationally for the start of the final season. On Ten, Australian Survivor bled 58,000 viewers from the previous Sunday to average just 701,000 nationally last night. It’s not very convincing and the Sunday version of The Project is flopping — a weak 461,000 nationally for the 7pm part (half the normal weekday figure) and 389,000 for the 6.30pm start, which is only equal to a good night Monday to Friday.

In mornings, the Insiders won with 488,000 national viewers — down 30,000 or so from recent figures, but well ahead of Weekend Sunrise (444,000 and Weekend Today with 383,000). It was a comfort to have Barrie Cassidy back in the chair to give Senator Mitch Fifield a tough interview. In the regions, Little Big Shots was tops with 686,000, followed by The Block with 598,000, then Sunday Night with 572,000, followed by Seven News with 494,000 and Nine/NBN News 6.30 was fifth with 437,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website.

Tips and rumours

Jun 30, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Who will get the nod? One of the major recommendations to come from the Finkel review into Australia’s energy market was the establishment of the Energy Security Board, which would be tasked with implementing the recommendations, to report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) energy council. The board would have a number of functions, including “responsibility for the implementation of the blueprint and for providing whole-of-system oversight for energy security and reliability”. So it’s a pretty big deal. The Finkel report recommended that the board have an independent chair and deputy chair. A tipster tells us that the shortlist of names for chair won’t be much of a surprise to those familiar with the energy area. It includes recently retired chief of staff to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Drew Clarke, along with former industry minister Ian Macfarlane.

Macfarlane was Turnbull’s lead negotiator with then-minister for climate change Penny Wong when Turnbull was leading the party in support of a carbon pollution reduction scheme (and we all know how that ended). Our tipster says former Labor energy minister Martin Ferguson rounds out the list, but it is Clarke who is tipped as the leading candidate. Before his time in the PM’s office and even before his time as secretary of the department of communications, Clarke was secretary of Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, and was awarded a public service medal in 2009 for “outstanding public service in driving significant reform of the energy market”.

The COAG energy council is expected to meet next month to vote on the board appointment. We will watch with interest.

New York Times is ON IT. The New York Times‘ expansion into Australia hasn’t been without hiccups, with some believing the Times‘ approach has alienated some Australian readers. A subscriber to The New York Times found it interesting to receive this email boasting of the paper’s gongs at the Society of Publishers in Asia’s awards. It includes a mention of one of the Times‘ biggest forays into Australian news:

“These stories were not only award-winning, they also led to real-world results. Case in point: as a result of the reporting in ‘Australia’s Offshore Cruelty’ by Roger Cohen, the Australian government agreed to pay more than $50 million to those it has abused.”

While the Grey Lady’s op-ed on Australia’s offshore detention program was stirring, we’re sure the many Australian news outlets that have been campaigning on the issue for years wouldn’t feel that the government’s recent settlement with asylum seekers in Manus Island was all down to The New York Times.

To be a fly on the wall. In his column in today’s Australian Financial Review, Rear Window columnist Joe Aston noted that Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh and his predecessor, Kim Williams, were spotted having a chat at a Sydney hotel on Wednesday afternoon. After a bit of history about the duo at Foxtel and News, Aston observed that Tonagh is a Ten Network director and:

“… we doubt he’s overly happy with The Australian‘s media editor Darren ‘Lurch’ Davidson, who on Monday wrote that ‘Ten’s board may not have undertaken scenario analysis on cash-flow modelling’ before the struggling company hit the fence. The Oz has since apologised.

“Which would put PT in the right company — Kimbo sure didn’t enjoy Lurch’s post facto mission (under The Oz’s previous editor Chris Mitchell) to discredit his stint at the helm. But hey, that also puts Lurch in fine company: Williams, understandably, doesn’t like us, either.”

That’s one way to put it — Williams isn’t all that enamoured with Aston, going so far as to sue Fairfax over a column Aston had written. That ended with Fairfax paying Williams $95,000 plus costs in early 2014 after a 2013 report from Aston that incorrectly claimed Williams had stormed out of a meeting of the Sydney Opera House Trust, which he used to chair.

Were they chatting about how to take on a gossip columnist?

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

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Jun 26, 2017

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Today in Media Files, TV network Al Jazeera has been caught up in a Middle Eastern dispute, the Australian Financial Review‘s Joe Aston claims a scalp, and The Australian‘s media columnist gets his sums wrong. 

Gulf states demand Al Jazeera be shut down. The Al Jazeera network is at the centre of a Middle Eastern dispute between Qatar and an alliance of Gulf states, which are demanding the network be shut down. The Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, issued 13 demands on Friday to end a crisis that started with accusations that Qatar helps fund terrorism. The demands included shutting down the network and other Qatari-funded media outlets, closing  a Turkish military base and severing any ties with groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah.

Al Jazeera English acting managing director Giles Trendle told the network he was stunned by the demand:

“Of course there has been talk about it in the past but it is still a great shock and surprise to actually see it in writing. It’s as absurd as it would be for Germany to demand Britain close the BBC … (During the Arab Spring), Al Jazeera was covering the dreams and the aspirations of a new generation of people. We provided the platform for the voice of the man and the woman in the Arab streets. We were covering those protests and we were providing a diversity of viewpoints. We were really the voice of the voiceless. I think there are some regimes in the region that don’t appreciate that diversity of views. I think that’s the reason for what’s going on here.”

Victory for Aston. The Australian Financial Review‘s Rear Window columnist Joe Aston has finally succeeded in his quest to have CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley deposed. Malley was sacked on Friday night, with chair Jim Dickson saying the organisation needed to move on.

The campaign against Malley has been largely led by The Australian Financial Review, and, in particular, Aston. The Fin has been calling for an independent review of CPA’s governance, and forced the organisation to reveal Malley’s pay.

Only in the NT. It’s not just the NT News with a sense of humour in the Top End. Last night’s ABC News bulletin finished up the program with a story about the Mandorah Ukelele and Folk Festival, or MUFF, leading to this cheeky headline on the plasma:

ABC Adelaide brekky host quits. Breakfast radio in Adelaide will be shaken up at the end of the week when half of the popular ABC breakfast duo Matt and Dave, Matthew Abraham, steps back from the microphone. Abraham, who has presented the breakfast show with David Bevan for more than 15 years, announced he would be leaving the program on Friday. The ABC reports that Abraham will spend a year sleeping, writing and fishing. Bevan will continue to present the program solo.

The Oz‘s Ten-bashing. An attempt by News Corp’s The Australian to smear David Gordon, the chair of Ten Network (in administration), has blown up because the Oz’s media editor Darren Davidson got his figures wrong. In a story on the front page of today’s media section about Gordon selling his shares (the story has now been taken off the website), Davidson wrote:

“Ten Network chairman David Gordon sold almost all his shares in the network before the company was placed into voluntary administration, and had no backup plan should the advertising market fail to recover … Mr Gordon, appointed chairman of Ten in July 2015, offloaded 88 per cent of his shareholding in Australia’s third-placed commercial network a year after taking the helm, raising questions about his confidence in the company’s ­future ahead of administrator KordaMentha’s appointment by the board.”

Davidson’s report says Gordon had 247,5000 shares in 2015, and 29,433 in 2016.

“The greatly reduced stake will open up fresh questions about whether Mr Gordon’s interest was aligned with that of the shareholders, and loan guarantors including News Corp (publisher of The Australian) co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch and WIN ­Corporation owner Bruce Gordon, who between them had an ­almost $1 billion exposure to the company.”

That is a load of rubbish. Davidson failed to take into account the 10-for-one share consolidation on Ten shares in late 2015 and early 2016 — according to a filing with the ASX on November 26, 2015, Gordon had 247,500, boosted by the purchase of 46,825 Ten shares three days earlier.

The share consolidation then occurred and the new Ten shares started trading on January 25, 2016. On January 14, 2o16 Ten issued a statement on the consolidation. Ten’s 2015-16 annual report for the period to August 31 2016 reveals that Gordon’s stake at the start of the year was 24,750, and another 4683 shares were added to that stake, making a total at year end of 29,433. Gordon did not sell any shares, contrary to the Oz‘s story. Ten did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment. — Glenn Dyer

CNN calls in sketch artist for press briefings. CNN has responded to the White House decision to ban video recording and live audio recording of some press briefings by sending its court sketch artist to document proceedings. Bill Hennessy usually records Supreme Court hearings for the network, but was brought in for Friday’s briefing. A gallery of the images is here, and the CNN Money website has worked them into a video here (and to be honest, Sean Spicer does not look any fatter to us):

 

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. Nine won the main channels because The Voice ran for two hours until 9pm whereas House Rules ended at 8.30pm. But House Rules had 1.85 million national viewers (1.11 million in the metros and 736,000 in the regions) whereas The Voice had 1.34 million national viewers (947,000 in the metros and 397,000 in the regions). Seven’s Sunday Night ran from 8.30 to 9.30pm and won with 1.28 million while 60 Minutes started at 9pm and managed 1.07 million. That extra half hour of The Voice was enough to nudge Nine in front in the main channels — as well as a solid hour in the metros for Nine News (Seven News won nationally by a mile).

Ten’s Masterchef was squeezed once again and ended the night with 950,000 national viewers — well behind the top two.

In regional markets House Rules was tops with 736,000, followed by Seven News on 710,000, then Sunday Night with 528,000, Nine News was fourth with 461,000 and The Voice was fifth with 397,000. Seven’s night. In the mornings it was the ABC’s Insiders with 528,000 easily ahead of Seven’s Weekend Sunrise on 499,000 and Weekend Today stuck on 367,000 . Insiders featured another classic from Huw Parkinson — this time it was Theresa May and her gang that was the target. Tonight watch Four Corners and a report on the give and take (mainly take) of aged care. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Film & TV

Jun 19, 2017

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Today in Media Files, it’s feuds all around, with journalist Ginger Gorman calling out the Daily Mail for ripping off her work (again), Chris Kenny getting legal advice over a Gillian Triggs interview published by Fairfax, and former Fairfax journalist Michael West hitting back at Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston.

Good feud guide. Freelance journalist Ginger Gorman has gone for another round against the Daily Mail after it published a rewrite of her Fairfax piece over the weekend about her relationship with an online troll. Gorman’s piece told of her experience over more than a year dealing with a troll whom she’d interviewed for a story. She tweeted this morning that the Daily Mail had plagiarised her story, calling the website “slow learners”:

The Mail‘s story, published yesterday, had nothing new to add and was published under the headline,”‘I was trolling a girl who got hit by a train’: Shocking admissions of an internet troll who spends 30 HOURS a week on his sickening habit.”

Gorman has previously called out the Mail and Mamamia for ripping off a story she’d written for news.com.au about mothers who sexually abuse their sons.

Chris Kenny’s feelings hurt. In an exit interview with The Age‘s outgoing political editor Michael Gordon, Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs talked about coverage of her and the commission by The Australian during her tenure, and she had this to say about the paper’s associate editor, Chris Kenny:

“He keeps swirling the same facts over and over again and they are not true for a start — and that’s all he’s got. I’ve never met him. He’s never phoned me or made any attempt to understand anything. It’s just been a full-on attack.”

The Australian has responded today in the paper by suggesting Triggs could face legal action over the comments, with Kenny saying:

“I will seek legal advice because this sort of abuse in lieu of facts must be countered. My approaches to her office by phone and email over many months for interviews for The Australian and my television shows have been numerous and always rejected.”

Kenny sued the ABC for defamation over a Chaser sketch broadcast in 2013, where Kenny was photoshopped mounting a dog on The Hamster Decides. The case settled with an apology and cash from the ABC to Kenny.

Michael West v Joe Aston. Also stepping into the ring this morning is former Fairfax business journalist Michael West, who now runs his own business news website. West had written about Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston’s pursuit of CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley, and Aston has written this morning in his Rear Window column that West had known Malley for many years, something West has denied:

“Failing to call the subject of your insults before publishing is not just cowardice, it’s a matter of basic journalistic protocol. Journalists are required to make the phone call in order to allow their subjects to respond — and get the facts straight … A detailed rebuttal of Joe’s petty claims would be a waste of time.”

Introducing the newest NT News reporter, No Byline Please. The subs at the NT News must have checked out a bit early when putting Saturday’s sports pages to bed on Friday night. Neglecting to pick up a note from the reporter asking to not have a byline, the request was published where the reporter’s name should have been. Of course, the NT News is never one to shy away from taking the piss, tweeting on Saturday, “our new reporter no byline please is really starting to make his mark at the paper”.

The Parrot calls in from sick bed. There isn’t much that will keep 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones down. Recovering from a health scare last week that took him off air and into intensive care in hospital over the weekend, Jones called into his own show this morning (covered by colleague Chris Smith) to let listeners know that he’s on the mend and should be back on-air next week. He said he’d been “at the exit door” over the weekend, but was now feeling weak, but OK. Jones took an extended break at the end of last year following multiple operations on his back and neck.

Symons apologises for “racist” interview. ABC radio presenter Red Symons has apologised for a controversial interview with colleague Beverley Wang, in which he asked her if she was “yellow”, and asked, “what’s the deal with Asians?”. Symons opened his program on ABC Radio Melbourne this morning with an apology about the interview, which the ABC has since removed from its website:

“The plan was to take on a serious topic, race and culture, and talk with Beverley about a range of related issues. I came across as racist and I was wrong in the way I conducted the interview. This is not who I am, but I acknowledge on this occasion I caused offence and hurt, not only to Beverley but also to our listeners. I offer my sincerest apologies. We need to talk about these issues, but be careful how we consider them.”

The ABC apologised for the interview going to air in a statement on Friday, and said it would review the editorial processes around the content and its use.

Game played in heaven, ignored on earth. Rugby union might still boast it’s the game played in heaven, but in Australia it’s the game now being ignored. It was a case of netball one, AFL and rugby union nil after Saturday’s games, with viewers less interested in what are usually the more mainstream sports.

The Australian Rugby Union might be holding an emergency general meeting in Sydney tomorrow to discuss a lot of issues — the fate of CEO Bill Pulver, the fate of one or two Super Rugby teams and, of course, the loss to Scotland in a one-off test on Saturday. What should be top of the agenda (but won’t be) is the damage that the incompetence, moaning and groaning of the past year is doing to fans’ support.

More people watched the inaugural grand final of the national netball competition on Nine on Saturday night than the Rugby Wallabies v Scotland test on Ten earlier in the day (it was simulcast on Fox Sports, but this comparison is for free to air TV).

Oztam ratings issued yesterday showed 447,000 people watched the netball on Nine on the network’s main and digital channels. Oddly the pre-match figure was 505,000, so nearly 60,000 people tuned out after watching the lead-up — perhaps they were off partying on a winter’s Saturday night?

But the rugby test could only manage 274,000 national viewers on Ten. That was after a pre-match audience of just 113,000. The post-match audience leapt to 450,000 — that’s a real slap at the game and the sport when more than 200,000 supporters can’t be bothered watching the game and tune in afterwards to see the size of the loss.

And the AFL can’t crow because the netball final also had more viewers than the Swans v Richmond game on Seven and 7mate on Saturday afternoon. The Saturday night AFL game had a total of 586,000 viewers, so the netball’s figures stack up nicely. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. It was Nine’s night in the in total people and the main channels and Seven’s in the regions. The Voice has lost more ground for Nine — 1.37 million nationally last night for two hours from 7pm (the final half hour making the difference between winning and second to Seven). House Rules was the second most watched program on the night nationally with 1.84 million. But it ended at 8.30 pm and viewers went to Sunday Night which managed a decent 1.31 million nationally. Ten’s MasterChef finished well behind its rivals with 1.01 million nationally. The Voice should really have done better, being the Top 10 elimination. No one qualifies as a must watch at this stage.

In the regions House Rules topped the night with 742,000 viewers, followed by Seven News with 673,000, Nine News 6.30pm was third with 506,000 viewers, Sunday Night was fourth with 496,000 and Nine News was fifth with 460,000. The Voice could only manage 404,000 and MasterChef 278,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Business

Jun 5, 2017

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CPA CEO Alex Malley

An epic six-month solo effort by The Australian Financial Review’s enfant terrible, Joe Aston, has led to a tidal wave of disgust flowing towards CPA boss, Alex Malley. Last Friday, the AFR splashed across its front page that Malley was paid $1.79 million last year to administer CPA Australia, a membership group of accountants with only 460 staff. That’s more than three times what the Prime Minister of Australia is paid. To make matters worse, Malley’s fellow executives, Adam Awty and Jeff Hughes each took home more than $900,000 each last year. This made the CPA executive team, which employs a relatively tiny number of staff, one of the highest paid in the country.

For those who haven’t followed the CPA debauchery, here’s a brief summary of what has happened, largely driven by Aston, who probably deserves a Walkey for his continued efforts in exposing the grubby dealings of the CPA (with help from a dedicated group of CPA members who have risked legal action from the very organisation they pay to be members of).

Rather than being a senior accountant, or seasoned executive, Malley arrived at the CPA after serving as an accounting lecturer at Macquarie University (Malley’s CPA biography and his LinkedIn profile strangely omit any employment history before his current role). As Aston discovered, Malley’s academic career was shrouded in controversy after he resigned after being accused of “serious misconduct”, though he was eventually allowed to resign without any finding of wrongdoing. Malley was alleged to have directed hundreds of his students to purchase private paid modules from a website called Edextreme. The university received complaints that stated students who used the resources from Edextreme were provided bonus marks by Malley. Funnily enough, Edextreme was 50% owned by none other than Malley’s wife, Rachel Malley. Rachel Malley, perhaps conveniently, registered the business under her maiden name, Wilson.

But having little experience didn’t stop Malley from burrowing his way into the CPA, along with a cabal of like-minded bedfellows. After leaving Macquarie University in dubious circumstances, Malley somehow popped up at the Urological Society of Australia, the peak organisation for urologists in Australia and New Zealand. Funnily, the same organisation former CPA ally Tyrone Carlin is also a director of.

In 2007, Malley was appointed as the president of CPA. When he was appointed president, the CPA’s constitution was changed to increase the president’s salary by 50%. Within two years, Malley was appointed to CEO of the CPA (in a role that Aston claimed was never advertised). Who was appointed President of CPA replacing Malley? None other than Malley’s former colleague at Macquarie University, Richard Petty. Petty also happens to be chair of the CPA’s remuneration committee, which determines Malley’s salary.

Also on the CPA board is Graeme Wade, another Malley colleague who is also the chairman of the Larry Kestelman-owned National Basketball League. The CPA for some reason sponsors the NBL (and would have to be one of the only professional membership organisations that feels the need to sponsor a sporting competition).

As Malley grew comfortable in his CPA fiefdom, the money certainly flowed his way, and not just a world-bearing salary. CPA paid upwards of $35,000 an episode to Nine to exhibit a 30 minute show which involves Malley interviewing the likes of Fonzie from Happy Days and former gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. Exactly how this benefits CPA members is a mystery, but they are picking up the tab for this embarrassing piece of alleged journalism. Malley is also a best-selling author, penning a book called The Naked CEO. You may have heard of it, possibly because the CPA allegedly spent more than $170,000 per month of its members fees on billboards promoting the thing.

However, the self-promotion eventually gained the ire of a small cohort of CPA members, as well as Aston, who started questioning the operations of the organisation. As the pressure mounted, the CPA, an organisation that prides itself on corporate governance, moved its 2017 AGM to Singapore, presumably to avoid questions from pesky members. The gambit appeared to temporarily pay off, but the release of remuneration details appears to have been a bridge to far.

Last week, long-time Malley ally, Tyrone Carlin, quit his role as president of the CPA (he had only held the role since October and, before then, was a CPA director). Carlin’s role had become as untenable as Malley’s given he was paid a pro-rated $390,000 last year — an impressive achievement given Carlin is employed full time by the University of Sydney as its deputy vice-chancellor and was not permitted by the university to work more than one day a week in other roles. Assuming Carlin didn’t breach his university contract, his effective full-time equivalent salary to be president of a small, member organisation was $1.95 million — more than the chairman of virtually every Australian public company.

Being a seasoned media professional, Malley last week got on the front foot and was interviewed by the ABC’s The Business program. Defending his impressive salary, Malley told the ABC: “salaries are all based on performance first of all. They’re also based on your competitors’ size and globally how you fit the marketplace.” Yet Malley’s performance as head of the CPA has been mediocre. His major key performance indicator, membership in the organisation, has grown from only 144,000 in 2012 to 160,000 currently — basically tracking the general level of population growth (and far lower than Malley’s clearly confused claims on member growth). Meanwhile, two-year old subsidiary CPA Australia Advice (which appears to be based on the laudable aim of providing independent financial advice), has managed to lose $12 million in less than two years, while generating revenue of only $44,000. In that time, it paid staff (including Malley), $3.8 million.

While calls grow for Malley’s resignation, the actions of Malley and the CPA board (filled with luminaries like former Liberal communications minister, Richard Alston) appears to warrant an ASIC investigation as to whether any breaches of directors’ duties have occurred. The alleged actions of Malley and the CPA directors appear at best to represent a breach of their obligation to CPA members — and, at worst, to be tantamount to theft of member monies. Crikey contacted ASIC this morning to confirm whether they will investigate Malley and the CPA board for possible breaches of the Corporations Act. Greg Medcraft who publicly stood beside Malley at the launch of the money-losing CPA Australia Advice is no doubt familiar with the organisation. ASIC refused to comment on any issues surrounding the CPA.

*Adam Schwab is the author of Pigs at the Trough: Lessons from Australia’s Decade of Corporate Greed, published by John Wiley & Sons in 2010, and in 2015 was featured by the CPA’s In the Black magazine as one Australia’s “best and brightest” young business leaders

News

Apr 7, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Who’s who at Sydney Institute dinner. Apart from contributing feisty comments to Crikey stories, former FAI Insurance CEO and jailbird Rodney Adler is clearly keeping busy mingling with old mates.

As a long-time backer of Gerard Henderson, it was no surprise Adler found himself mingling with the glitterati at The Star gambling den on Thursday night along with 899 other guests at the Sydney Institute’s annual dinner.

The Australian’s Margin Call column did a good job writing up the soiree in today’s paper and scored a pearler of a picture of embattled Seven West Media legal boss Bruce McWilliam with his arm around a grumpy-looking Henderson, who had Rodney Adler and his wife, Lyndi, on the other side.

So why would Bruce McWilliam, the Prime Minister’s best mate and chief strategist in the Amber Harrison fiasco, be happy to pictured alongside someone like Adler?

Well, as Joe Aston has reported in the AFR, Bruce McWilliam met his wife, Kristy, at the Adler wedding.

The ALP recently attempted to smear Malcolm Turnbull for his role advising Rodney Adler’s FAI when it was taken over by HIH Insurance — an acquisition that contributed meaningfully to the HIH collapse.

And given the PM also recently took steps to avoid being photographed with Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner at a Swans game, the beaming Bruce McWilliam is not exactly being discreet about all these colourful connections in Sydney.

Leckie doesn’t hold back on Worner. Speaking of Seven and the current court case, the Wentworth Courier  — the paper the smart people peruse at hairdressers and nail salons in Sydney’s east — has a front-page story on Skye Leckie and her Order of Australia gong, in which she unloads on her Tim Worner, her husband David Leckie’s successor:

“She even gets stuck into Tim Worner, who replaced her husband as chief executive of Seven in 2011 and has become embroiled in a media firestorm for his affair with ex-employee, Amber Harrison. She has sympathy for Harrison and heaps scorn on Worner. ‘Did you see the ratings for the Hoges film? 800[,000].'”

Slip of the tongue. There were raised eyebrows at Melbourne’s St Kilda Town Hall last night when local identity Julian Burnside QC took the microphone to ask a question of the night’s celebrity speaker, philosophy Professor AC Grayling, at a Wheeler Centre event. Grayling had made a few disparaging references to US President Donald Trump during his speech, which perhaps explains why Burnside inadvertently addressed the visiting humanist philosopher as “Professor Trump”. We’ll let that one slide, after Burnside got a dressing down from Justice John Sackar after the QC referred to Seven West Media as “one of the country’s biggest boys’ clubs” in the case between his client Amber Harrison and the network.

Diversity in the country’s top boardroom. What to do with a former CEO is always a problem for a company board and his mates in the Business Council of Australia.

Take the current BCA head Grant King — long-time (and first) CEO of Origin Energy, which is a BCA member. He lasted many years, despite billions of dollars in asset write-downs and other losses.

So with Catherine Livingstone’s term as BCA president coming to an end last year, Grant King ended up in the role — a soft landing from his gig at Origin.

Now long-time Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder is in a similar position of retiring after a long time at the top of a major company. Goyder is stepping down later this year and is a similar headache for corporate Australia — what to do with him? The BCA push swung into action and hey presto, Goyder was named as a director of Qantas yesterday. And guess who sits at the same table as Goyder in the BCA boardroom — why, it is Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

The Qantas gig is Goydor’s second — he has already been found a home on the board of Woodside (Perth’s No. 2 blue chip after Wesfarmers). And guess who chairs Woodside? Wesfarmers’ chair, Michael Chaney, who was also a former president of the BCA a decade ago (2005-2007).

Goyder will leave Wesfarmers when he retires later this year, but the BCA connections won’t end there, with Chaney at the head of the board table, and BCA executive director Jennifer Westacott a few seats away.

Now just imagine the outrage if a senior trade union or ALP figure were to move to the board of a leading industry fund or another organisation allied to that side of politics. The faux rage would nauseating from the BCA, the Turnbull government and the shills at the various News Corp papers. Business is different, though.

APS stress. In the lead-up to the federal budget, a tipster tells us the mood is sombre among public servants, who fear they will yet again be targeted in a bid to save money:

“Word going around the public service is the government is about to start slashing jobs again. It will cost us money in the end, because the public service won’t be able to properly monitor and implement its programs. Madness.”

Know more? Drop us a line. You can stay anonymous if you wish.

Where are those promises? Is WA Labor trying to hide the promises it made before the election, now it has gained government and worked out how hard it will be to actually deliver them? If you visit the WA Labor website, you will find it free of anything relating to election commitments. Perhaps Labor would rather people couldn’t easily remind themselves exactly what those promises were. 

Yesterday, the crumbling scenery of Western Australia’s budget situation– new Premier Mark McGowan called them “the worst since the great depression” — seemed to have caught everyone in WA Labor unawares. We knew it was bad, but not this bad was the general line — indeed, Labor’s prediction of a $43 billion net debt by 2020 is worse than the $41.1 billion predicted by Treasury back in February.

The homepage offers standard options, like “about WA Labor” and “find your local Labor MP” — almost as if an election never happened at all. 

The “about” section offers the opportunity to view WA Labor’s platform, which contains only the 2015 platform document, and stresses it “outlines WA Labor’s core beliefs and policy priorities” and that it “does not contain specific election policies or commitments”. We are directed to visit party leader (and now Premier) Mark McGowan’s website for “election information” — indeed, that’s where one would find the “200 fresh ideas for WA” Labor claimed to have had during the campaign. 

However, visitors to markmcgowan.com.au are greeted by the following message:

“Thank you Western Australian! For putting your trust in a McGowan Labor Government.”

Down the page it says:

“We’re getting to work — and we’ll have a new site live soon. In the meantime, please sign up for updates by clicking on the link below.” 

Ms Tips signed up and will keep an eye whether those email updates will contain any change to Labor’s approach to, say, the $2.5 billion first stage of the Metronet project (which Labor has committed to delivering by 2023), the tough new drug laws, which would result in life sentences imposed on meth traffickers (perhaps at odds with their recent declaration that prison populations had to be thinned), or more modest policies like “medihotels“, or the freeze on TAFE fees.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Business

Feb 28, 2017

5 comments

Journalists often don’t realise the impact their stories can have, and until informed by Crikey yesterday, The Australian Financial Review’s Rear Window gossip columnist Joe Aston had no idea that he was a central player in the breakdown of relations between Seven West Media and Amber Harrison.

Seven had reached a hard-fought agreement with Harrison on the intertwined issues of her sexual relationship with CEO Tim Worner, redundancy and expenses claimed on the Seven credit card when she was executive assistant to then-Pacific Magazines CEO Nick Chan.

A second deed had been signed, progressive payments were being made and confidentiality had been observed.

But then somebody leaked sketchy elements of the affair to Aston, who produced this lead column item headlined “Chan innocent party in Seven expenses scandal” on the back page of the AFR on March 9, 2015.

The Fairfax lawyers ordered the removal all references to Harrison and the Tim Worner affair but then the following subbing blunder appeared in the last paragraph: “We attempted unsuccessfully to contact Harrison. Seven refused to comment.”

Who was this mystery person “Harrison” as the column had earlier only mentioned “a staff member” and “the employee”?

The column caused an explosion between Seven and Harrison with each blaming the other for the leak. Two years later, as evidenced by Jeff Kennett’s recent tweeting, they are still at it.

Seven’s heavy-handed response after the Aston item was to demand access to Harrison’s electronic records, and when she refused, Seven stopped making the payments. Twenty-one months later Harrison went public, and the rest is history.

Amazingly, Aston was blissfully ignorant of the fact he was such a key player until contacted by Crikey yesterday. He was not aware that his column was cited in Harrison’s affidavit material filed with the NSW Supreme Court last week, and he was curious why people kept hinting that he was some sort of central player.

However, Aston also emphatically told Crikey that neither Seven or Harrison were the source for his story. Why didn’t either of them bother to ask Aston that simple question?

OK, now that this issue has been sorted out, surely the parties can grow up and settle their outstanding proceedings before any more shareholder funds are wasted and reputational damage done. Seven has spent an estimated $2.5 million on the whole saga, and its share price is dwindling around 70c.

Meanwhile, the decision of the QBE Insurance board to disclose the relationship that its CEO John Neal had with his executive assistant is in stark contrast to the cover-up approach deployed by Seven proprietor Kerry Stokes, his obliging independent directors and Seven’s aggressive legal director Bruce McWilliam.

QBE revealed yesterday that it had cut Neal’s bonus by $550,000 because the relationship represented a conflict of interest and the CEO did not inform the board as required by company policy.

Under Australia’s transparent remuneration disclosure regime, QBE explained the bonus cut on page 71 of the annual report as follows:

“Based on the board’s assessment of the Group CEO’s performance against his balanced scorecard, an STI of $2.762 million would have been awarded. The Group CEO has had a commendable year and delivered a strong full year result for QBE. His performance is well regarded by the Board. However, both parties agree some recent personal decisions by the CEO have been inconsistent with the Board’s expectations. Therefore, the Board has decided that his 2016 STI will be reduced by 20%. Consequently, the Group CEO’s 2016 STI was adjusted to $2.21 million (or 50.2% of maximum opportunity).”

Full marks to QBE chairman Marty Becker and remuneration committee chair John Green for docking the CEO’s bonus by $550,000 and disclosing the reason in the annual report.

The CEO might be embarrassed, but the truth is out there, a message has been sent, and shareholders are in front from the decision.

Culture starts at the top and with a global insurance giant worth $17 billion this sets a standard for everyone about personal decisions, conflicts of interest and transparency. No one should be exempt from these policies, not least the CEO.

Interestingly, QBE has an 11-person board with three female directors. They will be applauded for their handling of this issue at the AGM in Sydney on May 3.

The polar opposite will happen at the Seven West Media AGM in November where there is some talk that Amber Harrison will be a candidate for the board.

Tips and rumours

Feb 20, 2017

5 comments

In a corker of a piece in Rear Window this morning, the AFR‘s Joe Aston let Treasurer Scott Morrison have both barrels over the reaction to the Australian Bankers’ Association’s appointment of former Queensland premier Anna Bligh to replace Steven Munchenberg as CEO of the bank cartel peak body. His spray included that “on Friday, Scott Morrison’s office abruptly cancelled meetings with big four executives scheduled for the coming fortnight. And the message has been delivered: Morrison’s director of communications and strategy Sasha Grebe won’t meet with Bligh.”

Morrison rushed to deny that this morning in his regular Monday chat with Ray Hadley. “I had no scheduled meetings with the banks,” Morrison averred. But Aston didn’t say Morrison had had meetings, but referred to meetings between Morrison’s office and the banks, which, as you’d expect in a Treasurer’s office, are regular occurrences. And as Aston pointed out, surely the appointment of Bligh should have been great news for Morrison, who could use it to point out that even a senior Labor figure like Bligh was now rejecting the idea of the need to hold a royal commission into the banks — how embarrassing for Labor to have one of its own attacking the case for an inquiry! Instead, we had a hyper-partisan reaction of people who so viscerally hate Labor, the red mist obscures the capacity to spot political opportunities. Maybe it was the same genius who came up with the idea of threatening the NDIS if the Senate didn’t pass the government’s welfare cuts.

Tips and rumours

Jan 27, 2017

5 comments

While we have enjoyed AFR Rear Window columnist Joe Aston’s takedowns of Miranda Devine over a perceived beef Devine has with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce due to his public advocacy for same-sex marriage, Aston’s lengthy feature on the airline in the AFR Magazine this weekend isn’t exactly going to shake up Devine’s suggestions that Aston is defending Qantas for a reason.

It appears, at least judging by the profile, that Aston was flown, on Qantas’ dime, to Japan for the purpose of seeing the new plates on which the airline will serve food. The full disclosure, including that Aston used to work for Qantas, is in there, but the next time Aston steps up to defend Joyce from another Devine attack (and we are sure one is not far away) she’ll have some decent ammunition.

News

Jan 27, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Culleton’s office packs up. In what would have otherwise been a relatively quiet day in the halls of Parliament after the Australian of the Year event the day before,”Senator” (as he calls himself, scare quotes included) Rod Culleton had his staff in Parliament House on Australia Day packing up and moving his stuff out. The name plate was removed from his office recently by Department of Parliamentary Services, and Culleton was told by DPS this week — while he fights against his bankruptcy declaration and thus his ability to stay in the Senate — that he had to clear his stuff out by yesterday or they’d chuck it out for him. It’s not clear what the rush is, given Culleton’s replacement has yet to be confirmed.

UFC fighters for Labor. “Mark is my bro,” UFC fighter Soa Palelei says in a Twitter ad endorsing WA Labor leader Mark McGowan in the upcoming state election. Politics might be a blood sport, but Palelei’s support for Labor is due to the current state Coalition government banning fight cages and preventing UFC events happening in the state. Labor last year pledged to reverse the ban, so now they’ve got the backing of UFC fighters.

Aston’s latest jaunt. While we have enjoyed AFR Rear Window columnist Joe Aston’s takedowns of Miranda Devine over a perceived beef Devine has with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce due to his public advocacy for same-sex marriage, Aston’s lengthy feature on the airline in the AFR Magazine this weekend isn’t exactly going to shake up Devine’s suggestions that Aston is defending Qantas for a reason.

It appears, at least judging by the profile, that Aston was flown, on Qantas’ dime, to Japan for the purpose of seeing the new plates on which the airline will serve food. The full disclosure, including that Aston used to work for Qantas, is in there, but the next time Aston steps up to defend Joyce from another Devine attack (and we are sure one is not far away) she’ll have some decent ammunition.

Execs on the out at Aunty. One senior executive departing doesn’t raise eyebrows, two in a week though is a clean-out, and although the departure of the ABC chief operating officer David Pendleton has been mooted for several months, the timing of his departure, coming a week after that of head of ABC TV Richard Finlayson, looks like Michelle Guthrie is clearing the decks on the executive floors of the ABC. The broadcaster said Pendleton had notified the ABC “that after 20 rewarding years he will bring his career at the national broadcaster to a close”. In a curiously worded statement, the ABC said it “acknowledges the pivotal role Mr Pendleton has played in shaping the ABC’s operational base and in its digital expansion”.

“He has provided outstanding service to a succession of ABC Boards and Managing Directors and his operational knowledge and financial expertise will be sorely missed. His input, guidance and leadership have been invaluable in managing one of the most complex media organisations in the country.”

Gurthrie and the ABC board (and the Turnbull government) have three positions at least to fill — the impending vacancy in the chairman’s role when Jim Spigelman departs and the roles of head of ABC TV (which will be replaced with a head of content) and the chief operating officer’s role. Who will be next?

Salt of the earth. In the roll call of Australians getting Australia Day honours, in addition to Julia Gillard beating Kevin Rudd to the top gong, it was interesting to see swimmer Mack Horton get one. We assume it was in compensation for all the social media hate he received from China. Plus Bernard Salt got one for services to smashed avocado.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form