Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

How ABA tried to hang Kerry Packer

By David Flint - posted Tuesday, 3 January 2006

When the 1991 parliamentary committee into the print media subpoenaed Kerry Packer, which proved to be one of the great theatrical events of the decade, I had the good fortune to be in the front row of the committee room.

As chairman of the Australian Press Council, I was called to give evidence that morning. Forgoing lunch, I remained in my seat for what I suspected was going to be, if not informative, at least entertaining. Earlier, when I arrived in Canberra, I was told the committee was meeting in camera and there would be a delay. I heard later that the ABC had asked permission to televise the hearing, a rare event then. I suspected that the committee would regret its decision. The nation was able to see how the committee reacted to Packer.

And that was remarkable. From the moment he entered the room, the members did not seem to be the same committee. The high point was when Jeannette McHugh asked a question relating to an alleged warehousing of shares to evade the foreign investment restrictions. Packer exploded, citing the Costigan royal commission. McHugh replied, abjectly: "I'm sorry, Mr Packer."


The most amusing moment was when Ian Sinclair, who seemed the least affected by Packer's presence, served himself a cup of tea. Packer boomed: "Hey! That bloke's getting a cup of tea; don't I get one?"

Several underlings and MPs rushed to serve him.

Having told the committee that of course he did what any sensible person did, paid no more tax than he had to - after all, "you" only wasted it - talkback radio the next day was inundated with calls proposing Packer be PM.

Now it is sometimes said that Packer improperly interfered with editorial decisions. I was on the press council for 15 years and never once did I hear of an allegation of improper proprietorial interference at the Packer (or indeed the Murdoch) groups. If there had been a scandal, surely it would have leaked. Wouldn't a disgruntled journalist have gone to a competitor or the ABC?

Later, when I was at the Australian Broadcasting Authority, the most important matter concerning Packer that came before us was when his chief executive Brian Powers left to return to the US, but also to act as chairman of Fairfax.

In the middle of a media controversy over the move, the ABA board decided to investigate whether this breached the cross-media rules. (Although commercial television was introduced by newspaper proprietors, Paul Keating decided to ban them owning both forms of media when national networking was allowed.)


To find a breach, the ABA had to make two findings of fact: first, that Powers was an associate of Packer; and, second, that Powers was in control of Fairfax. The evidence indicated a friendship between Packer and Powers, a diminishing business relationship, but nothing to show they were acting in concert in the conduct of the affairs of Fairfax. Packer proved to be a tough, straight-talking but truthful witness. Not surprisingly, he delivered the coup de grace to the case against him. Referring to Fred Hilmer, who he said had never run a newspaper, he boomed: "Do you really think that if I were running Fairfax I would have appointed that bloke?"

But, when we discussed the case, a board member raised a provision in our legislation that allowed members to rely on their own knowledge and experience. I had thought this was inserted to guide us in making policy decisions. He said: "These people meet one another, they play golf together. That is where they make their decisions. There are two camps in Sydney, Packer and Murdoch.

You are in one camp or the other, and Powers is in the Packer camp."

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Australian on December 29, 2005.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

9 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Flint

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of David Flint
Article Tools
Comment 9 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy