Print media inquiry

Part of the ABC Four Corners programme 7/4/1997 transcript

Chairman: For the Hansard record Mr Packer, could you please state your full name and the capacity in which you appear this afternoon, please.

Kerry Packer: "Kerry Francis (?) Packer. I appear here this afternoon reluctantly."

Questioning Kerry Packer can be a daunting experience.

Kerry Packer: "You are either going to have to believe me or call me a liar. I am telling you there is no arrangement. I am sick of telling people. There is no arrangement. It is the situation. There is no arrangement, there is no agreement."

The politicians who have taken Packer on have discovered it is far easier to let him have his way.

Kerry Packer: "The laws get twisted and changed, the whole structure gets moved around depending on whether they like the colour of your eyes or not."

Packerís unique powers of political persuasion are currently being used on a new target.

Kerry Packer: "I have every right as every Australian citizen to go and buy Fairfax and such. Now there is nothing that any of you can do about that."

Or more precisely, a target his family has had in its sight for years. The Fairfax newspapers group is a lucrative asset. Its classified advertisements known as the rivers of gold, with revenues of over a billion dollars a year.

Packerís goal is now a step closer since the sale by the Canadian publisher Conrad Black of his stake in Fairfax to the New Zealand investment firm BIL. This aroused passions at a Fairfax general meeting last month because BIL is seen as a short-term investor.

Fairfax investor voice: "I also do not want Packerís company swallowing our Fairfax company."

BIL chairman has confirmed he is prepared to consider Packerís proposal for a merger.

Rodney Price (chairman, BIL):" Well, weíll consider it, that doesnít mean we are interested in it or it favourable, as far as we are concerned. I mean, we would definitely look at it."

In order to take control of Fairfax, Packer needs the Federal government to change the media ownership rules. Few governments have been willing to say no to Kerry Packer.

Senator Chris Schacht: "I suppose everyone is fearful that one day, if you told Kerry Packer to go jump, you might end up as a bad story in the newspapers. As a result, you might end up with an antagonistic story. Thatís a natural function of human nature, I suppose. And no politician wants to see a bad story written about themselves, or against their government or their party."

Malcom Fraser (Former Prime Minister) 27 October 1991: "Do you want Packer to control it?"

Crowd: "No!"

The Packers have been fighting the battle for Fairfax on and off for years. When Packer joined the Canadian Conrad Blackís consortium in 1991, there was a huge outcry.

Malcom Fraser: "If nothing happens, we, the ordinary voters of Australia will know how intimidated the Parliament has already become."

Former Prime Minister Malcom Fraser warned that Australia was at danger from a power great enough to threaten the supremacy of Parliament. Packer was forced to withdraw. But six years on, things have changed. New political alliances have been formed. Before the last election, the Packers switched their allegiance from Federal Labor to the Liberals under John Howard.

Kerry Packer 16 February 1995: "I think he is a decent man, I think he is an honest man and I think he is a man who has seen the mistakes made and I donít think will make them again."

On the same day as this endorsement, John Howard declared his support for dumping the cross-media ownership rules which in their current form stop Packer from controlling Fairfax for as long as he owns Channel Nine. The Government later called an inquiry to review the rules.

Senator Chris Schacht: "I have to say all the public comments made by the Prime Minister, to some extent by the treasurer and also by the Minister for communications, all indicate sympathy for Mr Packerís view that cross-ownership rules should go, but there should not be any increase in foreign ownership rules to allow more foreign ownership, which does enhance Mr Packerís ability to be about the only major player in Australia with the skills and so on to move in and buy Fairfax."

Return To Main Menu