||Issue No. 147||09 August 2002|
A Call to Action
Interview: Save Our Souls
Unions: Rats With Wings
Bad Boss: If The Boot Fits
History: Political Bower Birds
International: No More Business as Usual
Corporate: The Seven Deadly Sins of Capitalism
Review: Prepare To Bend
Satire: Bush Boosts Sharemarket Confidence: Shares his Cocaine Stash
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Week in Review
Filfthy Rich and Claptrap
By Jim Marr
Paul Keating's biographer calls it the end of liberalism but, really, we're in the era of applied bastardry as Lachlan Murdoch and Ray Williams testify in separate but simultaneous court appearances.
These are the men who set the tone, the standards, which Government and the media try to impose on the rest of us.
Scion of a scion, Murdoch, is mightily pissed about One.Tel going to the commercial grave along with hundreds of millions of News Ltd dollars but, on a principle, he stoutly defends the avarice of those who lost his loot.
Just weeks after News Ltd insisted that vulnerable clerical workers leave the protection of a collective agreement for miserable AWAs, its chief executive says his company was happy to see Jodee Rich and Brad Keeling paid $15 million bonuses.
Murdoch, a member of the One.Tel board, said he hadn't asked whether the payments had been approved by shareholders, nor had he wanted to know how they were treated for accounting purposes. It has since transpired they were hidden in the company accounts.
Murdoch was asked whther he considered it "greedy" or "unreasonable" for Rich and Keeling to receive the $15 million bonuses, on top of six figure salares.
He said he did not, and that really is the nub of the issue.
Raised in the US, with a silver spoon in his mouth and wealth and power at his fingertips, he clearly has a different understanding of the word "greedy" than the vast majority of Australians.
Unfortunately, in the space of a few short years, it is the Murdoch/Williams view of public morality which has gained ascendancy. Not least because outfits like the Labor Party and Democrats are terrified of falling foul of the rich and increasingly powerful. It's the sort of policy/principle/gumption vacuum that gives oxygen to the likes of One Nation.
While Little Lachie was defending his big business brothers in the Federal Court, Williams was telling the HIH Royal Commission how the other one hundredth live. And, in truth, they have a great deal in common.
In the final year before HIH sunk in a lake of red ink, leaving insurers and investors marooned, Williams spent $2.4 million on corporate entertainment and $4.6 million on executive bonuses.
The Royal Commission - no, not the one bagging building workers for negotiating $2 an hour site allowances, stupid - heard that in 2000, alone, the insurer's four most senior executives spent $30 million on "discretionary" matters.
Discretionary spending was undoubtedly one of Williams' strong points. In one three-week period he managed to chomp his way through $9000 on dinners at three up-market nosheries.
He had a lavish marble bathroom, with spa and gold taps, installed in his Melbourne office, way back in 1981.
When one of Ray's favourites, accountant Stuart Korchinski, left the company Williams tossed an additional $75,000 into his payout to bring it up to $910,000. Korchinski had previously benefited from a $158,000 bonus and the company writing off a quarter million housing loan. Oh, and when he shot through, HIH sold him the SAAB convertible he had become attached to for $1000.
But, as the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, in the end, the man Williams was kindest to was Ray Williams.
In March, 1998, he was granted a 17 percent wage hike to take his annual "earnings" beyond the million dollar mark.. In that year, staff received no wage increase at all.
In 2000, when Williams' base earn hit $1.12 million, there were no staff bonuses, but that didn't stop him and his fellow executives showering themselves with extras.
The Murdochs, Keelings, Richs and Williams give the term bonus a whole new meaning.. In the eight months before HIH collapsed, owing $5.3 billion, management bonuses controlled by Williams amounted to $7.3 million.
Prime Minister John Howard tells a Sydney business lunch that Australian corporate behaviour is essentially healthy and ethical. For that reason, he says, the Government will not intervene to ensure more acceptable standards are adhered to.
Howard concedes that corporate governance is on the minds of country men and women but argues it is "not as important as the monthly mortgage bill or the Commonwealth Games".
Meanwhile, his Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, tells Australian seamen they are overpaid and under-worked. Abbott applauds ANL's decision to seek damages against maritime workers opposed to having their jobs sold to cheap foreign crews.
Abbott also suggests he knows the outcome of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, hinting at legislative moves to try and weaken the bargaining power of the CFMEU.
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