“The element of the story I found most troubling was the moral vacuum that was the hallmark of the Packer organisation under James’ father Kerry. His wealth, it seemed, entitled him to ignore all the constraints of civilised behaviour,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.
TO anyone close to the Packer dynasty, the Crown casino misbehaviour (to put it mildly) exposed by Judge Patricia Bergin comes as no surprise.
The Packer modus operandi was always bereft of the better angels in humanity’s moral lexicon. The three generations who led the dynasty had one guiding star, the acquisition of material wealth; and their favoured weapon for its attainment was the pounding fist of the bully.
I was privileged with a front-row seat to its dealings last year when I accepted an invitation to write the biography of an old friend, Trevor Kennedy, who also has a weekender at Tuross Head across the water from mine. Though I must admit that Trevor and Christina’s place is somewhat more extensive than ours. They inhabit the entirety of Horse Island, a beautifully constructed family compound within a glorious native garden, the product of Christina’s hard work and exquisite taste over almost three decades.
The biography, “Casting His Net” is now complete. It was a genuine pleasure to research and write, tempered only by the ravages that his association with Packer Inc had wrought on Trevor’s health and vigour. There’s no doubt there were occasions when he has looked back on the experience with some deep regrets. But at the time the barefoot kid from Albany at the arse end of WA who had turned a cadetship on the local rag into the editorship of “The Bulletin”, editor-in-chief of “The Women’s Weekly“ and all the other mags had made managing director of the entire Packer shebang.
However, by then he was desperate to leave and take a long, hot shower; and seek the leadership of a very different organisation, the venerable John Fairfax & Co.
And having followed the story at his Tuross and Sydney digs I can well understand why. For while he began his own climb to riches at Packer’s Consolidated Press the real money came later when he joined with the inventor of the pioneering internet company Ozemail, Sean Howard (and persuaded a young Malcolm Turnbull to take a share).
But it was the company he kept in the Packer days – notably the ratbag share trader Rene Rivkin – who would bring him to his knees in a fight with the ATO and ASIC that was only resolved years later with the payment of a very large dollop of his savings into the government’s coffers.
Those lost years provided him with an extraordinary opportunity to feed a family passion for collecting Australiana, everything from Governor Macquarie’s dinner service to rare miniature portraits of early colonial figures to every kind of parliamentary memorabilia imaginable.
And last year he donated and sold some $15 million worth of it to the National Museum of Australia…with more still to go in private sale.
But the element of the story I found most troubling was the moral vacuum that was the hallmark of the Packer organisation under James’ father Kerry.
His wealth, it seemed, entitled him to ignore all the constraints of civilised behaviour – to insult, to lie, to gratify every appetite whatever the cost to others, then to splurge it all in a dice for disaster at some exotic casino table.
James learned at his father’s feet. And the Crown saga is redolent with familial irony for he knew from experience that the “house” always wins, so he bought the casinos. But then he fell for the three-card trick of unrestrained immorality: one day your sins will find you out.
The final irony is surely the most painful, for it was his father’s own creation, the money machine called the Nine Network – and its finest flower, the “60 Minutes” program – that broke the story of shocking malfeasance finally confirmed in Judge Bergin’s findings. As the biog’s author I have to say: “You really couldn’t make that up.”