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It's all a Packer nonsense, maybe

It's all a Packer nonsense, maybe

Who, me? Macquarie's Nicholas Moore was a picture of innocence at the bank's annual meeting on Thursday, where he was confronted with James Packer's claim that MacBankers put their own interests ahead of clients.

On a proposal to float PBL Media, Packer reportedly said: "Macquarie did not give me good advice. I believe they sold for themselves," according to the book Killing Fairfax by Pamela Williams.

But Moore told shareholders in Melbourne that the report had taken him by surprise, as he had never heard any such criticism from Packer.

"I've never heard James say that at all," he said in response to a question the Australian Shareholders' Association's Stephen Mayne. "I've obviously spoken to James on a number of occasions since that transaction, so it came as a complete surprise." Pressing on, Mayne also quoted Packer as saying: "Nick Moore was desperate for me to buy Fairfax with him. He pushed me hard to look at it. I luckily dodged that bullet." But again, Moore rebuffed any suggestion that Macquarie bankers would encourage deal-making just to drum up fees. "All I can say is ... I have never heard that from James," he said.

Elected, to boot

Millionaire's factory non-executive director Michael Hawker was also interrogated by Mayne over his extensive rugby commitments (see CBD, Monday).

In addition to his corporate and charity commitments, Hawker sits on no fewer than three rugby-related boards. So how much time a week does he spend on rugby? "You could say, Stephen, not enough, given the results," chairman Kevin McCann answered, before throwing to Hawker. Hawker's response was: "I spend probably a day a week on rugby, and it's normally the weekends." Hawker was also under fire for his time as head of IAG, after leading its troubled push into Britain - a line of questioning McCann quickly shut down. Shareholders were unfussed, with Hawker re-elected in a landslide.

All the rivers lost

Slim Jim's influence was also felt at the Melbourne Press Club, where Andrew Bassat, the co-founder of the internet job ad business Packer helped fund, Seek, was holding forth over lunch.

Packer interests bought 25 per cent of Seek in 2003, in a deal that valued the company at $132 million. These days, it has a market capitalisation of $3.1 billion. Bassat revealed that Seek was a business in which at least one of the principals was initially somewhat technologically illiterate. "I actually didn't know how to use the internet when I started doing the business plan, so I felt like a bit of a fraud," he said. "Luckily, I soon learned no one else knew what they were doing either."

These days, of course, Seek and its ilk have sucked away the newspaper industry's "rivers of gold" - the lucrative classified ads that once funded journalism.

"I take no joy in it, although it didn't stop me," Bassat said. And as for journalism? "I'm hoping someone saves it."

Paper bagging

More harsh words for hacks at the trial of Opes Prime director Julian Smith on dishonesty charges.

Older readers might remember Opes Prime, a broker and stock lender that collapsed in 2008, owing $630 million. Opening the prosecution's case on Thursday in Melbourne, Greg Lyon, SC, told the jury the evidence would take them to the world of big business, equity finance and stock lending, "whatever that is".

"It's reported in a section of the paper most of us try to ignore," Lyon said, adding that in the good old days you could take out the business section "and throw it in the bin on your way to work".

The trial, before Victorian Supreme Court judge Justice Simon Whelan, continues.

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bbutler@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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