Packer v Rinehart: why James is winning

James Packer's casino plans are in many ways a much tougher ask than Gina Rinehart's Fairfax board seat goals. So why is Gina having a harder time?

The Power Index

James Packer hasn’t yet got the thumbs-up for his Sydney casino and 6-star hotel but he’s certainly doing 100 per cent better than Gina Rinehart in her attempt to control Fairfax Media.

Her latest effort – to persuade the mums and dads who hold Fairfax shares to join her crusade for change and scrap the group’s editorial charter – looks doomed as well. So why is Packer succeeding where Rinehart has failed? 

On the face of it, Packer’s task was far harder than hers. He wanted to build a huge new Sydney casino but didn’t have a licence, and was planning to steal the lunch of his competitors at The Star, who were the only people who could give him one (Unless Barry O’Farrell decided to break all the rules and award a second licence).

He also wanted to build his gaming palace on open space at Baragangaroo, in the middle of an iconic development that NSW has been fighting about for years.

It couldn’t really have been harder.

Rinehart, on the other, hand, is only after a measly two board seats at Fairfax – which needs all the help it can get – in recognition of the (now) 15 per cent of the company that she owns.

So why has it gone so well for James and so badly for Gina?

The first part of the answer has to be the way each has handled the media. After a lifetime of refusing to speak to journalists, Packer has been all over the papers like a rash, with cosy interviews about his lap-band surgery to complement his hard sell on the hotel/casino project.  

And he’s been getting a dream ride as a result. Who would not pick up the phone when Packer calls? And who would risk missing the next exclusive by being too mean about him and his plans?

No doubt, James' recently-hired Labor hardmen, Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar, have been helping to run his campaign. But even they must be amazed by its success. Just think how rich young Mr P might be if he’d realised sooner that the media can be used in this way.

Gina, on the other hand, hasn’t deigned to talk to anyone in the press, radio or TV, thereby confirming the view that she doesn’t like journalists or the business they’re in. That’s not a good look for someone who wants to be allowed to run a media company.

But maybe she’d be doing even worse if she had been doing the rounds, because she might have frightened the public still more.

And that brings us to the second key reason for her failure and Packer’s success, which is credibility. If James does get to build his new casino, you can be pretty sure he’ll make a decent job of running it, because Crown are up with the best in the world. The new high roller hotel might or might not do wonders for tourism, but it certainly wouldn’t harm it. And it would provide jobs and much-needed tax revenue for New South Wales.

It’s much less obvious what Rinehart has to offer Fairfax. She knows nothing about the media and appears to understand even less. She would also like to take Fairfax in a political direction that would alienate many (or most) of its audience. Worst of all, perhaps, she would create disruption on the board when it needs to focus on finding a way to make print media pay in the internet age.

Certainly, her track record at the Ten Network is not inspiring.

In her 20 months as a director of the TV group, she has presided over a 10 per cent fall in revenue and a two-thirds decline in profits and share price. Sure, Ten’s appalling performance is not all Gina’s fault, but what contribution has she made to this ongoing disaster, apart from getting Andrew Bolt his own show and suggesting the network ditch The Simpsons?

Clearly, whatever it was, Gina has not done enough to make a difference. Or not a positive one, at least. 

This article first appeared on The Power Index on August 7. Republished with permission.

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