Williams rings the changes inside the News bunker

Kim Williams is wasting little time in the reformation of Rupert Murdoch's Australian operations, with two senior executive changes already this week - and more rumoured to be in the wind.

Kim Williams is wasting little time in the reformation of Rupert Murdoch's Australian operations, with two senior executive changes already this week - and more rumoured to be in the wind.

In a year when News has been the news almost as often as it reports on it, the rearrangement of managers is still under way, and will flow into the new year.

On Monday, it was the turn of the chief operating officer Peter Macourt to decide it was time for last drinks at News Ltd.

Macourt, who many credit as being the man who kept Williams's predecessor, John Hartigan, on the fiscally responsible track, was potentially a rival to Williams for the chief executive's job.

"I believe now is the right time to step aside and allow a new regime to take the company into the future," was Macourt's sanctioned quote in the News press release announcing his departure. Cynical Insider reads that as an executive falling on a provided sword.

In a nice touch, there was even a tribute from the vanquished Hartigan: "Over the past 11 years no one did more to support me in my role, or more to advance the interests of News Ltd than Peter."

Insider is not certain whether that job reference from Harto was a positive or a negative in Williams's assessment of Macourt.

As Williams builds his new regime, he has brought an "outsider" into the notoriously clannish halls of News's Holt Street office in Sydney, importing Jerry Harris from Queensland to take on the new role of managing director of newspapers and digital products.

There is speculation he may be joined at head office by the Courier-Mail editor-in-chief, David Fagan, which might make Chris Mitchell at The Australian squirm, given that Fagan was his replacement in Queensland when he took the prestigious Sydney role.

The lanky red-headed Harris is himself an import from his beginnings with News Corp as a classified ads salesman at The Times in London. He defected briefly to the Packers' Australian Consolidated Press when he moved to Australia more than 20 years ago, but returned to head up advertising for The Australian.

It was Harto who sent Harris to Queensland in 2001, where he has remained until being recalled this week. He is not a cleanskin in terms of Holt Street, having worked there for a decade including as managing director of the Mirror Australian Telegraph Publications unit.

His appointment probably puts paid to suggestions that Peter Blunden, the former editor of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and now the managing director of the Victorian business, will be going to Sydney - although Insider hears he may have been at Holt Street yesterday.

The veteran News columnist Mark Day's tip this week that Col "Sink Plugger" Allan, the New York Post's finest and a long-time mate of Harto, might be returning to Sydney was a bit premature, although News sources say all will be revealed next month, which in Allan's case is a confronting thought.

Two years ago, News's January revelation was that Murdoch's son-in-law Alasdair MacLeod had outplaced himself after Harto redesigned his job.

RETIRED HURT

As usual, readers of ASX announcements are almost the last to know what is happening with a company once it slides into insolvency.

In the case of the defunct Prime Trust (motto: Experts in Retirement), it took until last night for the market to be formally informed of something that happened three weeks ago - its corporate shell is being euthanised by liquidators.

Prime Trust fell more than a year ago after a series of suspensions while it tried to renegotiate bank debts. It sold its retirement villages to try to clear the books, but the queue of unrequited unsecured unitholders is understood to have been even larger.

insider@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Related Articles