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Business

Quentin Beresford, an adjunct professor in politics at Sunshine Coast University, has written and edited about a dozen books, including the excellent Wounded Country (2021), which dealt with the failure of water policy in the Murray-Darling Basin. His latest offering explores thirteen ‘business scandals’ in Australia. Beresford’s definition of a scandal is selective and eclectic. The scope of the book extends to corporate collapses but also to wage theft, climate-change denial, occupational health and safety failures, and the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites.

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Nearly everyone in Australia has a story about bad airline service, and many of those stories involve Qantas, whose ‘mishandled bag rate’ recently doubled and flight cancellations tripled. The formerly smooth and efficient Sydney-Melbourne run is now a dispiriting ordeal.

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‘The very rich are different from you and me’, F. Scott Fitzgerald thought; and so he told Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, who came back with a deflating reply, ‘Yes, they have more money’, boasted that he had won that little exchange. Yet Fitzgerald was right; and he proved it in The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. In the American novel more generally, money creates and defines character; as it does in Theodore Dreiser’s The Titan or Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. Destructive though it may be in these novels, the making of a fortune is an expression of power and a source of drama.

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One of the three central protagonists of Neil Chenoweth’s book, Graham Richardson, famously titled his autobiography Whatever It Takes (1994). Despite the title’s hints at candour, Richardson’s book eluded all but the most passing references to Kerry Packer. As Chenoweth points out in his alarming new book, this, from the man John Button had dubbed the Minister for Kerry Packer, represented storytelling at its most elliptical. More than Richardson’s book, Chenoweth presents the tale of Whatever it Took. It is not an edifying spectacle.

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When Richard Florida, the peripatetic celebrity academic from George Mason University, was in Australia to promote The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), he described Sydney as one of a dynamic new generation of cities that is attracting global talent. The following year, as a guest of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, he included Melbourne with Helsinki, Stockholm and Minneapolis–St Paul as models of creative and inclusive societies. On a later visit to New Zealand, he observed that the Lord of the Rings movies catalysed a new technology and entertainment industry for Wellington, earning it the reputation as a creative city. Is there a pattern here?

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The last institution of old Collingwood, the Collingwood Football Club, is poised to take flight from yuppified terraces in the former industrial suburb or new headquarters, on the site of what was once John Wren’s motordrome, Olympic Park. Now is a perfect moment in which to read this intriguing story of the one-time patron of Collingwood’s football, politics and gambling – Its masculine working-class culture, more or less. Published fifty-one years after Wren’s death, will Griffin’s biography finally allow the ghosts – not of Collingwood, but of its fictional shadow, the Carringbush of Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory (1950) – to rest? Probably not.

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Bad Company by Gideon Haigh & The Big End of Town by Grant Fleming, David Merrett and Simon Ville

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April 2004, no. 260

There is something uncommonly beguiling about a business writer who can insouciantly intersperse his argument with references to Eugene O’Neill and T.S. Eliot. Gideon Haigh is such a man, and the tale he has to tell is wonderfully seasoned by his intelligence and literacy. But that does not make its logic compelling.

Bad Company displays an almost tabloid preoccupation with the excesses of certain charismatic CEOs: particularly, in the local context, Ray Williams of HIH and the Wizards of One. Tel. But to suggest that these fallen idols are typical Australian CEOs is like describing Helen Darville as one of our typical novelists, or Ern Malley as a typical poet.

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New Faces of Leadership by Amanda Sinclair and Valerie Wilson & Executive Material by Richard Walsh

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April 2003, no. 250

Big business is a kind of communism. Employees in their vertical villages banter this truth, checking over their shoulders for fear an office spy is eavesdropping. It is a communism that aims for the inequitable distribution of wealth, just as traditional communism aims for the inequitable distribution of poverty. It is the People’s Republic of Capitalism (PRC). Its languages are Bluff and Spin and Acronym. It is always ‘strong and growing’; always ‘resilient and facing up to new challenges’, with the CEO pursuing higher EBIT and better KPIs before the all-important IPO. It is active in funding charities and the arts.

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