And the gong goes to .. Google

by | Dec 22, 2012 | Business

Illustration: Michael Mucci

The silly season is hard upon us and no reasonable reader could expect any less than to be served up one of those tawdry and tedious collections of gongs. Without further ado:


Google Australia romps away with this prize. It managed to pay $74,176 in tax on its $1 billion in revenue (or $2 billion, the accounts are a tad unclear) and should upgrade its motto instantly from ”Don’t be Evil” to ”Don’t be Good Either”.

This 0.0001 tax rate was an increase over last year, so there may have been a slippage in its Australian earnings before they became royalties paid from a Dutch subsidiary to a holding company in Bermuda. Or perhaps Google was just keen to do some non-evil, seeing as its chief executive, Nick Leeder, had exhorted Canberra to expend more taxpayer dollars on developing a ”silicon beach” in Australia – besides that $50 billion on the NBN, naturally.


This category is always a tough one. This year the Australian Electricity Regulator was hard to beat, presiding as it did over another nosebleed rise in power bills. Yet for sheer oversight the prudential regulator was unsurpassed. APRA gets the award for somehow permitting a teetering debenture company to prance about for years with the letters ”bank” in its name. In October, Banksia bit the dust owing $660 million to 15,000 hapless investors.


Our old darling Energy World Corporation is the most robust of contenders in this category, having filed to the ASX an inimitable pictorial collection. It has become de rigeur for EWC to show a surfeit of photographs in the investor updates of its chief executive, Stewart Elliott, and his trusty finance man, Brian Allen, canoodling with official looking people and standing atwixt large industrial-looking apparatus.

The one which takes the gong is this year’s AGM presentation. If you look carefully, the helicopter on which Brian and Stewart embark at the beginning of the trip to an alleged LNG terminal site has a blue tail. However, the helicopter from which they alight at the end of that journey is distinguished by a white tail.

Stewart and Brian ”depart for site”, says slide six. Stewart and Brian ”arrived at Keera site”, notes the caption on slide nine. One can only surmise that the helicopter had been repainted midair above the jungles of Papua New Guinea or Brian and Stewart have – readers please conjure up the Mission: Impossible theme song here – changed aircraft mid-flight on the way to the site.

There are still no signs of those many elusive LNG facilities for which shareholders have been pining.


Arthur Phillip has been without peer. The boutique bank had never achieved the accolades it deserved – until the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings, that is.

Such is the flair of Arthur Phillip that it brokered a deal where, with absolutely no crooked connections to the mines department whatsoever, it turned a $1 million investment into a $500 million coal asset in a few months.

Not only that, but it structured the deal so the Obeid family’s involvement in the transaction was hidden without Arthur Phillip’s bankers even knowing how it happened.


The innovation award goes to insolvency practitioners RSM Bird Cameron, who allegedly deployed Hells Angels to remove trucks and other equipment from the liquidation of Viking Trucks. A novel logistics solution indeed.


The board of Billabong strived to win this one, batting away private equity bids at $3.30 a share and later $1.45, and raising capital on the way down. Then of course there was the $1.65 billion bid for David Jones by the hitherto unknown EB Private Equity, whose principal John Edgar was found, after a 20 per cent spike in DJs shares, to be lucky to scrape together 1.65 million cents.

But those deals were never to pass. One which did was struck by our dearly beloved opposition, News Ltd, which forked out an historic P/E ratio of 127 times earnings for Alan Kohler’s Eureka and Business Spectator.

This deal by News Ltd’s man at the ABC – Kohler – was even more impressive as the very same Murdoch/ABC finance guru had issued this equally historic:


On December 19 last year: ”Correction warning IMPORTANT: I believe the conditions are in place for another major panic sell-off on the sharemarket … On Monday I will be significantly reducing my already reduced exposure to equities possibly to zero.”

Alas, it’s up 12 per cent.

Merry Christmas to all.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.

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