Voters of Australia must beware Rupert Murdoch's master-servant relationship with Tony Abbott, writes Rodney E. Lever.
At this most critical year in Australia’s history, it is important that we understand the importance of Keith Rupert Murdoch, perhaps the country’s most famous citizen, surpassing even Nellie Melba, Charles Kingsford Smith and Don Bradman.
Murdoch visits Australia only once or twice a year but, through his media power, his tentacles reach throughout the country like a giant octopus turning up in your swimming pool.
His influence in this year’s September election outcome, carried out in the shadows, never mentioned in the mainstream press, and never giving an interview, should not be underestimated.
Many years ago, I learned what drives Rupert. It is fear. It is the kind of fear that never shows, even in his eyes, although if you mention fear, it shows sometimes in the way he averts his eyes.
Fear is part of his psyche, his soul if you like, and he hides it magnificently. It is a gut-wrenching fear of failure. It is that fear that drives his life. He must do better than his father did.
When he was a toddler, his three older sisters dressed him in girlie clothes and played with him as if he was their doll. Later, when the family took up rabbiting at their country property, he turned the tables and became a leader. His sisters would catch the rabbits their ferret drove out of the tunnels into the waiting nets.
Rupert would kill the rabbits with a sharp blow behind the ears, a skill taught to many country boys in the era of the great rabbit plague. The girls would strip off the skin and fur, leaving the meat to sell in the nearby village.
Rupert became the super salesman, pocketing the money and handing out as little as possible to his sisters — claiming that he did all the hard work.
Rupert’s mother, Elisabeth, was the daughter of Rupert Greene, a professional wool classer involved in the Little Bourke Street garment industry. He was also the official starter at the Caulfield races.
Elisabeth’s own childhood was one of severe poverty. Her father was a gambler and an inveterate loser. Her mother had to scratch whatever pennies she could put together to put food on the family table. Her stories of her family’s poverty undoubtedly influenced Rupert’s internal fears.
His own father, Keith Arthur Murdoch, was never personally rich as a newspaper editor. His finances improved when the owner of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, Theodore Fink, died in 1942 and Keith Murdoch became the manager and chairman with all the benefits of such a position, including assistance with his son’s education at Oxford University.
When Keith Murdoch died ten years later, Rupert, despite his failures at Oxford and some notorious gambling episodes at the Riviera casinos, fully expected that the company would take him on and lead eventually to him assuming his father’s role.
But the senior executives determined that they would not have Rupert at any price. On his visits to the office he was seen as a cheeky brat who issued orders as if he was the boss.
Thus was Rupert left with the family’s only asset, a one-third holding in the Adelaide News, a struggling afternoon tabloid.
[I have written in IA previously an account of his success in turning the fortunes of The News, and the beginnings of his remarkable career.]
That Rupert was able to conquer his fears at that point, and to reach out to touch the stars of international fame, is a remarkable demonstration of his inner character. Somehow, he was able to banish fears with brash determination. His will to succeed overrode whatever lurked in the background of his mind.
Everything he did from then on was achieved by the force of his own ego and ruthlessness. Thoughts of failure were banished from his mind, except for one episode in the 1980s when he overreached and almost lost everything, until influential friends in the Wall Street banking industry saved him.
How do these events in Rupert Murdoch’s life affect the Australian election?
I believe it is crucial to his current plans.
Murdoch has already secured Tony Abbott in a master-servant relationship and, along with him, all the members of the Coalition party. Abbott cannot win this election without the full force of the mainstream media behind him. He has offered nothing to the people whose votes he needs. He has no reason to, while the campaign to unsettle the Labor Party and to denigrate the prime minister has manipulated opinion polls to his advantage.
As Abbott needs Murdoch, so too does Murdoch need Abbott. What he has promised Abbott and what Abbott has promised him can only be guessed at, but no-one can be really sure of what the country will be giving away if the Coalition wins government in September.
What we do know is that Julia Gillard is fighting this battle with her back to the wall and that the Labor Party is nervous and unsettled. What we also know is that Labor’s plans are what the country really needs.
Rupert Murdoch, at 82, has already started another international venture. He is gambling. He has planned a shift in strategy that could make or break him, and them. His shareholders have handed him virtually all the money and power he needs to create a new era of newspapers and entertainment, risking all in a rapidly changing world.
For months, he has been toying with buying more newspapers in America. His heart is set on owning the New York Times. He has made overtures to papers like the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and even the Washington Post is in his sights. Add his present ownership of The Times in London, and he would own the cream of the print industry in the English-speaking world.
In Britain, he has plans to revive his existing newspapers, but needs to wait while the present government dithers over future media ownership rules following the Leveson Inquiry.
Rupert’s fallback position, should everything else fail, will be Australia where he owns practically everything already.
The question for the voters of Australia to consider in September is this: are we prepared to put our country in the hands of a geriatric power monger whose life is ebbing away while he plans his personal version for the future of our country?
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