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Howard And Beazley Pay Tribute To Packer

Kerry Packer was a “great Australian”, the Prime Minister, John Howard, said today.

PackerHoward wasted no time in holding a media conference at Kirribilli House, Sydney, this morning, just hours after Channel 9 broke the news that the station’s owner, Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer, had died, aged 68.

Packer was a loyal friend, the Prime Minister said.

Howard said the cliches “great Australian” and “larger than life character” were appropriate descriptions of Packer. He paid tribute to the media proprietor’s business acumen, citing Packer’s sale of the Nine network to Alan Bond in the 1980s. Packer subsequently bought Nine back at a fraction of the price. Bond went broke. Packer famously said “an Alan Bond only comes along once in life”.

The Prime Minister twice referred approvingly to Packer’s appearance before the Federal Parliamentary Print Media Inquiry in 1991.

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley also paid tribute to Packer, describing him as a “tough Australian nationalist who produced great innovations in the Australian media” and as the man “who brought just recompense” for Australian cricketers.

  • Listen to Richard Wilkins announce Packer’s death on Channel 9’s Today show (1m)
  • Listen to Howard’s media conference in Sydney (12m)
  • Listen to Beazley comment on Packer (1m)

Transcript of John Howard’s media conference in Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentleman I have called this news conference this morning to express my sorrow at the death of Kerry Packer. I have spoken to Mrs Ros Packer this morning to personally convey to her, to her daughter Gretel and son James my sympathies, that of my wife and, I know, the members of the Government.

Many things will be said about Kerry Packer and at a time like this there is a tendency sometimes to throw clichés around. Remarks such as ‘great Australian’, ‘larger than life’ are sometimes used where they are not appropriate. But in the case of Kerry Packer both of those descriptions are entirely appropriate. He was a great Australian, he was a larger than life character and in so many ways he left his mark on the Australian community over a very long career in business, particularly in the media and also that other great passion of his, Australian sport.

It is fair to say that he was one of the dominant figures, if not the dominant Australian figure of the media scene in this country for more than a generation. But of all the impressions he left with me, none was greater, or more indelible than his passionate commitment to the interests of Australia and the interests of the Australian people. In all of the many conversations I had with him over the years, he was always concerned about what was right for this country. And the last one on one personal discussion we had at his home some two months ago, he was full of ideas for the future of Australia and ways in which this could be made a better country.

His business skills were legendary and I think when the annals of Australian business are being compiled no story will be more remarkable than, of course, his sale and subsequent reacquisition of the Nine Network. His devotion to and passion for sport was quite remarkable and I am sure that he himself would find some symbolism about his death occurring in the middle of a Boxing Day Test. His actions in relation to World Series Cricket transformed that game, initially very controversial, initially heavily criticised but in the fullness of time the advent of one day cricket has not only won millions of additional adherents to the game but also transformed the traditional Test match game itself. His love of horse racing and his passion for polo and other sports is also very well known.

He is a person whose company I liked. I regarded him as a friend. He was a person who was intensely loyal to those who he regarded as his friends and with whom he had a very long association. He was colourful. He battled ill health for very long periods of time. He was frequently described as Australia’s richest man. He was a very generous philanthropic person and I know for a fact that many of his kindest and most generous and charitable deeds went unreported, unpublished, which is precisely how he wished it to be.

I want on behalf again of myself, my wife Janette and all of the members of the Australian Government to express to Ros, to whom I spoke this morning, my deepest sympathy and to pay tribute to a remarkable Australian character, a remarkable Australian life. A person, who had a great capacity despite his wealth and his business power, had a great capacity to talk the language of the common man and to understand what that person thought. And I think in that context many of us will remember his bravura performance before a parliamentary committee back in the early 1990s when he was cross-examined by Members of Parliament from both sides and that particular performance was a reminder to many of his capacity to put himself in the place of the average Australian. It was a great quality and a quality that I think for which he will be very, very long remembered. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you describe him as larger than life. That is probably just one example you have brought up. Can you think of any other examples where the character of the man, not just the businessman but the character of Kerry Packer, that he was a larger than life Australian?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think his extraordinary capacity to survive the business ups and downs of the 1980s and to emerge from that remarkable decade and circumstances of and the way he described the circumstances of his sale and reacquisition of the Nine Network is a great example of his larger than life character. His contribution in the fullness of time is now recognised as being very beneficial to cricket. There were many at the time who wondered, but, there are now people who recognise that just the way in which one day cricket has transformed the game, it has brought new people to it, it has also, I believe, given all Test players new skills and it has enlivened Test cricket and it would be one of his very significant legacies.

JOURNALIST:

Did you wonder yourself at the time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as a traditionalist I wondered too, of course, like many others. But I, in the fullness of time, I did not have grounds for that scepticism.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, is this a loss for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a very big loss for Australia because he was a passionate believer in this country. I was always struck when I spoke to him that he was full of ideas about what should be done to make this a better country and that was something that always made him a very attractive person. Sure he was an influential businessman, he believed in looking after his own interests. He made no apologies for doing that. He wouldn’t want to have been thought doing otherwise. But always there was a concern about Australia and he was a passionate believer in this country’s decency and worth and always wanting to do something to better it.

JOURNALIST:

How did you find out Prime Minister, about the death?

PRIME MINISTER:

I learnt early this morning, I was rung by a, how can I put it, a mutual friend who let me know. And I spoke to Mrs Packer shortly afterwards.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that this will change the face of the media?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that will remain to be seen, I don’t know. It is not really a time to talk about that. It is a time to pay tribute to the wonderful things he has done for this country and the extraordinary contribution he has made and the impact that he has had on the lives of many people.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that Australia will ever see his like?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think that a character quite like that, no. All nations produce great characters but in my lifetime he has certainly been, in terms of the impact he has made in so many other areas, so many areas and I think it has been quite a remarkable life.

JOURNALIST:

To so many people Kerry Packer was, is PBL. What are your aspirations for the future of the company?

PRIME MINISTER:

My aspiration?

JOURNALIST:

Your anticipation, your expectations?

PRIME MINISTER:

My expectations? Look I think that is a matter for those who are now left in charge. It is a great company and it owns a great network.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, some people who knew him well have been speaking on radio this morning. Describing him variously as generous, loyal, charismatic, and also that in his own way he could be a tyrant. Have you ever experienced that last of those?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I’ve certainly, look Kerry was a forceful bloke. I don’t think anybody would suggest otherwise and he would not want anybody to have thought otherwise. I found him a person who always spoke his mind, you always knew exactly what he thought about everything, that is how I liked him. That is what Australians liked about him. He certainly had that capacity that came out wonderfully in that parliamentary appearance where he spoke for millions in suggesting that the public wasn’t so impressed about certain things happening at that time that they were lining up to donate more tax.

JOURNALIST:

He certainly had a fearsome reputation, was that reputation well deserved?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, my experience with him was, is, was, as I described it. I am not here to go into all of the minutia, different things. He was a very forthright person, he was highly intelligent, he had a great sense of humour, he was a very loyal friend and he was a very generous friend and many people who have worked for him will testify to that.

JOURNALIST:

From your own experiences Mr Howard do you recall any anecdotes, amusing or otherwise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I think, maybe, I thought his performance before that parliamentary inquiry was one of his that I remember very well. There were a couple of other private ones which will remain private which I found amusing.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think maybe it was more of an interrogation of the MPs by him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Do you think maybe it was more of an interrogation of the members than the other way around?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I think his request for a cup of tea was quite memorable.

JOURNALIST:

He made the point that he didn’t like paying tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s not get into that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you mentioned the fact that he’d made a lot of anonymous donations. Today are there any particular instances that you can think of?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I respect that fact that they were anonymous, but I have never forgotten, it must have been 15 years ago, I was on an aircraft, or 20 years ago, travelling to America and I got a note to see some people, they were in the middle of the plane. I wandered down to talk to them and I came across a group of people who were going across to Disneyland and they were obviously from disadvantaged circumstances and I deduced from something that somebody said that he had been responsible for it. Now that is just a random example of the sort of generosity, I think they came somewhere from up on the central coast.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the Australian public then ever got a complete idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t think the Australian public ever gets a complete idea of people like that. But I think a lot of people around him did get that impression. I think it is very important at a time like this and it’s also important while people are alive to say what you think about the character of a person. We do have a tendency to develop an impression, a one-dimensional impression of somebody. Few people in life are so transparent and uncomplicated that they only have one dimension, most of us have a number of dimensions and he was certainly no exception.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard we have heard a lot about Mr Packer as a businessman, what kind of friend was he?

PRIME MINISTER:

I had known him for a long time. We didn’t see each other on a super regular basis, but I saw him quite frequently. I just found him as somebody who was always possessed of a new idea. He always had very forthright views. I found him entertaining company and very loyal. Thank you.

Text of a media statement from the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley.

Australia today will be saddened by the passing of a noteworthy citizen.

Kerry Packer was a tough Australian nationalist who produced great innovations in the Australian media.

In the course of my political life I have had many conversations with Kerry Packer most of which were about the future of our nation and its economic direction. His views were underpinned with a profound patriotism and a nationalist approach. I will miss those conversations.

While Australians will today be watching the cricket it should be said that Kerry Packer will be remembered with gratitude by Australian cricketers, as the man who brought just recompense for their skills in the professional game.

My deepest sympathies go to Ros and the family.

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