13 Sep 2013

Roger Corbett's Path To The Top

By Evan Jones

In the corporate world, the more ruthless you are the higher you go. Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett - ex-Woolies CEO and erstwhile political pundit - is a good example, writes Evan Jones

In 1999, a Joint Select Committee on the Retailing Sector produced an excellent report on retailing  – Fair Market or Market Failure? – which was subsequently ignored by the Howard government. A key concern of the committee was misuse of market power (actionable under s46 of the Trade Practices Act) via predatory pricing. During a 6 April hearing, Roger Corbett, then CEO of Woolworths, was asked about his company’s pricing policy. Corbett said:

“We would match pricing from competitors. … If it were a small retailer, we would never reduce our selling price as a matter [of] policy. … In a majority of rural areas right throughout New South Wales, we sell at the same price as we do in metropolitan areas.” 

Corbett denied that Woolworths practiced predatory pricing, but “accepted there may be exceptions in some stores throughout Australia”. The committee concurred: “The committee found that there were indeed, ‘exceptions’.” In 1994-95 Safeway, Woolworths’ now-rebranded Victorian supermarket arm, engaged in a bread price-fixing relationship with George Weston Foods to inhibit price discounting by independents. The ACCC, under Alan Fels, engaged in an epic legal battle from 1996 to February 2006, when Woolworths was handed a $8.9 million fine. They fought it all the way. Corbett was not involved in the actionable conduct, but was Retail CEO from mid-1997 and CEO during 1999 until 2006.

Corbett presided over the entire period of the resistance. In July 2003, after the Federal Appeal Court had overturned in the ACCC’s favour a Trial court judgement, Corbett whinged that the litigation had been an enormous waste of taxpayers’ and Woolworth shareholders’ money. Quite, but Corbett was responsible for the waste.

“It's ridiculous … the law is so complex. We're trying to comply with every aspect of the law," Corbett said. Well, no. Section 45 of the Trade Practices Act is crystal clear, and if Corbett had complied with “every aspect of the law” he would have conceded to the ACCC in 1997.

The Federal Court Appeal judgement occurred at precisely the time that Fels retired from the ACCC chairmanship in June 2003. Corbett, in company with other corporate heavyweights, had been lobbying against Fels for doing his job properly.

Corbett opined that: "With a change in leadership, we will hopefully see a shift of emphasis and that would be good for Australia." With the appointment of Graeme Samuel to the ACCC chairmanship Corbett’s hopes would be met in spades, though the outcome was far from good for Australia.

Fairfax journalist Stephen McMahon noted in The Age, on 4 February 2006, that:

“After the [fine determination] decision was handed down, Mr Corbett vigorously defended the company's legal policy and its commitment to fair trading practices … For almost 10 years, Woolworths' senior management fought the case at every turn, leading some analysts and shareholders to wonder if Mr Corbett needed a refresher course on what constitutes a breach of the Trade Practices Act.”

Australian Financial Review columnist John Durie noted earlier on 1 February 2006: “Retail doyen Roger Corbett obviously struggles to accept reality when it comes to trade practices breaches.” The last laugh was on Allen Fels. On his last day in office in June 2003, Fels launched a case against both Woolworths and Coles for unconscionably hindering liquor licence applications or modifications by independent packaged liquor retailers and by forcing restrictive agreements on hapless liquor retailers to ensure the duopoly’s local market dominance. Coles (Liquorland) threw in the towel early. Not so Corbett.

In June-August 2006, Allsop J decided against Woolworths. According to Fairfax journalist Vanda Carson, writing in The Age on 15 December 2006: 

“Following Justice Allsop's finding, then Woolworths chief Roger Corbett refused to accept the ruling, saying the policy of objecting to certain liquor licence applications and then proposing agreements in return for withdrawal of their objections was a common practice accepted by the Licensing Court of NSW. ‘We believe we were acting both correctly and completely within the law,’ Mr Corbett said.”

Carson again: “Lawyers for Woolworths have filed four affidavits arguing a small penalty is in order because of the small geographic and demographic size of the markets where the offences occurred.”

Corbett mounted a two-pronged defence: Woolworths is both not guilty and also guilty but of a lesser offence than that of Coles. Chutzpah incarnate.

On their way to liquor retail notoriety, Woolworths and Coles lobbied Premiers Kennett and Bracks to deregulate the tightly controlled Victorian packaged liquor licence regime. Kennett and Bracks complied in 1998 and 2002, with a transition set for open slather in 2006. In the interim, Woolworths and Coles were formally constrained to 8 per cent of the licences each, but Woolworths had illegally acquired well over 30 licences in excess, some hidden behind shelf companies. The breach was condoned.

Woolworths moved into pub ownership in a chance joint venture with hotelier Bruce Mathieson in 2000. The takeoff occurred with the acquisition of goldmine ALH in late 2004. As well as precious Queensland liquor licences, ALH owned large-scale pub sites suitable for big box liquor outlets. At the end of 2012, Woolworths’ pokies ownership was estimated at 11,700.

In April 2005, Corbett appeared before the NSW Parliamentary STAYSAFE Committee. The occasion was neatly captured by a columnist of the sadly departed Workers Online site. Corbett denied that there was a problem with trucking safety. Woolworths imposes a ruthless regime on its trucking contractors but the downside in terms of widespread drug use and accidents, of which Corbett claimed ignorance, had nothing to do with Woolworths.

All of which is consistent with Corbett’s admiration for the American retail giant Wal-Mart, for which Corbett has served as a director since 2006. Born in pre-modern Arkansas, Wal-Mart is the embodiment of corporate feudalism. The unspeakable wealth of the Walton family has been acquired at the expense of devastated Main Streets and a ruthlessly controlled workforce forced onto public welfare to supplement their sub-subsistence wages.

Corbett is apparently a Christian, and was invited onto Sydney University campus in August 2008 to speak on the topic “Faith & Business: Can They Mix?”. As Corbett’s faith is evidently business itself, it was clearly a perfect match.

The corporate veil has consistently allowed white collar crimes to go unacknowledged and unpunished. On the rare occasions when a weak legal and regulatory system intrudes and succeeds (bread price-fixing and liquor licences oppression), well it’s water off a duck’s back. Nobody who matters cares.

Corbett’s blatant disdain for propriety has been consigned to oblivion. Media coverage of the cartel arrangement between Woolworths and Coles is depicted as a battle, with the emphasis on the combat per se (comparable to media coverage of politics), rather than how it is laying waste to everything around it.

Shareholders have appreciated Corbett’s drive for the acquisition and abuse of market power. Thus Woolworths granted Corbett a million options in December 2000, which vested in July 2003. The journos estimated that Corbett received a windfall of $4.7 million. Shareholders now love the pokies revenue stream to death.

Corbett was placed on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia by then prime minister Howard in 2005. Certainly, a retailing voice on the RBA Board makes sense, but one with a coloured record? In 2007 Corbett was made a member of the task force overseeing the Northern Territory intervention, in which welfare receipts were sequestered, to be channelled conveniently through Woolworths and Coles related outlets. 

As reward for such long term sterling public service, Corbett was awarded an Order of Australia in 2008. Corbett became Chairman of Fairfax a year later. Corbett can insouciantly appear on the ABC’s Lateline program without risk, eminence grise in the limelight, and offer his partisan views on the political leadership. Such are the delights of a free press in the corporatocracy that is Australia.

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RossC
Posted Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 11:20

Management systems get what they reward, and in Australia that is typically the ruthless, self-interested executive pursuit of profit at the expense of all else (welfare of company employees included). Therefore, it is not uncommon that the most unconscionable, unpleasant and 'morally flexible' folk rise to the top - and then get adulation from other aspirants.

Corbett appears to be a complete nob-end, feted by other aspirant nob-ends not yet 'fully-developed'.

Unfortunately, until regulatory systems are put in place that promise sufficient financial punishment to more than offset the profit motive, it will remain so - to the detriment of all other than a select few .

It gives me some satisfaction to see how the Aldi stores business model is currently wiping the floor with both Woolies and Coles - to the point where the Australian-based bullies are paranoid to the point of distraction. Could this be the breaking of the Australian shopping-trolley cartel we have all been praying for? I certainly hope so.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Monday, September 16, 2013 - 10:52

Excellent article by Evan Jones.

Consumers should vote with their feet and hip pocket. Thus it seems to me that my shopping bill at Aldi is typically  about half that at Coles and Woolies.

Further, one really objects to heavyweights Coles and Woolies ripping off the farmers.

I hadn't heard about the liquor shenanigans but am not surprised . I no longer drink (despite drinking for years,  giving up fro me was as easy as falling off a log) but note that there are 3,000 alcohol-related deaths annually in Australia (2005 data) (Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/about-the-campaign ).

Indeed Coles and Woolies make a huge contribution via cigarettes, alcohol, junk  food etc to the  66,000 Australian preventable  deaths each year (see Gideon Polya, “Why PM Julia Gillard must go: 66,000 preventable Australian deaths annually”, Countercurrents, 21 February 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya210212.htm  ). Capitalist terrorists?

I too was offended by Corbett's pontificating  against Labor and for the Coalition on the ABC just before  the election . I don't buy The Age or subscribe on-line although to be fair it sits to the left of the ghastly Murdoch media and the bottom-of-the-barrel ABC ( “Boycott Murdoch media”: https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/ ). Mainstream media, including the taxpayer-funded but endlessly censoring and malreporting ABC, SBS and The Conversation, have played a key role in perversion of Australian Democracy to a Murdochracy, Lobbyocracy and as Evan Jones puts it "the corporatocracy that is Australia" whereby Big Money buys people, parties, politcians, public perception of reality, votes and political power.

For details of media-derived  censorship  by the global Murdoch media empire, Australian Fairfax media, the Australian ABC, the UK BBC,  and the Australian universities-backed web magazine The Conversation in Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist-perverted and subverted Murdochracy, Lobbyocracy and Corporatocracy Australia and elsewhere in the West see “Boycott Murdoch media”: https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/  ; “Censorship by the BBC”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbythebbc/  ; “Censorship by The Conversation”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by  ; “Mainstream media censorship”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home  ; “Mainstream media lying”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/  ; “Censorship by The Age”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by-the-age ; “Censorship by ABC Late Night Live”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/  , "Censorship by ABC Saturday Extra": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/censorship-by-abc-sat and “ABC fact-checking unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC (Australia’s BBC)”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit .

And as for the Intervention that involves the continuing racist exclusion  of Indigenous Australians from the protection of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act, this is utterly unacceptable and makes the racist Lib-Labs (Liberal-Laborals, Coalition and Labor) utterly unacceptable to anti-racist Jews and indeed all anti-racist humanitarians for whom the core moral messages from the Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) and from the more general WW2 European Holocaust (30 million Slav, Jewish and Gypsy dead) are “zero tolerance for racism”, “never again to anyone”, “bear witness” and “zero tolerance for lying” (see (see “Jews Against Racist Zionism”: https://sites.google.com/site/jewsagainstracistzionism/home   and “Non-Jews Against Racist Zionism”: https://sites.google.com/site/nonjewsagainstracistzionism/ ).

 

This user is a New Matilda supporter. ntowart@unionsn...
Posted Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 09:06

Evan, The link to Corbett at Staysafe (Workers Online's wonderful summing up of his appearance) is here:

http://workers.labor.net.au/260/d_pierswatch_corbybaby.html

 

LETS REVIVE WORKERS ONLINE!!

Neale

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Bill Laing
Posted Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 16:11

Great article Evan - because it contains a stack of facts irrefutable. It's the sort of stuff that we who understand the system have always railed against. When my friends call me "cynical" I reverse the sentiment into the word "optimistic" - I can see the huge flaws in our system, I have a detailed vision that things can be better, and I work toward it.

Cynics of the world unite - we have nothing to lose but our supermarket chains!!

macysopia
Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 12:25

Excellent article. My name is macy, I like your idea about business.

saskia1
Posted Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 14:48

The tragedy is that Corbett trod on some people on his way up. Sadly, i am one of those persons.

I worked for him in Victoria in the 1960's. I took an afternoon off work and he saw me in the street as I walked passed (on my eay home from the doctor).

When I presented for work the following morning, he sacked me saying, 'I will make sure you never get another job with us.'

Two years later, he came to the branch where I was working in the Melbourne suburbs, on a change-over of managers during stock-taking. I was counting supplies in stationary and when I raised my head from beneath the counter he was standing there,

He said,

'What are you doing here? I made sure you would never get another job with us.'

He took it upon myself to sack me on the spot. I have never known what excuses he gave the company. I only know I was on two occasions sacked by Corbett and that his actions were unjustifiable.

I'd hazard a guess and say there was more to this than met the eye.

Thankyou for a truly lovely site and the opportunity to advance freedom of speech in a rapidly declining environment of selective control.

Excellent job!

Very best,

Sas

hojuruku
Posted Sunday, December 1, 2013 - 17:32

Roger Corbett is a criminal in the highest order.

No it wasn't getting 450K being the CEO of Panthers. No it wasn't using wollies to build up his poker machine empire. No it wasn't his efforts to spur globlization being on the board of Walmart.

It was something far more evil and corrupt - that is linked to Police corruption and what I like to call "Chartiy Casinos" - casino's with charity tax free status. Investigative reporters look up what Exact Security Pty Ltd (owned by Corbett) has been up to. It is the replacement for what was the Barrington Group under it's former owners up until 2005. (Trading as CPR and BRN security also - had a near monopoly on Leagues club security - but why....

I assure the readers the same massive financial scam is beign run by Exact Security, in the same place it was being run before at St Marys Leagues club LTD amongst many other large leagues club and a very small minority of RSL clubs.

Before saying how the scam works lets drop some facts.

1) St Marys Leagues and other leages clubs sued the ATO in the Federal Magistrates Court to get charity status. Previously the decision was accessiable on google but these days with all the government data orders it's not. I can check my records, but a good reporter can find this out in no time with Lexus Nexus.

2) Donations to a charity are of course tax free

3) Prior to Bob Carr's IPART productivity comission reforms to the gaming machine and registered club act to ensure that as a dollar goes into a pokie, tax will be calculated at that instance not after Profit and Loss and some creative accounting. Clubs call this "minimization of operational profit"

4) In 2005 Labor Rolled back his reforms (FYI: I dispise Rainbow Labor - if you see my previous comments on this forum you'll know) retrospectively giving back over half a billion Australian tax dollars collected to the corrupt leages clubs. http://www.smh.com.au/national/pokie-tax-reversal-cost-state-millions-carr-20091013-gvq3.html YES HIS OWN NEWSPAPER NOW SAYS HALF A BILLION $$$ AUD HAD TO BE GIVEN BACK TO THE CORRUPT LEAGUES CLUBS extracted by this loophole in only 3 years.

5)  During this period of Reform the Barrington group company of only 300 mostly trainee (the other scam - corrupt NSW State Training service giving dodgey training grants to 80% of the staff there you need only see all the adds for no experience necessary security guards advertised in the newspapers for half a decade) employees had to stop "Patinium Sponsoring" 12 leagues clubs and suspending security guarding operations. The Barrington Group is a former NSW Police Employee owned business, and one of the "early retirement" options for Police on the Force. Go check the Annual Reports of the majority of Leagues clubs in greater sydney ( I can give you a list I was an employee of the Barrington Group and St Marys Leagues ) between 2003 when the scam was in operation and when it wasn't.

6) St Marys leagues management "Martin" and the former CEO of St Marys "Jason" owned the Vic on the Park in Marrickville. The same catering company as St Marys Leagues (chinese) and security company were there paid for club money as a kick back. Martin's wife Fiona managed the "Retro" down in Darling harbour. It was owned by St Marys Leagues. Laws were made in the registered clubs to stop them building empires of businesses and pubs paid for with pokermachine dollars to offset "operational profit" and it included laws against family of management being given management roles in these club owned businesses.

7) When Bob Carr's reforms were reversed Roger Corbett's exact security takes over the alienation of taxable income. This loophole means pokermachine tax GOES TO THE POLICE OWNED BUSINESS / ROGER CORBETTS OWNED BUSINESS AND THE WAY POKER MACHINE TAX IS COLLECTED SHOULD BE UN-REPEALED A SECOND TIME TO STOP THIS SCAM.

8) Guess who's at St Marys and runs a security compnay now that only specializes in work for football clubs that also sponsors them? Roger Corbett's Exact Security Pty Ptd. It takes a lot of power to reverse a law that protects the tax payer from having all their poker machine taxes garnished into the hands of corrupt businesmen an police doesn't it?

Put simply  - the Police and or Corbett owned security company, the AV company etc overcharge the club to lower their "operational profit" and tax exposure, then the same contractors platinum sponsor the charity casino back tax free. More money for both the club and the contractor. BBC Closeup (www.bbc.com/closeup) has a story about Australia doing more gambling per capita than Los Vegas. This is how that criminal scumbag made his millions, but of course now he owns the press. Smart move eh? SMH Investigations wont be looking into this any time soon and you watch that link to that SMH story above will go stale I'd bet too if the SOB reads this.

I went to ICAC in '03 after I was asked by St Mary's Leagues management to go to One world sport darling harbour who they owned 49% of. I was asked to steal all the financial records from that business under the guize of PC Support in an act of industrial espionarge, a crime 308H of the Crimes act 5 years jail. I told them what my bosses were up to and I was promply fired. Whist being an employee and contractor to the club for the barringtong group I was one of the few licensed guards there and the security industry registration requires line of site supervision. Because they didn't have enough licensed guards to supervise the workforce of trainees I was on a team of guards with cars who were supervisors of sourts told in advance where licensing command were sending the police for the inspection who I saw nearly every night. I kept a diary of this. ICAC and NSW PIC are totally corrupt, and proof of this will surface in another matter I am persuing.  A state training service employee at 260 Elizabeth Street threatened the lives of my family if I talked back in '03 before I fled Australia. In late 2006 I started digging ont his again after my brother's mysterios death and disappereance (Tasman McKee R.I.P). 3 Months later I was accused of the rarest crime in Australia (crime stats http://tinyurl.com/60c-stats - 2 convctions 100% conviction rate, no news, 100% death in custody rate, no case law) and first outlaw Motorcycle gang enacted law in the country ( Police and Other law Enforcement Officers Bill 2003 - check hansard clearly OLMG legislation introduced by the now proven corrupt Michael Costa). No causal link between the death of my brother, the infamous 60C NSW Crimes act GLLO thought crime search warrant signed by Detective Sargent Michael O'Keefe, the poker machine / trainee scams of Barrington group has been proven, just merely suspected. I have paperwork relating from my complaint to ICAC who they claim I never went to and signed affadvaits at given to me by the NSW Education Office Audit department from 2003. What I wrote isn't fantasy. Any detrators here can see that and a lot more.

 

hojuruku
Posted Sunday, December 1, 2013 - 17:40

I'm going to cut and past from the SMH to preserve the content from censorship from the CEO of Fairfax.

 

Pokie tax reversal cost state millions: Carr 

THE former premier Bob Carr has criticised the NSW Labor Government for slashing club poker machine taxes, branding the move a waste of public money that has simply made clubs more lavish.

In a rare public criticism of the Government for winding back his policies, Mr Carr said there was no reason for his successor, the former premier Morris Iemma, to have scrapped his plan to gradually increase the taxes. The move is estimated to have cost the state nearly $500 million.

''By forgoing this tax the Government has denied itself a stream of revenue that shores up the viability of the state budget and which protects the state against further economic downturn or loss of other revenue to Canberra,'' he says in a book to be published today.

The book, Casino Clubs NSW, by the former NSW treasury official Betty Con Walker, documents how the club industry persuaded the Iemma government to wind back a policy Mr Carr and the former treasurer Michael Egan implemented in 2003 to gradually increase poker machine taxes over seven years in the state's bigger clubs.

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Mr Carr recalls the furious lobbying campaign mounted by the clubs, with MPs pushing their arguments that the tax would cost them $1.5 billion and force them to cut jobs and stop subsidising sporting clubs.

Mr Carr said: ''One member of the Labor caucus was in and out of the headquarters of ClubsNSW so often that in my view it wasn't inconceivable that he may have warranted an ICAC inquiry … in muddying his role as a legislator with his role as a lobbyist for the club movement.''

Despite the clubs' efforts their campaign never took hold with the public, Mr Carr said, and there was no reason for the Government to give in because ''the argument had settled down'' by the time he was replaced by Mr Iemma in 2005.

''I didn't think it was necessary politically. They didn't shift opinion. Their campaign didn't appreciably hurt the Government. We weren't going to lose votes on it. By and large the media didn't support it. The clubs were seen as a self-interested lobby. No backdown was required.''

Ms Con Walker has calculated that by next year the decision to wind back tax increases will have cost taxpayers $543 million, with a continuing annual cost of more than $150 million.

Mr Carr, who was the premier when pubs were first allowed to have poker machines, said there was no good reason for giving revenue breaks to clubs that operated about two-thirds of the state's machines.

''That stream of revenue is redirected to these clubs.

''We will have clubs with more extravagant atriums and rainforests and fountains,'' he said.

Ms Con Walker says she wrote the book because she wanted to highlight how politicians often made decisions based on campaigns pushed by lobbyists and special interest groups rather than on hard evidence.

''I was getting a little bit tired of decision makers and those who participate in that process making statements not based on fact. If politicians had looked at some facts in this case they would have realised they did not have anything to fear.''

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/pokie-tax-reversal-cost-state-millions-carr-20091013-gvq3.html#ixzz2mCdHnnnx