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Maxwell Newton, “What it’s like to meet Reg in the dark,”
Jobson’s Investment Digest, May 12, 1972, pp. 2-4.

The most surprising aspect of public discussion of the rort, in which Henry Bolte saved Reg Ansett’s skin for him, was that anyone was surprised.

Reg Ansett has been up to his eyeballs in politics for at least fifteen years and Henry Bolte is one of those marvellous politicians who remember to repay their generous friends.

I well remember back in the late fifties sitting-up in the dark in the main lounge of the Hotel Canberra with Reg Ansett. We were sitting together in the huge darkened room by the light of a single globe near the lobby desk.

We were going together over Reg’s then latest proposed submission to Federal Cabinet, asking for yet more Government help to play his due — and profitable — part in the creation of that corrupt and corrupting monster, the two airline policy.

At that time I was among other things Political Correspondent in Canberra for The Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Correspondent for The Australian Financial Review.

Reg wanted my help and I gave it to him. However, I did not take any money.

In the latest clash Reg had with politicians he has become entangled with that redoubtable journalist Mr Frank Browne.

Reg has always used propaganda to effect in promoting his business.

In the latest case, however, where Frank Browne was involved, the outcome has not yet proved entirely satisfactory to Reg as in a little-publicised court action, Frank has sued Reg in the High Court of Australia through the Sydney firm of Landa, David Stewart and Company for breach of contract.

Without moving into the extremely hazardous area of contempt and without in any way seeking to prejudice Frank’s claims against Reg, one is bound to ask what sort of contract Reg would have had with a renowned propagandist and political operator like Frank Browne?

There are few things in politics too strange for Reg Ansett to become involved with in his search for profits through making friends with governments.

His whole business is built on government favours of one kind or another.

Menzies lent him millions back in the fifties in order to allow Reg to buy out the P and O and other big shipping people who could not make a go of ANA.

At that time, on the Government side in the Department of Civil Aviation there were three key civil servants.

They were the Director General of Civil Aviation, Don Anderson; the Assistant Director General, Harold Poulton (a brilliant lawyer with a great thirst and possessor of the unique ability to flick most of the ash of his cigarette down the back of his dark suit); and Ross Alexander, another thirsty official who was in charge of the Department’s Public Relations at the time.

These were the three men of the official side who got Reg the money and the backing he needed.

They were the men who got the loan bills through Federal Parliament. They were the men who stymied TAA’s attempt to bring in the Cavaelle and who forced the Electra down our throats. They were the great and good friends of Reg Ansett in his search for profit through the creation of the corrupt two-airline system.

It was not surprising that two of these three men came to work for Reg — Harold Poulton and Ross Alexander.

It has been stated that Harold Poulton specified in his contract with Reg Ansett, when Harold left the Department of Civil Aviation (where he had drafted the laws Reg was at that time trying with insufficient success to get around) that Harold would always have a salary one thousand pounds a year greater than the salary of the Director General of Civil Aviation.

Anyway, Reg successfully raided the department of two of the three men who had helped him most during his early years in big time civil aviation.

He is a lovely fellow and he attracts such lovely people.

The people at Trans Australia Airlines have had to battle for a very long time against the preferred political treatment which Reg has obtained — such as his monopoly of the internal airlines in Western Australia, his special status in internal aviation in New South Wales, his remarkable “luck” in winning the Channel O TV licence in Victoria, his continuing great and good help from the Federal Government through access to cheap finance and through the underpinning of his dividend as a cardinal — indeed the cardinal — requirement of the two-airline policy.

Reg can get nasty.

I will remember how some years ago when I was working on The Financial Review — I believe I was running it at the time — Reg was desperate for help over some particular problem and he asked me to go down to Melbourne over the weekend to prepare an article for The Financial Review which would have the effect of showing the Federal Government yet again how desperately he needed help.

For this particular propaganda job it was necessary to show that the Ansett Group were in a very bad way for money — but it was also necessary to avoid the impression that they were actually broke.

I took down with me to Melbourne a remarkable financial journalist Roland Myers. He was shown, by Ralph Cooper then Secretary of the Ansett Group, into the innards of the Group’s financial problems.

Unfortunately for Reg, Roland found out too much and for the next couple of days, before Roland’s analysis of the finances of the Ansett Group was published in the Financial Review, Reg conducted a perfect blast of pressure on me and on Roland to stop publication as he realised he had revealed too much in his search for propaganda help.

He even went to the lengths of sending Ralph Cooper up to Sydney to go over the text of Roland’s article and of ringing up and putting pressure on us to prevent publication.

We went ahead anyway and our relations with Reg were not quite the same thereafter.

In fact, he subsequently gave me a libel writ while I was running The Financial Review because it stated his company was not as well prepared technically or financially as was TAA for the introduction of a second jet type at an early date.

He walked away from that libel action after having tried to put heat on to me and on the people at John Fairfax (who despite other failings have a great resilience and courage in the face of threatening actions through the use of the law of defamation).

I cannot say why Reg walked away from that one except to state that it was a fact that if that case had come to court it would have been necessary for the Director General of Civil Aviation, Don Anderson, to be called as a principal witness for the defence.

There is a lot of politics in aviation.

Nor should it be surprising that it was a Victorian Premier Henry Bolte who bailed Reg out of his biggest trouble. After all, Victoria is the home of:

  • The Korman Empire
  • The Reid Murray Empire
  • Cox Brothers
  • Repco and ICI — two great supporters of that other great Victorian, John McEwen, a man never backward in coming forward in the support of wealthy and willing friends.

Repco and ICI have made millions from the handouts of protective tariffs accorded by that great and good friend John McEwen — whose name has been hallowed in McEwen House Canberra whose finances were provided by thankful beneficiaries of McEwen’s generosity.

  • Sir Ian Potter, whose role in the Walana Investments matter has still to be clarified. Certainly there has been no action by the Victorian Government over that extremely unsavoury affair after which Sir Ian left the old firm of Ian Potter and Co to go out and battle on his own.
  • APM, one of the companies who early in the piece were allowed to put restrictive conditions in their articles stopping foreign takeovers.
  • The Westgate Bridge
  • The Jack Ford Abortion Inquiry
  • And of course Reg Ansett.

It’s a lovely little State and Reg has taken the traditions of political patronage as the path to profit to even greater heights than yet attained.

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(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Maxwell Newton on Reg Ansett
  2. Bob Ansett vs Reg Ansett
  3. 1980 Bert Kelly feather bed series
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