Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Talking Heads -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) second-largest company, In the '80s, he ran Australia's President of the Liberal Party and in his spare time was Federal of the Carlton footy club. and President

in a big way. In the '90s, the wheels came off of his crusty verve. Now bankrupt, he's lost none is John Elliott. This week's Talking Head THEME MUSIC to have you on Talking Heads. John Elliott, it's great Thank you, Peter. Nice to be here. estimated at about $50 million. Your personal wealth was once Now you're bankrupt. How hard is that to take? But at least I'm healthy. Oh, it's not much fun.

and I have a lot of great friends, And I have a lot of experience "Isn't it fantastic to be alive." and I get up every morning and say, Bankruptcy's different, isn't it? I mean, it used to be a thing in Australia. which people were very ashamed about it's very difficult. In Australia I still think to anybody, The rules aren't very helpful but...I suppose it came about a number of law cases because I fought even though I should have. and battles which I didn't win, a couple of wives cost me about 7. It cost me about $11 million, and I ran out of money. too, of... It raises the interesting issue, ..your attitude to materialism. and all those sorts of things, Because you had trophy homes that go with success. all the accoutrements how does that make you feel? Now you're stripped of those - No, it doesn't bother me at all. who's sought wealth. I've never been a person of success. I always saw it as a by-product wanting to get things done, I always chase success, to try and achieve and to...

or in business ..whether it be at the football club or in any part of my political life,

you try to succeed. the John Elliott story began. Let's see where CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYS I was born in 1941,

and completed it in 1942. and my father built this house

And I spent most of my life here at the age of 24. until I got married she's 89. My mother still lives here, the corner, she died at 96. My grandmother lived around So this really was home, from the age of five, and I used to ride my bike every single day till I left school at 17, which is about 3km away. to Carey Grammar, and a very happy life. It was a very enjoyable life, I had a lot of fun. As a young boy here down the road, I had Willesmere Park here as well, like all the kids. used to have yonnie fights Always played sport, head caddy at the Kew Golf Club. and I made my pocket money as CHURCH ORGAN PLAYS My father was a very religious man. for 40 years. He was in the Anglican Synod ran this church totally, He basically he built the new church. every Sunday at least once. When I was a kid, we had to come from when I can remember, 4 or 5, And I did that through to when I was 21. only a couple of times a year - I don't go quite as often now, Easter and Christmas. here at the church. This was really our social life, And we had a lot of fun here. ashes are here in the church yard, And my father was buried here, his at the age of 91. and he died a couple of years ago when I was seven years of age, In 1948, I contracted osteomyelitis learning to swim. at the Melbourne City Baths, be lucky to walk properly, The doctor told me I'd probably to play sport. and I certainly wouldn't be able I ignored that totally, and even when I had a calliper on, the football around. I was still kicking The doctor then told me which I didn't do. I'd have to kick with my right leg, of doctors ever since. I've never taken much notice I treat them with a grain of salt. My brother is an eminent physician, get your money for no good reason." and, as I say to him, "Look, you with Old Carey, And I finished up playing 250 games my last one at the age of 59. where we started, Victoria Road. And this was the ground AFL SIREN, UMPIRE'S WHISTLE BLOWS was a mad Carlton supporter, My father and our whole family. all my children, All my brothers, uncles, they all barrack for Carlton. now my grandchildren, all the time. My father put his family first and working in the bank He was running a milk bar to go to private school. and struggling to pay for us "We've got to do better than this. I did say to my brothers, "We've got to have a better life," than he had been. to be economically more prosperous STOCKBROKERS YELL and I got my BHP Scholarship, I left school in '58

every lunchtime, and I used to come down here how my two CSR shares were going. basically to see I could afford to buy. And that's all all that stuff. Time went by, I did my MBA, she was Miss Freshette. I met Lorraine at university, Very attractive young girl.

Still a lovely person. I was married to her for 18 years. We married in 1965, and I think I took over Henry Jones. In 1972, in December,

At the age of 31 I had no time to myself, of my business life. and that really was the start at Henry Jones in a moment, And we'll come back and look of influences there - but when you look at that collage parents, school. the usual things, you know - As you look back, what was that influenced you? one particularly big thing he was a very fine citizen. I think my father, was always do your best, And his view everything you can into it. and always put he got tied up in the church. So my father didn't drink, He wouldn't take promotions, affect his children because he thought it might and their welfare at school, but that's what he always did. which I think was wrong, and I think the result is So he always put his family first, about my family, that...I always worry but I think I've gone the other way ahead of the family, and always put the success

although that's not really the case. But...I thought I wanted to get on and do some things in life. I knew at the age of 15 I wanted to get into business. So, my goal was to...I mean, I didn't want to become... ..somebody who just learned for the sake of it. At that point in time I had a very clear goal - what have I got to study to become successful in business? And Rod Carnegie came up to the university and said, "I don't think any of you are smart enough to join McKinsey, "but if you do, you'll have to finish in the first three." There were only about 17 of us. I thought, "Who does he think he is, this guy?" But it did force me to put my head down, and fortunately I was employed by McKinsey, which was probably the best learning experience at a young age you could have. What did you learn there? The important thing was you started to work with top management, with the CEOs of companies, at a very young age. And we were trying to solve - not only trying, we did solve - problems that business at the top level was dealing with. Were you, as time went on - you worked there six years, didn't you? Yeah, I did four in Australia and then a couple in Chicago. Did you start to hatch this idea of what you might do during these years? Well, I really got annoyed by consulting all the time,

because you'd solve a problem, the CEO would agree that it's solved, but the problem of getting implementation

really did frustrate me.

So I thought, "If only I was sitting there, we'd get something done." Let's talk about Henry Jones IXL, because it was your first big business play, very important, and it was a concept of what you were to do right through the '80s, really.

Just explain how you lined that up and picked Henry Jones. My idea was to look around for an under-managed company that was long on assets. In the end, we hunted high and low, I left McKinsey, spent nine months going through all the companies on the stock exchange. I kept coming back to Henry Jones, which was about twice as big as what I had anticipated. So, in came Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort, National Mutual, the CBA Bank, Carnegie, Baillieu Myer, the Darling Family, a whole lot of good establishment people in Melbourne. And we got the support and made the bid, and I had to have 36 million then, which was a lot of money in 1972, I can assure you. Let's see what happened once you got going with Henry Jones IXL. 'THOSE WERE THE DAYS' BY MARY HOPKIN PLAYS We didn't have long lunches in the '80s, we were busy as hell. Isn't it good that our esteemed colleague can join us? I used to start at 7am and I didn't finish until midnight most nights, and I'd be up and at it again.

Although we still had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, we all enjoyed it. I tell you what I like about him.

He has a bet, he smokes, he farts, he's a sexist, and they're all his good points. (Laughs) SONG: # Oh, my friend We're older but no wiser # For in our hearts the dreams are still the same... # That's the big end of town. I've always been very happy in Melbourne. I've lived in many cities around the world, but this is clearly the best. And this is the financial capital of Australia. SONG: # Those were the days, my friend... # One day, a merchant banker came to us and said that Elders was in a lot of trouble, so we got involved in it,

and we said OK, if they purchase Henry Jones, we take over the management, then we'll be in the deal. Both boards approved that Elders Smith Goldsbrough Mort would take over Henry Jones, our shareholders got the premium, we controlled the board and got the management rights with the support of CUB.

PAUL BARRY (4 CORNERS ARCHIVE): The big beer maker was Elders' biggest shareholder, but that made it a threat to Elliott's future, when Carlton itself came under attack from corporate raider Ron Brierley. The result was that if he was successful, he could buy CUB - who had an open register - and would have got control of 49% of Elders, our company. We got approval on Monday morning to purchase CUB, and we went into the marketplace, and in 48 hours we had taken control of CUB. So that was quite a fantastic feat, and clearly it's the best business in Australia that I've ever been involved in. And it's just a wonderful company. The result was that we needed more capital, at the same time Holmes a Court was having a go at BHP. So we saw the opportunity that if we went in and saved BHP from Holmes a Court, we could probably coerce them into investing some money into Elders, and that's exactly what happened. REPORTER: Who's the happiest man amongst the four of you? LAUGHTER ELLIOTT: I think me, because Carlton won on Saturday. LAUGHTER So BHP made the decision to invest in Elders, so we negotiated a purchase of the Courage Brewery, and then we went on to 'Fosterise' the world. HRH PRINCE CHARLES: I've been trying to persuade the Chairman that the cup should be gently foaming with Fosters when it is presented, but it seems that most of the supplies are in Britain at the moment. I'm an ordinary bloke. Like me footy, got a footy team. Like me beer, got a brewery. And I like a party. Got one of those, too. So at the early age, in my early 30s, I was Vice President of the state Liberal Party. And then in '87, after Howard lost the election, I became the Federal President of the Liberal Party. My own views are now those of the party. Mr Howard, what's the view? LAUGHTER

In the late '80s, when Howard wasn't going too well, everybody wanted me to go into politics. And after six months of them not being able to find a seat, I decided that, "OK, that's enough of that. "Gotta get back to run the business." SONG: # I am a river gambler I make a living dealing cards # My clothes are smooth and honest... # PAUL BARRY: Having abandoned politics, Elliott set about making money once more. In 1988, he and his executives at Elders IXL moved to take over the company they managed. But in practice, it provoked a fight with the authorities,

and ultimately it proved his downfall. SONG: # And I'll ride again... # When you were looking around at others in the '80s, there were entrepreneurs like Bond and like Skase and so forth. I mean, there was very big difference

because you were managing these companies without a big ownership stake, they were owning assets, and you wanted to make that transition to being the owner of the assets you were managing. Well, originally when I bought Henry Jones,

the management got a 5% stake - that's all we took.

And we really wanted to demonstrate our competence, and that's why so much we were interested in trying to succeed and do things than get some financial reward.

People look back at those days and see people like yourselves as being too greedy. I was never greedy. I mean, if I had been greedy, I would have owned a lot more of all the business I managed. I want to ask you about politics. Politics? Was it a mistake in retrospect to mix business and politics in the way you did? Well, I think it was. Because I was Federal President of the Liberal Party. There's no doubt I had the numbers to take over the leadership, Roger Shipton wouldn't retire from the seat of Higgins. And I was in a different position to most people. The board had given me six months to make up my mind whether I would stay running Elders or whether I'd go into politics. And it was difficult in the company because people were jockeying for my position,

I had to make up my mind. A lot of other people can sit back for a couple of years and wait for the next opportunity to come. I couldn't do that, so I opted not to go into politics.

I've always liked serving the Liberal Party, and I've served it all my life, and you don't do that for any great gain. During that six month period when you were weighing up whether to go into federal politics, did you, you did have the numbers to become... Oh, the numbers to be leader of the Liberal Party, yeah. No doubt. So that's a lot to give up. Well, except I couldn't do it because I had to get in on a by-election, and there was no seat. I wasn't going into a marginal seat. How paradoxical that you had the numbers to take over the party, as you said, but you don't have the numbers to get preselection in a seat. Well, that's life. Timing's everything. It's true in business and it's true in politics. You can be unlucky, you can have the best strategy in the world but some event like the crash of '87 cost a lot of people businesses. Fortunately not us, we'd just raised capital at the time. But it did cost a lot of people their businesses, a lot of property developers went broke. There are things you can't foresee. And so in life, there is a bit of luck. I think I've been very lucky. Do you think you would have had the temperament to be a good prime minister?

Well, there's no point... yes, I'd have been able to handle it because I can deal through all the stratas of society. I still have a good following, they yell out "pig's anatomy" when I walk down the street, truck drivers. I got on well with the average person. Now, let's go back to business and what happened. The National Crime Authority went after you

and charged you with theft and conspiracy, and the case against you collapsed. No, we were innocent. They only say "not guilty". It was a very spurious claim, and exceptionally bad. Well, you went after... I lost my...yeah... The case was thrown out, a lot of the evidence the NCA wanted to present was ruled inadmissible... No, no, no, no, no. Well, 8,000 pages was ruled inadmissible. One wit said that it was like you escaping the lion's den, but then you went back to get your cap. Because you went after them. Well, that's my nature. I thought we were very badly wronged. My friends, the other members that were charged, all went about their daily bread. I was determined that we really ought to show them up for what they were. It does say something about you. What does it say about you? What was your reading on that? Oh, I think maybe I'm a shade pig-headed at times, but I do believe that if I've been wronged, regardless of economic consequences I will try and fix it. I've always been like that. Quite a bit later, along comes Water Wheel. The court finds you were trading while insolvent... I did not believe we were insolvent. Still to this day I don't believe we were insolvent. I finished up taking the blame, but there was a chairman, a chief executive and there were other outside directors. I finished, everybody was writing that I was running the business. I was just an outside director. This becomes the last straw in terms of your finances. It did. And it also, for the first time, is a stain against you in terms of reputation, given that the other case collapsed.

Well, the judge made a very wrong decision, in my view. Very wrong decision. But I suppose, from the public point of view, the judge is the umpire. Yeah, that's right. I think the quality of the Supreme Court of Victoria has gone down dramatically. How much damage would you say that's done to your reputation? Oh, I think the NCA did the damage. Particularly internationally. But fortunately, you see, I don't worry about those things. I don't care what people think. Your degree of self-confidence is extraordinary, isn't it?

Each of these things would be very tough for any man to take. Well, it might be tough for you... Well, it would be, yes! (Both laugh) Oh, no, I'm 64 years of age, and probably got another good 10 years working life in me. Got to recover some wealth for the family, and enjoy life. Let's see how life is for you now. BACKGROUND CONVERSATION I have five children. The oldest is 38 and the youngest is 16. Three from my first marriage, I inherited Edwina as a step-daughter when she was four. And then Amanda and I had another one, so I've had five kids to look after. I have a very high regard for all of them. It's amazing how you were a stay-at-home dad and ran the fourth-largest company in Australia.

And they've all been successful.

For 20 years of my life, I didn't have much free time. A couple of my kids say I should have spent more time. I didn't, but I now do spend more time with them. And we have a lot of fun.

"The kiss of the sun for pardon, "The song of the birds for mirth. "One is nearer God's heart in a garden "Than anywhere else on earth." A wonderful saying. It typifies my love of gardens. Oh, well I've known Joanne for many years, and we live very happily together, and we love coming through these gardens. I can't believe why most of the lunatics who come round the Botanical Gardens run round them instead of walking through them. SONG: # Elephants, I like elephants... # I've collected elephants since 1965. # I like how they stomp through the jungle... # They bring you luck in life. I used to have over 600 elephants, although all the good ones are now gone. Sold, $1,600,000. Thank you. English oak furniture has always been a hobby of mine,

17th century and 17th century silver. I had some wonderful pieces of silver. Most of them have gone under the hammer via Christie's. In fact, they all have, so they've gone. People ask me what I'm doing today, and essentially I love coming to work. I like to work, to think. I don't muck around with the computer, that's for people with no brains. You've got to use your brains to keep thinking,

work out deals, so I'm spending most of my time helping other people develop business propositions, helping them raise capital for them. And I'm fit, healthy, got a good mind, and that's what you need in life, and you can have a lot more fun and joy doing business. Every day you've got to be very thankful you're alive,

because, you know, Churchill's dead, Napoleon's dead, Henry VIII is dead and we're here. You've gotta enjoy it. Well, speaking of Churchill, your hero, he was, for a long time, out of favour. He was often depressed, he was often drunk, but he had this extraordinary comeback a number of times. Are we going to see an Elliott comeback? Churchill aspired, he led a nation, you know, when they were hard up against it. I never got over-enamoured with success, and I haven't got under-enamoured by having a few difficulties. I've always been fairly level-headed. And I think if you really hit the highs and think, "I'm a hero because look what I did," you lose sight of what you really are - we're all human. By the same token, because you have some difficulties,

you don't get depressed. I don't think I've ever been depressed in my life. I mean, I can't understand Jeff Kennett, he works on all these people with depression - I know it's out there, but it's nothing to do with me. So you can't identify with it? No. Not a bit. What about...what about your own weaknesses, then? I mean, when you do put up the mirror, what do you see as your own weaknesses? Oh, I think my biggest weakness is trusting people too much. In terms of loyalty in the business world. That trusting thing of course works both ways, and in the lion's den of the business world where you operated, and the political world, trust is a very... Important ingredient. And often pretty malleable, isn't it? Well, I think in the end, I know that I can hold my head up high. I've never cheated anybody in my life in business. There's a few that I know that have cheated me,

or cheated us, without naming them. But I remember them, you don't do business with them again. And in politics I think there are some people that

you never know where they stand, and they keep dancing around, they're not the sort of people I like to mix with. One of the things in coming off a pedestal is you do find out who your friends are. Oh, you certainly do that, yes. There's a lot of... there's a lot of... You have friends everywhere when you're at the top, and you find out who your true friends are when you have some difficulty. John, what are the restrictions that operate on someone who's bankrupt? Oh, well, you have very limited income. Which means you've either got to have a partner or somebody else to help maintain your living standards,

so that gets cut back a bit. I've got some good friends, I've got all of those things. So, how are you making a living? Oh, I make it by helping other people. I'm trying to help my daughter who runs the family company to get a few things done there, which we are. I'm in the middle of four or five very exciting things. We're about to come back, I think, quite strongly, and I'm looking forward to it. Will Carlton ever be great again?

Oh, I'm certain they'll be great again. All they need is a slightly better administration and they'll be back in a couple of years. John, thank you very much. Pleasure, Peter. And that's John Elliott. We'll be back with another program at the same time next week. If you want to look at our website, we're at: See you soon.

THEME MUSIC Closed Captions by Captioning and Subtitling International And next week on Talking Heads, Dr Fiona Wood. A number of people didn't consider it appropriate that I would pursue a surgical career. So, I sort of ignore that with my standard line, which was, "I'm really good at embroidery, "so just watch out." Wednesday on The Cook and The Chef, it's citrus season. So Maggie and Simon add a tang to everything, from a curry to bread and butter pudding. Citrus, a winter winner. That's The Cook and The Chef, Wednesday at 6:30.

This program is not subtitled

This program is captioned live. Tonight - missiles, not diplomacy, talking loudest in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister under the pump over petrol prices. How the quest for a good education affects Canberra house prices. And identity crisis - the Van Gogh that's been labelled a fake.

Good evening. Virginia Haussegger with ABC News. It's been another deadly day for Israel - the worst so far in its 4-week war against Hezbollah. 15 people, including 12 soldiers, have died in the past 24 hours, killed by a barrage of rockets into northern Israel. As a result, the Israeli prime minister is considering broadening air and ground attacks on Lebanon, jeopardising diplomatic initiatives. And there have been more casualties on the Lebanese side,