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. THEME MUSIC is an Aussie stirrer.' PETER THOMPSON 'Stephen Mayne it for the next five years. I've got dirt on you. I'm gonna run and politics with' 'He shook up the media the others wouldn't tell. Promising to tell the stories 'Truthseeker or muckraker?' Paula, through a heck of a battle I have really put my poor wife, for $1 million, and we ended up selling Crikey which was amazing. THEME MUSIC a service - Well, is Stephen Mayne doing us all cleaning things up? looking under rocks, approach Well, his publish-and-be-damned a lot of money so far. has certainly cost him Thanks, Peter. welcome to Talking Heads. Stephen Mayne,

really made your name I suppose you first in a public sense with some guru of the new media? Did you see yourself as Still am. I'm actually a technophobe. who had a new outlet So I was simply someone through the Internet. with the technology. And people helped me a voice to alternative media And I saw it as a way to give and to take on the rich, the powerful, the vested interests in media, politics and business. for outsiders. Australians have a certain fondness that support you, But you...mixed with those of opponents and enemies as well. you've got a legion

that most of my enemies Well, I'd like to think are simply people I've criticised. And usually they're people in power, particularly big companies,

politicians and media moguls.

I don't pick on the, you know, the dodgy builder will do. who tabloid television programs that wield power. I like to focus on those being focused on. And they don't like their various ways, as we'll discuss. Well, they don't and they hit back in Do you know fear? It's funny, I hate confrontation. in the restaurant. for another serve of butter So I can't bring myself to ask of my efforts And I guess I channel all into my public confrontation. been to you to sort of How important has that a lot of people need attention. be the centre of...a lot... Well, I actually think that there is in what's happened to me. an element of that And the way that I got attention - for instance, say, at school, was I would have the gossip. I would, you know, I would blurt out the secret or the information of getting attention. and it was almost a way I wasn't the big strong guy, who had the information. but I was the guy

I had the news. You had the news. And then journalism just puts that straight into your blood, is to ferret out information where your whole job and impress people. Come on, kids, it's 8:30. in 20 minutes. We've got to leave for school "How does a nice, middle-class boy People have often said, and a private-school education from the leafy suburbs of Melbourne whistle-blowing go to being this hell-raising, share holder activist, maverick publisher, corporate troublemaker stirrer?" actually does go back to my parents. And I simply say that a lot of it Mum is a very moral and ethical person. for people that are downtrodden.' Never tell a lie, always stand up # Doe, a deer, a female deer... # Mum's moral perspective on life But I still think I did get you know, and I feel very passionately about, people not abusing power, about telling the truth

being able to sleep at night and about, you know, with your actions. and being comfortable influence over me. Well, Dad, he was a very powerful I was the only son of the only son. I followed his passion, particularly for cricket. for politics and business, And that's where I got my passion sitting at the television cos he would always be and often getting quite animated. watching the news the politicians doing this?" "What's going on? Why are

"When I grow up, And I used to say to myself, and I'll just ask my dad I want to become a politician everything will be fixed." what to do and then

that was really sports-focused. I had a really happy childhood I used to tell people From my early teens, that I wanted to be a journalist,

cos it was one of the few that involved writing. professions I could think of I actually read the dictionary And at HSC, all the big words. from cover to cover and circled all these big words And then I would inject into my literature essays to pretend I had this brilliant vocab.

in Year 11, When I started studying politics and about the Liberal Party. about politics I got really passionate marginal Labor seat in the country 'John Howard chose the most as the launchpad for his tax policy.' I found myself wagging school In Year 12, to the Box Hill Town Hall, as a prefect and riding ill-fated tax launch where I attended John Howard's

in the 1987 campaign. Shook John Howard's hand outside, and was the most devoted held up placards young Liberal you could ever imagine. at Melbourne University, When I got into Commerce/Arts that I was away. everyone was really happy at my life, I think I wasted In terms of looking back I was too busy coaching tennis. first year uni. So I think it was a good thing, at the end of my first year of uni, and got into journalism. I cracked the cadetship of journalism were to come. Well, the exciting adventures

And we'll come to those. But when you were at school, if that's the right word. cos you were school prefect, you had your own routines, Yeah, in Year 12, I was a prefect. I had my first trusted position But in Year 9, as the locker hall monitor. What did that involve? That just involved opening up the locker room and closing it after all the boys had gone to class. You had the key. I had the key. And I will admit that I used to dispense a little bit of justice there,

because I hated violence. Still do. And I hated confrontation. And at an all-boys school, of course you're going to get bullies. And so my way of meting out justice to the bullies

was I would wait till everyone had gone to class and I would, say, steal their shorts on the day they had physical education classes and, therefore, they couldn't go and, therefore, they would get a detention. And, for me, that was, "Well, you just beat up this poor kid. I'm going to get you in trouble. I'm not going to front you, cos you'll just beat me up, but I'm going to make you pay in another way." So you had all these sorts of tricks, did you? Well, occasionally I would put paper up the locks of someone so they couldn't open their padlock. They'd have to get a new padlock if they were particularly bad. They must have known it was you. No-one ever worked it out. Even my mother. I suddenly had ten pairs of shorts and Mum never said, "What's going on with all these shorts?" So it was a...I guess it did - it was wrong, obviously, to steal. But I felt that I was doing a wrong that righted a far greater wrong that they were perpetrating on, you know, the weaker kids they were picking on. When your sister had her, what, 18th birthday, there was some louts that came to the party uninvited. Yeah, a bunch of guys came to the party and gatecrashed and stole most of the presents and got into a bunch of punch-ups. The police were called and it was a really upsetting experience... No doubt it ruined the night. ..for our family. And my mother - Inspector Mayne, we called her - she investigated this, she tracked down all the perpetrators, she fronted their parents with the boys and explained what they'd done and all these apologies came along and they all ended up paying a little bit of compensation and it was a real sense of my mother feeling there'd been an injustice and striving to put this wrong right. And I think that is very much the way I often feel about life and is an example of how I got that from my mother. Well, when did you figure out where you'd fit in in life? I got my lease in life when I got into journalism. When I was a 20-year-old, suddenly working for the biggest-selling newspaper in the country. I was just so proud of the fact that I was doing the stockmarket report.

All of a sudden, I was a player, wearing a suit, walking up and down Collins Street, ringing people and they'd return my calls and I thought it was fantastic. I was a player. I as The Age's banking writer in the middle of the 1992 banking crisis. I was covering Westpac's $1.6 billion loss and ANZ's $600 million loss and all the wash-up from the collapse of Tricontinental and the State Bank. And after 11 months of that, I got my big break to go into politics. 'It was Jeff Kennett's most triumphant hour.' I saw an ad in the Fin. Review advertising for press secretaries. And so I applied for that job and I knew that no-one would really want to work for Jeff Kennett. I wasn't surprised when the call came through to say, "Come in for an interview." I got the job, so at 23, I think I was, I found myself as a spin doctor for the Victorian treasurer, who was about to embark on the most amazing reform program that any stable sort of Western government has done. It was just an amazing revolution. 'Jeff Kennett told his audience of business and industry leaders what they wanted to hear.' Well, I was really excited to be working for a Liberal government. I'd spent the previous five years being a devoted Liberal

and I saw this as an exciting opportunity. But, unfortunately, I was still, in my heart, a journalist and I was still someone who couldn't keep a secret. So for the first few weeks, I was leaking stories like a sieve to all my old journo mates. And I actually almost got the sack. It's funny, I've never wielded one of these before. And then I think I became a really good spin doctor. I worked 70, 80 hours a week. I was in there most weekends. I worked from eight till eight every day. I was spinning the Kennett revolution and I was justifying closing 300 schools and cutting the health budget by 10% and selling everything that wasn't battened down. And it was just so exciting to be in the nerve centre of it, being the spokesman for the guy running the numbers, the treasurer, Alan Stockdale. And I was mainly signed up to it. I mean, I supported what the treasurer did. And Victoria was close to bankrupt and it had to slash and burn and put up taxes and turn things around. What was it that appealed to you about working in government at such a young age, 23?

I felt I was in the nerve centre, so you had power, you had information. I mean, you had status, although often you'd lie about where you worked when you went out on a Saturday night, because Kennett was so unpopular that it just wasn't worth the bun fight at the dinner party to say, "I'm a spin doctor for Jeff Kennett."

That's what you were doing. I was spinning it, but I really believed in what Stockdale was doing,

that he had a lot of personal integrity, he had a great intellect. I really admired his mind. And Victoria was broke. But still you're preparing to - because you've used the word yourself,

you were the spin doctor. That was my job and I was quite effective at it. But I didn't get into abusing journalists. I didn't get into some of the nasty tricks

that spin doctors do get up to. And I actively, you know, tried not to tell blatant lies and I never abused a journalist for, you know, criticising us and I hated the fact that Kennett used to ban journalists and I used to advise him not to do that, but he still just ignored me and banned The 7:30 Report and these sort of things. Ultimately, you were to leave and you really crossed the rubicon here into being the outsider, didn't you? Well, I guess...I think I took a sort of a moral framework that I got from my parents into big, institutionalised political and media power and worked happily within it, but saw some of the pitfalls of it.

And I then decided that having been inside the tent, having this insight into how power is exercised, that I felt that I could be truest to myself, where I can really challenge and use those insights that I had to, hopefully, drive for better and more responsible uses of power in the future across the business, political and media spectrum. I got amazing insight, being up close with Jeff Kennett. Then when I left and went back to the media, I started writing neutrally and I started criticising a few things. And I think it was, you know, I'd formed a view that he should come under maximum pressure. I then went to Sydney. So I left the state. And then I guess I was still obsessed with Jeff.

I was sitting at the Fin. Review in Sydney, doing my gossip column and I saw that Jeff Kennett had banned all candidate debate in the 1999 election campaign. And for me, this was just... it just reminded me of everything I didn't like about Jeff. Victoria has come a long way in seven years. And I announced that I was standing in Jeff Kennett's seat of Burwood as an Independent candidate. 'The Premier's former advisor has been ruled ineligible to stand because he hasn't lived in the state for the past 30 days.' The Saturday after that happened was the worst day of my life. I went around to my friend's house in tears and that day, you know, with tears flooding down my cheeks, I pumped out 10,000 words in one day. I published all that on and then things turned around from that moment. Now, you seem quite chirpy about this now, but you weren't then.

The Saturday after I was ruled ineligible was the worst day of my life. I was absolutely devastated. I went around to my parents' house in tears. My dad said - you know, he was so upset that I'd blown up my career. He literally said, you know, leave. And he was just so upset that he just said, "Leave and come back when you've got a decent job again." And then when I published my explanation on with his words ringing in my ear, he then rang me up and said, "Look, I've read it, I now understand," and, you know, "come back."

So it was like the prodigal son, was it? Well, I guess... ..I guess it was all about, you know, just... parents were very important in my life and I felt that I'd let them down. And then...and then that they, know, they said, "Oh, we understand. We..." It sounds like this was a knock to your confidence, the likes of which you've never had before or since. Would that be right? Yeah, look, it was a... it was a massive blow. It was the first thing I'd really done in my career where I'd made a massive decision and I'd completely bucked the system. It was devastating and... Stephen, what do you take from this episode of your life now? Cos your life's moved on well past all of that. But those sorts of things can't happen without them recalibrating our lives. I look back at that now

and I'm very proud of what I did and then using that as a launchpad into continually challenging authority, you know, fighting the good fight. And I look back on it now and I'm very happy with it. And I think I've built on it and I sleep very well at night and I'm very happy.

Why 'Crikey'? Well, it stands for being cheeky, irreverent, anti-establishment - Five months later, after the election, we launched That then became the next five years of my life. MAN: 'Tonight at ten on Firth And Friends, Firth turns the tables on the Crikey muckraker, Stephen Mayne. ..a taste of your own medicine! It was a hell of a ride in terms of adventurous publishing, some good, some bad, some brave. Picking fights with the rich and powerful. Well, I've already got dirt on you! 'Agitating the agitator.'

You have a very - NEWSREADER: 'The unscheduled entertainment was courtesy of News Limited political columnist Glen Milne, who attacked founder Stephen Mayne.' You are a disgrace.

I've had a lot of robust exchanges and, you know, you just sort of move on. That is the former Sunday Telegraph political correspondent Glen Milne. Sponsored by Foster's.

Crikey could exist because a lot of people anonymously contributed to it. That was the basic... well, not the only reason it succeeded, but I did change the way that journalism worked

in that most traditional media outlets rely on journalists to do the work. You pay them, you hold them to account. That's right and you put their names on it. I had a model which was relying on players - so political staffers or business people. So not just journalists who are interpreting the play, but actual players. And then I would let them put their own words out there, often using a pseudonym. And this, basically, was a way of having

public disclosures that you wouldn't ordinarily get. So it gave us content that people wouldn't expect. So if someone had something hot, give it to Crikey, they'll take the risk. As all these powerful people out there used me and my website to get square with my enemies and get other information out there - Well, that's what happened to me. I know. So... One of your contributors said I'd been a has-been. Really. Yep. You published it. And do you know who it was? Who sent it in?

Well,, not really. I can guess, but... Yeah, so... I didn't like it. That would be a classic... a classic example. And this very exchange happens to me a lot, where I'm out and about

and meet someone and they say, "You did this to me" and I say, "Well, I don't remember it and I published many, many millions of words and stories." So that raises the question is that ethical? Someone doesn't... some contributor of yours, who remains anonymous, doesn't like somebody and publishes something that's hurtful. You just become the cipher for it.

Are you OK with that? You do become a cipher. I'm OK with it as long as build in some qualifications. And the first qualification is that you always allow a right of reply and there is nothing you won't publish. So what regrets do you have about publishing? Well, I think that the person who probably got the roughest run out of Crikey was Natasha Stott Despoja. So I sort of had the receiver model, where I just receive emails that come in. And in the case of Natasha, we ran too much material. There's a problem with that, too, that in journalism, you don't want to be the vehicle for someone who's actually an enemy of somebody else. You don't want to be their outlet. Well, in theory, yes, but in practice, you know, people have sources and that's the way of the world. There is an element of that in many forms of journalism. The key is to not be captured and to not be compromised as such that you can never criticise your source. So I always found that was the test, that you never get so owned or rely on someone so much that their supporters get some sort of protection from you because they're giving you information. During these exciting times, you had the support of your wife, Paula. And, to say the least, she must really love you. Not a bad catch. Paula moved in a few weeks after we launched Crikey. And then we were married in less than a year after getting together. So it was a real whirlwind romance. Within a month of our wedding, Paula fell pregnant accidentally. This was actually quite a shock to us both. Hey, $12.60 from Macquarie Bank. And then we got our second defamation writ, the big one, from Steve Price. I really put my poor wife, Paula, through a heck of a battle in terms of dislocation, financial uncertainty, losing the house, constantly moving from rented house to rented house. And so finally selling Crikey after this 5-year slog was a great relief for all of us and we ended up selling Crikey for $1 million,

which was amazing, given where we'd come from.

Welcome to the Mayne Report. So here today is the market digests, these huge BHP profit numbers. I'm here to make a very important announcement. I, Stephen Mayne, am this year running for the board of BHP Billiton for the first time. And the platform is very simple. That BHP Billiton should abandon this crazy takeover bid for Rio Tinto. Well, The Mayne Report is a video blog, where I'm also capturing the audio and video from AGMs and also sending out specific material, written material, on corporate governance. So it's a specific niche publication promoting better corporate governance in Australia, shareholder activism but doing it in a multimedia way. I'm Stephen Mayne. Just keep doing your best. A bit over the top or...? When aren't you over the top? So Stephen the shareholder activist

is a new phase of life for you. Yeah, well, it's very niche, isn't it? Like it's just focusing on going to AGMs and holding corporates to account.

There's no politics. It's not particularly - apart from, you know, taking on Rupert Murdoch or James Packer, it's not particularly focusing on the media. But I do feel passionate that there is a public benefit from good shareholder activism that I think, literally, corporate Australia has squandered

our wonderful dowry, that we've got clubby boards of directors who keep getting re-elected with 99% of the vote and it makes me angry. How many boards have you applied to go on the board of? I've run for 30 public company boards. And... Have you had a real shot at any of them? I started off getting, you know, 58% for Woolworths and 44% for the NRMA. And I realised there really was a problem with me when I ran for AMP in 2003 after they'd just lost $10 billion and I got 11% and the two incumbents got 81%.

And this was the biggest destruction of money in Australian history. So I sort of thought, "Maybe there's a problem with me as the candidate." I buy $500 worth of shares in anything that moves, it could come up. So I've now got 730 different shares in my portfolio. NEWSREADER: 'Corporate agitator and former News employee Stephen Mayne stood for election as a director.' My aim was to lodge a protest vote for Rupert to be more accountable, more transparent and to embrace corporate governance. Mr Mayne asked some very good questions. The retention of 10% shareholder capital - 70% of my time is trying to build a culture of shareholder pressure in Australia, cos I passionately believe that corporate Australia hasn't performed well.

We do well in the Olympics, but we don't do well in the Olympics for corporate performance. And one of the reasons is that there's no pressure on these guys to perform. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger no-brainer than what is on offer today.

I eventually want to set up an activist fund that has some dollars behind it, so it's not just my words at an AGM, it's not just me running for a board and losing again,

but there's actually some dollars behind it that can really force some change in corporate Australia. Please, act in accordance with your responsibilities and do the right thing and step up there now and change your mind. Well, you really get a bee in your bonnet about these things. Well, you have to be accountable. If you do something wrong, particularly with public money or in a public company or as a public official, then you should be held to account if you've stuffed up and that doesn't happen enough in Australia. Making a lifestyle out of this, though, that's quite a different thing than holding opinions about it. Well, it's funny, since I got the million dollars,

I've actually been terribly uncommercial and I've sort of blown through about $300,000 sort of following my passions of flying around the country. Now my wife's saying to me, "Well, come on, you can't keep burning through the cash.

How are you going to make a living?" You've never lacked excitement. I still get up in the morning and I read the newspapers and I'll be incandescent with rage about something that's going on. So I guess the passion just runs and I'm just looking for new and exciting ways of trying to shake the trees. Stephen, if I was a tree, I'd live in fear of being shaken by you. Thanks very much, Peter. Thank you very much indeed. Closed Captions by CSI PETER THOMPSON: 'Next week on Talking Heads, Jim Sharman, the creative mind behind Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' So, come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. 'That's Monday, half past six.' MAN: 'Wednesday on The Cook And The Chef, Tasmania's sensational seafood.' That's what we're after. They've got a bit of weight on them. They do. They've got plenty of weight with them. They're good fish. 'Scallops and wakami. That's The Cook And The Chef, Wednesday, 6:30.' . CC Tonight, words amid more words amid more gloomy forecasts. forecasts. Together we are gonna meet it and defeat it. A $6 billion plan to jump-start the xar industry. Grim outlook - the new Treasurer contemplates a Budget deficit. To And moved to tears, 90 after the great war.Good evening, Craig Allen News. The Reserve Bank has joined the gloomy chorus on the economy, dropping its forecast for growth and for growth and the evidence it's it's right about a downturn keeps coming. year, new home year, new home loans have taken their biggest tumble in their biggest tumble in a decade. Through it all, decade. Through it all, the Government says it's looking at every sector financial crisis to meet and defeat it. Political editor