Hard News by Russell Brown


The Honours

I was never greatly exercised about the availability or otherwise of the titles "Sir" and "Dame" in our honours system. I was pleased, naturally, when the Labour National government replaced the creaking honours of empire with a national system, but there seems little harm in allowing the few souls we have accorded the highest honours enjoy a recognisable title.

We should not, of course, expect to be hearing about "Dame Helen Clark" now that the former Prime Minister has been appointed to the Order of New Zealand. Indeed, her response to the whole thing has been speleologically low-key. You can almost hear her mutter between the lines, "Look, for goodness sake, Mike Moore got one of these. And I'm really a bit busy running the United Nations right now."

The Herald editorial offers the standard, managerial assessment of her decade in power (as usual, treating the radical fall in public debt during this time as a sort of accidental footnote, rather than something that saved our sovereign arse when the credit crunch hit), ignoring social policy altogether, while Garth George, bless his heart sees her as the steward of a mob of "hyperactive ideologues".

Meanwhile Fran O'Sullivan finally gets to stop reminding us that Doug Myers does not, as is sometimes supposed, have a "Sir" before his name. He does now, and to judge by his comments on the radio, he's jolly pleased with himself. As O'Sullivan points out:

In 2004, Sir Doug sponsored historian Michael Bassett and biographer Paul Goldsmith to write a Myers family biography so his three children, Jessica, Laura and Campbell, "could be inspired by the knowledge of their family's origins, lives and contributions to society".

Paid, Fran. The word is paid. He paid a friendly historian and biographer to write a book about how important his family was.

The Myers story is headlined 'New knight fixed on making NZ competitive':

He is particularly proud of Lion Nathan, the Kiwi company he forged to become the top player in the Australasian brewing industry before selling out to Japan's Kirin Breweries in 1998.

"We're probably 'one of one' who went to Australia and got to the 'top of the pops ... Lion's done much better than Foster's. That from the business perspective is the best feeling ..."

Actually kinda not true. As a useful backgrounder by Brian Gaynor points out, Myers' time as a director and major shareholder in Lion in the 1990s was characterised by disappointing earnings, declining Australian market share and failure to meet profit forecasts.

The Lion ship, Gaynor notes, "has performed much better since Myers and most of his fellow directors jumped into the life boat."

The jump was, of course, the 1998 part-sale to the Japanese brewer Kirin, a hugely controversial deal in which Myers and his fellow directors put themselves at the front of the queue and left other Lion shareholders in the cold.

Ten years before, Lion acquired L.D. Nathan in a deal structured so that Fay, Richwhite received 64% more than other Nathan investors for its shareholding.

Gaynor notes claims that Fay, Richwhite was "effectively warehousing shares for Myers," and Myers' contention that small investors were mere freeloaders. Anyone who wonders why it's been so hard to get New Zealanders to invest in the share market rather than in housing should look at that sorry little episode.

But there has certainly been some sweet justice for the small shareholders left out of the 1998 Kirin deal. The Japanese company this year hoovered up the remaining holdings in Lion at far better price than Myers and his fellow directors got for themselves when they took the money and ran in 1998. Myers alone missed out on $865 million.

But that assumes that the company would have fared as well with Myers and his chums still around the boardroom table. In the circumstances, it appears that Sir Douglas's most useful contribution to New Zealand's competitiveness may be to continue to stay away.

But let's not end that way when the Honours themselves embrace so many people who have given of themselves in so many ways. It's right and proper that we recognise them, their achievements, their commitment and work, their bravery and charity. Here's to them, and I'm not really bothered what we let them call themselves.

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