■ Meeting takes first step against subdivision
Cruden Farm is draped in trusts, business names and public and private entities. It’s a wonder passers-by can see anything of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s splendid garden for them. Only a superbly accomplished, highly paid tax expert could keep track. A humble Bandicoot hasn’t a chance.
The entity that appears to be in charge of the property – which awaits a decision on whether nearly a third of its 54 hectares can be subdivided for a cash return of $30 million or more – is the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Trust,* established just after Dame Elisabeth’s death aged 103 in 2012.
A meeting to establish a “where to now” plan on how to oppose the proposed break-up of Cruden Farm for housing dealt briefly with this cobweb of entities at a public meeting last night (Friday 21 April) at Langwarrin Community Centre.
About 50 people attended the meeting, chaired by Liberal state MP for Hastings Neale Burgess (pictured below). He opposes the break-up but sought ideas on how to raise the $15 million the property claims it needs to continue operating.
The K&EM trust is a charity, meaning it must be not-for-profit; have only charitable purposes; must not do naughty things such as engage in political activities; and must not be an individual, a political party or a government entity. The trust members are not known.
Well, that’s cleared that bit up – “up to a point”, as staff used to tell the fictional megalomaniacal newspaper baron Lord Copper rather than risk telling him he was wrong.
Lord Copper rampages through Evelyn Waugh’s merry satire ‘Scoop’, whose chief character is nature notes writer William Boot, mistakenly sent to cover an African rebellion for Lord Copper’s ‘Daily Beast’. Bandicoot heartily recommends the book.
Lord Copper is depicted in Waugh’s novel as being about Rupert Murdoch’s current age of 86.
The K&EM trust has been able to claim GST tax concessions since 1 January 2013 and income tax exemptions from the same date. But it cannot receive tax-deductible gifts. Lord Copper probably wouldn’t have liked that, any more than Rupert Murdoch likes paying tax. His News Corp paid none in 2013-14.
We were assured at the Friday meeting that Mr Murdoch has no interest in or influence over Cruden Farm, the place where as a boy he was at least once slippered for some juvenile wickedness by his mother, Dame Elisabeth. He called her “the disciplinarian”.
The name Cruden Farm has been the property’s registered business name for ABN purposes since 4 April this year, well after the plan to sell off land for housing began to take shape – although, confusingly, another ASIC document states “Cruden Farm” was registered as the business name on 5 January this year.
This was done by the mysterious land developer Hamish Macdonald of UEG Pty Ltd, whose principal place of business is a private house in leafy Brighton. He also registered the business name mediman (no capital letters). It is not known if mediman has anything to do with Cruden Farm.
Another legal entity is associated with Cruden Farm. Cruden Custodian Limited is an unlisted Australian public company whose directors are named as Anne Kantor, Elisabeth Janet Calvert-Jones, Prudence Macleod, Judith Patterson and Ian Leonard Evans. (Pictured: Anne Kantor standing at back, Janet Calvert-Jones, at right, with Rupert and Dame Elisabeth.)
Mesdames Kantor and Calvert-Jones are sisters of Mr Murdoch. Ms Macleod is the only child of the first of his four marriages, the latest being in March 2016 to former supermodel and Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Jerry Hall, 60.
Ms Patterson and Mr Evans do not appear on the Murdoch family tree. Do Mr Murdoch’s sisters and daughter yield to any influence he may wish to exercise over the property? Not according to the K&EM trust …
… Although Mr Murdoch, like a god on Mt Olympus, needs only to make the slightest gesture or send the tiniest little Twitter to influence 70% of Australia’s print media and assorted acolytes and toadies all over several continents. What’s the point of power if you don’t wield it? [Retort from the wings: “Ask Malcolm.”]
But wait! – there are more Cruden companies – Cruden Investments and Cruden Investments Qld, Cruden Bay Pty Ltd and Cruden Bay Limited, and Cruden Consulting Limited. One, a Chinese company, has since dissolved. It might have been associated with Mr Murdoch’s previous wife Wendi Deng, who bore him two daughters, Grace and Chloe.
But back to the meeting, which is told that Dame Elisabeth had planned for the subdivision and had made this clear in a biography (title not disclosed) and her will (contents unknown), which information Mr Burgess undertook to follow up. This was contradicted by other audience members and, in Bandicoot’s and others’ understanding that Dame Elisabeth intended no such thing.
Mr Burgess said the state government favoured the property split-up, despite the grave consequence of interfering with the green wedge zone in which Cruden Farm sits. Perhaps Labor has been pressured: Labor and Liberal have agreed – apparently until now – that the Urban Growth Boundary would not be moved, partly to prevent developers descending on it in hordes and particularly not to help any landowner to overcome financial difficulties.
To make an exception for Cruden Farm would risk opening the floodgates to the ravening developer hordes, it was explained to the meeting by Green Wedges Coalition chief Rosemary West, with the feeble Bandicoot voice heard in assent. He knows of developments awaiting the go-ahead on the Mornington Peninsula.
But what Mr Murdoch wants Mr Murdoch usually gets, even when he apparently has no influence and even if, as is the case here, it means spending millions to get it – possibly even more than the $15 million the farm apparently needs to continue operating.
Mr Burgess even suggested the state government could give the Murdochs the $15 million – an insignificant sum in Victoria’s budget, he said – rather than see Cruden Farm shut up shop. That brought a few chuckles.
Bandicoot’s febrile mind summoned up an image of Mr Murdoch, his daughter Elisabeth and sons Lachlan and James, and possibly super-model Jerry Hall, sitting huddled in rags in the Bourke St Mall behind a note scrawled on cardboard, piteously begging for the money to save Mum’s farm.
Then another idea hit him like a lightning bolt – each child could hand over $5 million to buy one of the three land titles proposed for the subdivision, for a hobby farm apiece or to be gifted to the state of Victoria, as a philanthropic gesture of the sort for which Granny Elisabeth was renowned and loved.
They’d hardly miss the $5 million, the farm would be rescued and the 23,694 (and counting) visitors to Bandicoot’s scoop on the subdivision plan – “Bandicoot scoops Rupert, shock-horror!” – and the 3000 who have so far signed the online petition to save Cruden Farm would salute the Murdoch children.
A further meeting will be held, at which the K&EM trustees will explain their proposition to the public. By then Bandicoot and other news outlets will have dug out more facts on the proposal. Some might get past the smooth pro-subdivision propaganda campaign News Corp is running through its news organs, including the various Leader newspapers which Mr Murdoch has not yet closed.
Above: James, Elisabeth and Lachlan with Rupert.
Do not, Bandicoot advises, be under any illusion that the industrious News journalists unanimously back the subdivision campaign. But orders are orders. Watch carefully: if the articles carry no reporter’s names they are almost certainly part of the campaign. And so is the Cruden Farm book launch.
Another option Bandicoot thinks would be very jolly fun would be for the Fairfax media, including newspapers (The Age, the Australian Financial Review) and radio 3AW, to run an appeal to help poor old Rupert out. If he’s short of $15 million to secure the future of “the disciplinarian’s” home for over eight decades, he must be really doing it tough. Perhaps Jerry has even more expensive tastes than the fragrant Wendi (pictured).
■ A fixed trust is a trust in which persons have fixed entitlements to all of the income and capital of the trust at all times during the income year. That is, the trustee is bound to make a distribution to the beneficiaries in a fixed or predetermined manner, as set out in the trust deed. The fixed entitlement may be a specified fraction or a percentage.
■ Disclosure: the Bandicoot worked for The Age for a quarter of a century or more. The Age/Fairfax versus Packer, then Fairfax versus News Corp bunfights, were, probably still are, most enjoyable and energising cat versus dog stoushes.