Witch hunt: The Fin’s crusade to destroy CPA boss Alex Malley

by | Mar 27, 2017 | Business, Comment Analysis

The Australian Financial Review has been tirelessly battering Alex Malley, the head of CPA Australia, for two years. How exquisite is the irony.

CPA, a professional body for accountants, lays down million-dollar surpluses year after year, “The Fin” lays down donut. Yet, as story after story ripped into Malley and his management of CPA, rival professional body CAANZ (Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand) has been mollycoddled with the customary string of Fin Review puff-pieces. CAANZ is loss-making.

The newspaper really hit it straps this morning with a breathless page one “expose” on how, ten years ago, Malley gave tutorials to students without even telling his former employee Macquarie University he was doing it. He and a host of others even sold textbooks to students, like every other academic in the known world.

In the journalism trade, this is what they call a “beat-up”. It is the epitome of the beat-up.

That defamation lawyer Mark O’Brien is bearing down on the Fin over its Malley coverage is one thing, that the newspaper’s credibility is shot and that this is a newspaper in “run-off” is another.

CPA appears to be the only peak body with an “Events” budget and an “A” in its name which attracts hard-hitting coverage from the Fin. You name it – BCA, MCA, APPEA, ABA – if it is an industry PR outfit which espouses lower taxes for rich people and lower wages for poor people, the Fin will be there bashing out its press releases, touting its campaigns from page one.

After a volley of ad hominem hit-jobs from the Fin’s gossip columnist Joe Aston, Malley finally got fed up a few days ago and fired off a 16-pager to CPA members defending his stewardship and answering the newspaper’s criticism.

The Fin and CPA used to host a Sunday morning TV show on Nine Network. The show, which featured Joe Aston, got axed.

In its place, Nine ran a chat show with Alex Malley interviewing celebs like The Fonz, Gai Waterhouse, Neil Armstrong. To the chagrin of the Fin, that still runs.

Here’s what Malley told his members last week:

“Since Financial Review Sunday was “shelved”, the columnist has written more than 30 articles across print and online, with many being tweeted and retweeted by AFR journalists and the paper itself, disparaging CPA Australia, our chief executive and, by extension, all CPA Australia members.

“In February 2016, CPA Australia’s television program took over the 10am Sunday time-slot that had previously been occupied by Financial Review Sunday.”

Aston rubbished the CPA claims, though failed to land a real punch. The Fin has since put two other reporters on the story.


The next story began with the line “the screws tightened on Alex Malley”; another majestic irony from the Fin as Mark O’Brien has also filed a defamation suit against the newspaper for an Aston story about flamboyant investor Michael Kodari.

Further, Malley’s email reveals he has a recorded conversation with Fairfax editorial boss Sean Aylmer in which Aylmer actually apologises to Malley for Joe Aston’s stories.

In Aston’s defence, Alex Malley is fair fodder for a business gossip column. Malley’s grinning visage adorns giant billboards around the country. His head is on the sides of buses. His book, The Naked CEO, is promoted from pillar to post.

Malley, many would say, was cruising for a bruising. For an accountant, for the head of an accounting advocacy organisation, the branding would seem overkill … but for its sheer success.

The CPA’s personality strategy, selling Alex Malley, has delivered spectacular results. Memberships up 30,000 to 160,000 in seven years, record surpluses, a presence in 19 countries. The Malley branding has worked.

There are reasonable criticisms to be made about the CPA’s lavish marketing budget, directors’ pay, and transparency; but these are the very sort of criticisms which might be levelled at a thousand other institutions – including the Fin which markets the personal brand of gossip columnist Joe Aston.

While CPA strapped on another 30,000 members over the past nine years, circulation of the weekday Fin dropped by 40,000 to 47,000. As it was late to the digital party, online audience is negligible.

Besides CPA’s 160,000 members, Malley has 454,318 LinkedIn followers and 126,000 on Twitter. As his personal distribution already eclipses the Fin, Alex Malley hardly needs to clog up the courts with defamation proceedings. But it is obvious the Fin has it in for him.

Unfortunately, the good work of the real journalists at the Fin, as is the case with The Australian, is tarnished by the agendas, ideological prejudices and toadying of its managers to vested interests.

Just as The Oz has torn down acres of plantation forest obsessing about free speech clause 18c – bellicosely defending peoples’ rights to insult people – The Fin has squandered its resources on harebrained campaigns like the pursuit of Alex Malley.

Both the national dailies have been bleeding red ink for years pandering to a tiny market of big business people.

The Malley coverage is redolent of the newspaper’s campaign against the ANU. The depths were plumbed in 2014 when the Fin pumped out literally dozens of stories lambasting the Australian National University (ANU) for divesting its shares in Santos.

After this festival of indignation, shares in Santos dived from more than $12 to less than $3. A jumbo capital raising ensued. In dumping its Santos shares, the ANU probably did the deal of the year. That was never reported.

The orgy of insults which followed the divestment was not matched with even a skerrick of investigation when a suspicious looking takeover bid offer for Santos conveniently materialised after its share price rout.

Spectre of mystery around Santos suitor Scepter

Such is mainstream business journalism these days. It is getting worse. As Paddy Manning, freelance journalist and former SMH business chief of staff, wrote about the Fin in 2013:

“Herograms for business leaders, unreadable roundtables and conference-linked spreads featuring plenty of happy snaps of business leaders with a glass of champagne or mineral water in hand…

“Nobody reads it. Educated readers … hate it. Ultimately, even advertisers shun it. It’s a business model for business journalism that had been tried at both The AFR and The Australian. It doesn’t work.”

Manning was sacked for that, sacked for telling the truth, sacked for exercising free speech, sacked by Aston’s boss.


So parlous are the finances of the Financial Review that Fairfax management hides them. They are not stripped out in the newspaper’s results, instead they are buried in Metro Media division along with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

While Malley’s CPA notches up surpluses every year, the poor old Fin and other metro papers suffered a 55 per cent fall in earnings before interest and tax to $13.8 million.

Where their journalism has failed, they are now counting on “Events” to lift revenue. Indeed “Events” sales were up 33 per cent last year. The actual dollar figures, if disclosed, are hard to find.

It is true that the kowtowing to big business is de riguer for the financial press, dilapidated as it is and desperate to keep advertising coming in the door.

It is also true that the Fin and The Oz – in spite of all their resources – also miss a lot of the biggest stories in business, beaten by the likes of The Guardian (which doesn’t even have a business reporter) on Adani, the ABC on Macquarie, the metro dailies on big bank investigations and by yours truly on multinational tax and the debacles in electricity and gas … just beaten into irrelevance weekly; its good reporters interred on the inside pages while it campaigns off the front page for the corporate PR fraternity.

The big business bootlicking might be slightly defensible if it were even-handed. Yet The Fin has disclosed that it had a commercial arrangement with CPA’s arch rival CAANZ (also with Westpac which would not take kindly to Malley’s efforts to undermine the big bank’s financial planning empires).

Indeed this reporter copped some heat over CAANZ coverage – a solid story on the merger pulled from SMH online for two days while CAANZ was busy advertising – far fairer coverage than the Malley stories.

CAANZ: of accountants as artists and cooks


March 16, 2017

Chartered Accountants ANZ reveals CEO’s $600,000 salary

Chartered Accountants ANZ has broken ranks with rival accounting bodies, the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) and CPA Australia, by disclosing how much its CEO and board members are paid.

31 Jan 2017

Accountants to get dedicated mental health service as wellbeing worries rise

Professional body Chartered Accountants ANZ will launch a dedicated mental health programme from the middle of the year.

7 Dec 2016

CAANZ develops ‘big data’ engine with Westpac, Microsoft

CAANZ has struck a multimillion-dollar joint venture with Westpac and Microsoft to build a data analytics platform to boost its relevance to members.
Nov 22, 2016

Chartered Accountants ANZ launch Kairos tools and data platform

Professional body Chartered Accountants ANZ has launched its cloud-based suite of programs and tools for small and medium accounting practices after almost a year of testing and refinement.

Nov 9, 2016

Not just a case of good or bad, black or white

by Lee White. Lee White FCA, Chief Executive Officer Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

This content is produced by The Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with Chartered Accountants.

We surveyed over 700 bankers and financial practitioners from around the world to look under the bonnet of ethics in banking and finance. And we found that it’s not as simple as good, bad, black or white.

Feb 23, 2016

Chartered Accountants turns over a new leaf

With the $18 million trans-Tasman merger between Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and its New Zealand counterpart done and dusted, members are pressing the professional body to turn its attention to demonstrating the advantages of the integration.


March 23, 2017

CPA Australia resorts to identifying ‘friendlies’ and ‘managing’ members

An email from CPA Australia top brass urging senior staff to identify “friendlies” and “manage” members has sparked fresh anger among an already disaffected membership.

March 20, 2017

Screws are tightening and scrutiny intensifies as CPA defends Singapore AGM

The screws tightened on Alex Malley and his merry band of board members at CPA Australia just that little bit more on Monday as the member-led insurrection gathered pace and questions of accountability and transparency went mainstream.

March 19, 2017

Unpicking Alex Malley, CPA spending defence

There is so much to say about the extraordinary 16-page defence manifesto CPA Australia released on Friday in the wake of our coverage and its memberships’ burgeoning insurrection.

March 16, 2017

CPA members take heart: The Fonz is here to make sense of your dues

CPA members are arcing up, asking how a TV interview between their CEO Alex Malley and The Fonz can possibly constitute effective use of their membership dues.

March 12, 2017

CPA Australia disables search tool, delays on AGM, annual report

The quiet revolution in the ranks of accounting membership body CPA Australia continues apace.

March 6, 2017

CPA Australia disables search tool, delays on AGM, annual report

By all accounts, CPA Australia’s disruptive CEO, Alex Malley ain’t happy. Panic might just be setting in, folks …

March 3, 2017

Alex Malley’s members open eyes to CPA salaries

Long-suffering fee-payers to CPA Australia, the fiefdom that Alex Malley built, are rising up

March 1, 2017

There’s nowhere CPA’s Alex Malley and his sidekick won’t go for their members

If we were to come back in another life, we think we’d like to come back as Jillian Bowen – the self-styled producer of all of the sparkling content to which Australian business messiah Alex Malley’s lays claim.

February 19, 2017

Alex Malley cops it from CPA members, and Gerard Henderson

Speaking of the suspended schoolboy who blew hot air (and his members’ cash) all the way to the helm of an accounting standards body, we must pay tribute to cult curmudgeon Gerard Henderson for his missive on CPA Australia head Alex Malley on Friday, in which the Sydney Institute director admitted to “an aversion to flying.” “It does not come from a concern about aircraft crashes – but, rather, it’s a reaction to seeing huge hoardings at airports of Malley flogging his piss-poor book The Naked CEO.

January 29, 2017

CPA Australia’s tennis sponsorship raises eyebrows

One source of choked merriment on Saturday night – and indeed for the past fortnight: was the drenching of CPA Australia signage on the digital walls of the centre court. You could hear the snickering.

Malley might be an epic blowhard but if he really is an expert on anything at all, clearly, it’s managing up!

Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.

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