NEWTON, MAXWELL (1929–90)
Max Newton was a brilliant, colourful financial journalist. Before becoming unpredictable and manic, he was an abrasive, controversial pioneer in criticising long-standing economic policies. An economics graduate from the University of Western Australia and Clare College, Cambridge, he was employed briefly by the Treasury before joining the editorial staff of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1957. As political correspondent in Canberra, he claimed to be ‘one of the first journalists to penetrate the civil service’. From 1960, as editor of the Australian Financial Review, he transformed interpretative and analytical financial reporting. In 1964, he became founding editor of the Australian, but less than a year later he fell out with Rupert Murdoch.
Newton became correspondent for the London Economist and the Financial Times. In June 1965, in Canberra, he began a weekly subscription newsletter, Incentive, followed by Tariff Week and other specialist subscription newsletters that soon became ‘required reading around Parliament House’. Newton’s promotion of free trade and deregulation of the economy brought him into conflict with the powerful leader of the Country Party, (Sir) John McEwen, a feud that brought increasing notoriety, culminating in a 1969 police raid on Newton’s premises.
The raid coincided with a time of expansion, with the lease of a factory, purchase of a large printing press and the acquisition of several regional and trade publications and a Sydney shipping newspaper, the Daily Commercial News. Newton believed he ‘would get much better’ when he had newspapers, but he later admitted he had ‘much more influence’ when he only had newsletters. In 1969, he launched the Perth Sunday Independent, financed by mining magnates Lang Hancock and Peter Wright, and two years later the Melbourne Observer, which closed after Newton’s bankruptcy following failed attempts to make money running brothels and publishing pornography. By then he was suffering increasing instability and lack of judgement, attributed to a manic depressive illness and fuelled by alcohol and drug-induced psychosis.
In the 1980s, Newton re-established his career as a right-wing economic journalist as financial editor of Murdoch’s New York Post. His columns were syndicated in the Murdoch press and he became a widely read economics and financial commentator. In 1983, he published a book on the American monetary system. He died in the United States on 23 July 1990, aged 61.
REFs: P. Clarke, ‘On a Roller-coaster with Maxwell Newton Publications’, Canberra Historical Jnl (July 2006); S. Newton, Maxwell Newton (1993).