SKASE, CHRISTOPHER CHARLES (1948–2001)
In the second half of the 1980s, Christopher Skase was perhaps the most glamorous of all Australian media proprietors, owning a television network, a suite of prestigious tourist resorts in Queensland and Hawaii, an Australian Rules football club and, fleetingly, a Hollywood studio.
The son of 3DB radio personality Charles Skase, Skase withdrew from a commerce degree to work at stockbroker JBWere, then as a business journalist at the Sun News-Pictorial and the Australian Financial Review in Melbourne. In 1974, he formed an investment company, Takeovers, Equities and Management Securities (TEAM), with three other equal partners: Peter Hutchins, John Shergold and Doug Shears. After three years, Skase emerged with a controlling interest in a shelf company, Qintex, which became his chief corporate vehicle.
By the mid-1980s, Qintex had acquired the jeweller Hardy Brothers, an array of regional television investments, a controlling stake in Brisbane’s TVQ0 and land at Southport and Port Douglas for development. These became the basis of a diverse media and tourism group, which thrived in an environment of easy credit, and rising stockmarket and property values.
Skase and his second wife, Pixie, courted the great, the good and the influential. Awarded a licence to develop the Brisbane Bears Football Club, and running two costly ‘Skins’ golf tournaments featuring Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, he became an early sports entrepreneur.
In 1987, Qintex agreed to pay John Fairfax $780 million for the Seven Network: Sydney’s ATN7, Melbourne’s HSV7 and Brisbane’s BTQ7. In 1988, he agreed to pay Robert Holmes à Court’s Bell Group $113 million for Perth’s TVW7 and Adelaide’s SAS7. This placed Qintex in breach of audience reach limits set by federal media ownership laws, which he campaigned to increase; although involving instalment payments, they also over-taxed an already extended balance sheet. Qintex’s price plunged after it announced plans to acquire MGM/UA in April 1989; a strike by commercial airline pilots then devastated his resort businesses.
Burdened by debts in excess of $1 billion, Qintex collapsed in November 1989. Skase declared himself bankrupt in 1991, and left the country soon afterwards for Spain, from which he declined to return on grounds of ill-health. His absence, and rumours that he had salted away a personal fortune, became a cause célêbre, and an arrest warrant was issued in 1994, to no avail. He died of cancer in August 2001 with extradition proceedings still pending.
REFs: T. Prior, Christopher Skase (1994); T. Sykes, The Bold Riders (1994).