Markson told Media Man magazine about the secret to the Markson Sparks! agency's success, "Pavlova sitting, wet T-shirt contests and my involvement with President Clinton. We've done more functions with him than anyone else in the world".Wh
By early 2002 Clinton had pocketed $1 Million in speaking fees and the Markson Sparks agency was plastered all over the Australian press.
One of their first gigs in Australia was for a cause close to Markson's heart - the Labor Council of NSW. Markson was a committed fundraiser for the Labor Party but even Max's legendary negotiation skills didn't deliver a discount from Bill - Clinton received $150,000 for his appearance.
Clinton packed his itinerary for the 2002 trip and no cause or group was taboo. Besides the Markson Sparks! million-dollar-gigs, Clinton found time for the Australian Council for the Peaceful Reunification of China at their conference in Sydney. Noted Chinese dissident Wei Jingheng publicly criticized Clinton saying the conference was “a method from the Chinese government of promoting so-called nationalism and as past President of America he should not be participating.” President George W. Bush visited Taiwan that same week and issued a pledge to “help Taiwan defend herself if provoked” by the PRC. Clinton was paid $300,000 for this participation in this conference.
Markson made room for Clinton's passions during his Australian sojourns - golf, money and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The Clinton cachet was PR gold, years later Angie Kelly in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about the plate on the wall of Port Douglas's Salsa restaurant, signed by former "leader of the free world" Bill Clinton .
"And did you notice the date he wrote it?" the owner asked. Kelly reported that she had indeed noticed that Clinton had handwritten the date September 11, 2001.
"He was here in this restaurant when the secret service people came in and whispered the news of the Twin Towers collapse. And he immediately jumped into a car and sped off somewhere."
So when Max called with the idea for Clinton to come back for a repeat performance in early 2006 Clinton didn't hesitate. Even if this time around it meant sharing the stage with Michael Eisner of Disney fame and Carly Fiorina the computer company guru.
Markson meant money and when money talks Bill appears to listen.
On Tuesday 21 February 2006, seven hundred people paid $2,400 to hear Clinton and the gang chew the fat.
The Australian media went wild for Bill - no move was too small to be reported.
On Tuesday 21 February Bill put in a full a day shopping, restauranting and speaking to Max's Sydney crowd. He seemed a little jaded. Jackals in the Australian media said Bill was sick - a claim Markson jumped on. Bill was fine, said Max and he'd be in Melbourne ready to shine at his Markson Sparks! brilliant best.
If something had to give, it wasn't going to be Max's money-makers.
On 22 February, Bill was scheduled for a press conference with Alexander Downer to talk about the MOU with the Australian Government for HIV/Aids work.
Downer must have had a little frustration at facing the press without his star attraction, President Clinton.
The Minister ended up fielding questions about the Australian Wheat Board scandal and calls for a Royal Commission.
Mr DOWNER: If there is anything on HIV/AIDS. We have sort of done the wheat board. Every day I do a little bit on it.
QUESTION: The President, is he not feeling too well?
MR DOWNER: Exactly right. I don't think he is feeling very well. He hasn't been very well for the last couple of days. I really appreciate him having made the effort to come this morning, in spite of that. That is terrific of him to do that.
It has been a great thing to have President Clinton here. I think he has given a fantastic boost to our efforts.
QUESTION: Do you know what is wrong with him?
MR DOWNER: You can ask his staff all those sorts of questions. I'm not a doctor.
The ABC was there to record the event.
Introducing Bill Clinton to launch an HIV-AIDS initiative, could there have been a touch of envy in Mr Downer's voice?
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Mr President, in my memoirs there'll be a very nice chapter about you and your commitment to Australia, and it'll be a great book to read.
(Sound of laughter from audience)
Probably a bit thinner than your own book, which I have read.
(Sound of more laughter)
But it's wonderful to see you active, and working, and impressive and making a difference, even though you don't have all the powers of the most powerful person in the world.
JENNIFER MACEY: Mr Clinton was equally flattering.
BILL CLINTON: Well, Foreign Minister, thank you very much. I can't wait for your memoirs to come out.
(Sound of laughter from audience)
JENNIFER MACEY: The former president took time out from business talks to launch a new partnership with the Australian Government to tackle the growing HIV-AIDS epidemic in the Asia Pacific region.
Then it was back to the hotel for Bill because Max, Melbourne and golf beckoned.
It's worth looking at what Bill and Alexander Downer said about that morning.
Minister Downer was explicit - our money would be complemented by money from the Clinton Foundation.
Maybe Bill doesn't do detail. Maybe we just forgot about the money, because as you'll see in part two of this report, precious little has come from his Foundation.
At the time of the announcement and signing ceremony in Sydney, the agreement was a two-way street. We'd act like two large providers of aid to countries that we thought needed help, particularly Papua New Guinea.
The MOU was signed alongside a business HIV partnership at the Lowy Institute that morning. Clinton spoke briefly at the signing ceremony. He seemed to commit his foundation to contributing a lot of things. He said it would do testing. He spoke about how little that would cost. He gave business people some advice about removing the stigma from AIDS.
Here's the tail end of his speech.
The reality of what happened in PNG was in stark contrast to the good intentions we heard that morning in Sydney.
Next the illegal dealings in PNG. Heartbreaking.