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We have a crisis of good governance – and it’s not just in Victoria

25 October 2020

11:57 AM

25 October 2020

11:57 AM

As weeks go, the one just past has been a shocker — and not just for Victorians still in the grip of Covid lockdown.

Taxpayers nationwide are reeling from report after report this week of shoddy (or shonky) standards of governance in gambling, the postal service and even in financial regulation itself.  

All this against a background of subterranean governance performances by the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services, the banks, the aged care sector and even the procurement ‘processes’ for Australia’s new submarines.

Australians have been witness to a litany of what appear to be shameful private and public sector governance failings. Despite all legislative efforts to curb board, executive and public sector malfeasance many handsomely paid people continue to show a willingness to thumb their noses at the law.  

Just as the federal government is attempting to explain a claimed $27 million overpayment for a parcel of land adjacent to the proposed Western Sydney Airport, Australia Post was hauled before a Senate Estimates Committee to explain gifts of costly Cartier watches as a thank you to senior people for doing their high paid jobs.

Separately, questions have been raised about ‘transition costs’ charged to the taxpayer by none other than the Chairperson and Acting Chair of Australia’s financial regulator, ASIC. The Australia Post CEO was ordered to stand aside by the Prime Minister pending an investigation and the ASIC Chair volunteered to stand aside while an investigation is underway. 

But the granddaddy of revelations came from, you guessed it, the high rolling gambling sector. 

The evidence at the NSW Crown licence inquiry concerning behaviours of some on the Crown Resorts Board is merely the latest in a series of jaw-dropping revelations which have shareholders, taxpayers and regulators asking whether corporate governance is in freefall.  

Although the lengthy Inquiry being conducted by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is not yet concluded the evidence so far has damaged the credibility and standing of those supposed to be overseeing the operations of Crown. Without question, it has thrown a spotlight on what, if anything, has the Board of Crown Resorts been doing through 2020. 

Many shareholders have asked whether chair, former minister, Helen Coonan, has been tackling the practices at Crown quickly enough and whether she is too stretched given the five other Boards of which she is either Chair or a non-executive director.  

Money laundering is a phrase guaranteed to raise eyebrows on any panel or inquiry. When it’s used in connection with the nation’s largest casino operator authorities, regulators and governments all take notice.  

It’s the people apparently doing the money laundering here in Australia who came in for particular scrutiny.  They are the so-called ‘whales’ who arrive and depart on one or other of Crown’s four swank jets, which are said to be more or less permanently in the air. 

Crown’s so-called VIP business has been a massive money-spinner for the company in recent years is facilitated under the auspices of ‘junket operators’. These people find Australia very appealing for their purposes because gambling is banned in mainland China.

Some of the evidence bordered on the laughable when one Crown Director, Andrew Demetriou, resorted to the internet for inspiration on the meaning of the word ‘culture.’   It’s believed some of his evidence to the inquiry was simply read from notes. 

The chips appear to be well and truly down for significant Crown shareholder, James Packer, who also gave evidence to the inquiry.  To say he appeared profoundly uncomfortable understates things a little.

And little wonder. At the heart of the inquiry is whether or not Crown will be able to keep the gambling licence for its thrusting new casino at Barangaroo due to officially open in December this year.  The building itself cost around $2.2 billion.

One thing is certain, the annual gabfest of the Governance Institute of Australia has no shortage of current material to trawl through at its online national conference on 7-8 December.

John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.

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