Seeking public board directors who have less fun

By Stephen Easton

November 29, 2017

Victoria’s state-owned ski resorts are having a governance shake-up, about eight months after the ombudsman revealed directors and executives of Mt Buller and Mt Stirling had been living it up, enjoying perks and privileges that are totally inappropriate in the public sector.

“I would prefer to help government build a sturdy stable door than spend my time chasing after horses with expensive tastes that have long since bolted,” Deborah Glass wrote in the stinging report, published in March, which led to the chief executive John Huber and chair Jennifer Hutchison both resigning.

This week the government announced it would spill all 13 positions on the boards that manage its three northern alpine resorts, which include Falls Creek and Mt Hotham as well as the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling operation.

A call will soon go out for expressions of interest to fill the seats. Four directors will have a special role, sitting on all three boards alongside three unique members for each resort.

“This will improve coordination and provide better strategic planning and oversight,” according to a statement from the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio.

In addition, all seats on the Alpine Resorts Co-ordinating Council will also be opened up but the Southern Alpine Resort Management Board that looks after Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain is unaffected.

One major issue highlighted by Deborah Glass was appointing people with little or no experience in the public sector.

“Previous Ombudsman investigations have demonstrated the risks associated with such people coming directly from the private sector into publicly funded roles – plainly, those risks continue,” she wrote in her report. Glass also used the damning findings as a key example in a speech for this year’s Victorian Public Sector Week.

Victoria’s alpine industry “contributed $911 million to the Victorian economy and created more than 9,000 jobs” according to the minister’s statement, but it doesn’t mention whether people with a reasonable amount of public sector governance experience will be sought to run its biggest earners.

“Alpine resorts have a special place in the hearts of many Victorians – and we have to protect them,” D’Ambrosio added.

“We look forward to revitalising our management boards to help plan for the future of these terrific tourist icons. I want to personally thank everyone who has been involved in the consultation process.”

The problem of public sector board members failing to understand their responsibilities goes beyond ski resorts, of course, and it has not escaped the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which also highlighted the issue during Public Sector Week.

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