So, former Qantas CEO and current Woolworths and IAG chairman James Strong wants to slash the pay and conditions of those working in our eight state orchestras – read the story here. Talk back radio has exploded this morning in Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland after slasher Strong demonstrated his lack of political savvy by recommending these smaller states suffer the biggest cuts.

Given that Woolworths CEO Roger Corbett specifically singled out industrial relations reform when he attended John Howard’s 30 years in Parliament dinner last year, it’s not surprising that the chairman of the company which is famous for keeping wage costs in its supermarkets down believes the taxpayer funded blowers and strokers can do more for less.

However, symphony lovers should not be concerned because the Howard Government has a long and distinguished record of commissioning business heavies to do reviews that are largely ignored. As we enter the 10th year of the Howard Government it’s worth taking a quick look at the roll call of reviews now done by prominent corporate establishment figures.

The first and biggest was the Wallis Inquiry into the financial system. For all the submissions and hot air, not much came from that and Stan Wallis subsequently saw his career take a huge dive over AMP’s $8 billion blow-up in the UK.

Former CRA CEO turned Foster’s, Pacific Dunlop and Commonwealth Bank chairman John Ralph was always an old Liberal – remember that Infrastructure Task Force he promised to chair for John Hewson – so it wasn’t surprising that he was asked to review Australia’s business taxation regime, achieving about as much as Stan Wallis did on the financial system. Many of the Ralph recommendations can expect another airing once Senate control changes on July 1.

Bob Mansfield’s review of the ABC was another early example of the government failing to act on some quite sweeping recommendations. For all the bile, reviews and board stacking, not a lot has changed at Aunty since 1996.

Around the same time as the ABC review, Coca Cola Amatil chairman and powerful Sydney-based investment banker David Gonski was called in to review the film industry. Whilst it wasn’t a bad report, it was an inappropriate appointment given that he chaired Hoyts at the time which was a major exhibitor of what the heavily subsidised Australian film industry produced.

Former ASX CEO Dick Humphry was called in to do a special review of the government’s IT out-sourcing stuff-ups. Bizarrely, this was on top of his full-time job running our gouging monopoly stock exchange.

Then you had former Westpac and Rio Tinto chairman John Uhrig doing a review into “corporate governance of statutary bodies and office holders”. Check out the government’s response here.

Perhaps the most ignored CEO review in recent times was when former Westpac CEO and St George chairman Frank Conroy recommended huge job cuts at Customs.

For all our criticism of Fred Hilmer’s tenure at Fairfax, you have to give the Professor credit because the 1993 Hilmer Report on competition policy has arguably had the most lasting impact of any CEO report. Ironically, that was commissioned by the Keating Government.

Have we missed any others? It might be time to rank the best and worst government reports by former public company CEOs. Send your thoughts to [email protected]

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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