Coates Olympic vote

When Graham Richardson is your chief media defender and Mark Arbib your potential successor, you do start to look like a creature of the “whatever it takes” culture of the NSW Right.

And so it goes for Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who tops today’s second instalment of the emerging Crikey list: blokes who should retire.

Our first six candidates were unveiled last December, but sadly none of Rupert Murdoch, Gerry Harvey, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, Kevin Andrews, Terry McCrann, Bendigo Bank chairman Robert Johanson or Goodman Group chairman Ian Ferrier have heeded our advice so far.

The comments under the initial instalment generated plenty of interesting suggestions such as Alan Jones, Ross Stevenson, Neil Mitchell, Jon Faine, Steve Price, Gerard Henderson, George Brandis, Julian Assange, Eric Abetz, Tony Abbott and One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.

We’re not going to bite with the noxious Roberts, as he’s only been in the Senate for a few months and this list is about “long-serving blokes”, not just old blokes or nutty senators.

I had an interesting exchange with John Coates at the Prime Minister’s Olympic Dinner last June, which went something like the following:

Mayne: Hi John, well done on pulling this whole show off. Keep up the good work.

Coates: You’re the sort of person who would normally say I’ve been here too long and should retire.

Mayne: No, happy to make an exception for someone with a scoreboard like yours. How long has it been and have you ever been challenged?

Coates: 26 years and never challenged once.

Mayne: Well there you go, that speaks to your record and competence, happy to support you.

A lot has happened over the intervening period, including Coates’ extraordinary mid-Olympics criticisms of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and its model of appointing corporate heavyweights as presidents of individual sports.

That was the moment when ASC chairman John Wylie, supported by a variety of largely Melbourne business people such as Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford and John Bertrand, decided they would try to take Coates down.

As Graham Richardson accurately summarised in The Australian today, the campaign is being co-ordinated by Wylie and is largely a Liberal-business-Melbourne push against the more Sydney-centric, Labor-leaning Coates.

Richardson claimed today that Wylie had offered the AOC presidency to Jeff Kennett, John Bertrand and former rower James Tomkins, before settling on 1996 hockey gold-medallist Danni Roche, as if to suggest the accomplished Roche is an inferior candidate.

Elections are about choice, and the reason I’m off the Coates horse is that there is both a credible alternative and clear governance and culture issues inside the AOC, which the long-serving president has allowed to fester.

[Six long-serving Aussie blokes who should retire]

Richardson’s defence today was essentially to argue that Coates is not a crook, after the Herald Sun splashed Saturday’s paper with allegations of what, in my opinion, looks like a patronage network with generous commission fees going to a Coates-aligned operation charged with sourcing Olympic sponsorship.

However, Richardson was silent about the bullying claims that have emerged against long-serving AOC media chief and Coates backer Mike Tancred. These appear very serious, especially when coming from the former AOC CEO Fiona de Jong.

The case for change at the AOC is pretty compelling, and that’s why John Coates leads the second instalment of Crikey’s new list tracking long-serving men who should retire.

Five more long serving men who should retire

John Coates: 27 years as president of the AOC is too long, especially when our Olympics performance has weakened in recent campaigns, and the relationship with the corporate sector and federal government is strained. Plus Coates himself has failed to address serious bullying allegations, and he presides over less-than-ideal governance arrangements.

Graham Richardson: shouldn’t have been able to make a media comeback after the Swiss bank account revelations, but News Corp doesn’t have very high standards so the millionaire 67-year-old  cancer survivor continues to make a good living out of being a political fixer mainly focused on property development. He is also paid to write for The Australian and appear regularly on Sky News. 

John Wilson: there are four male members of the founding Wilson family on the board of Reece Australia: four directors over the age of 70 and no women. (See page 18 of the latest annual report). John is the oldest of the three Wilson brothers and turns 80 next financial year. He’s been a director since 1984 but is not an executive. The family controls close to 70% of Reece, which has performed well, but surely the next generation now deserves more of a go and John is our nominee to depart, preferably to be replaced by the first female director of Reece.  

Tim Worner: the Seven West Media boss might, in my opinion, be the most sackable public company CEO in Australia right now who only survives courtesy of the lax governance and cultural standards tolerated by his chairman and controlling shareholder, the 70-something billionaire Kerry Stokes. Worner was even the butt of jokes at the Logies last night, which further confirms his tenure is untenable. Naturally, Worner didn’t attend the Logies courtesy of the embarrassment factor. How can a major media company be led by someone who still can’t appear at major public events?

Bruce McWilliam: the veteran Seven West Media general counsel and legal director is giving the television sector and the legal profession a bad name with his ongoing law-fare tactics against former Seven West Media employee Amber Harrison. Spending upwards of $5 million defending a flawed CEO and fighting endless battles in a case that could settle for less than $200,000 makes no sense at all. It is remarkable that the independent directors of Seven West Media such as Jeff Kennett, Michael Malone and Michelle Deaker continue to endorse Bruce’s strategy. Having been in the role since 2003, it is clearly time Bruce voluntarily retired or was forcibly ousted by his under-performing board.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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