Crikey turned 18 yesterday. And on March 2, Jeff Kennett, the man who inspired Crikey’s launch, will turn 70.
As a mark of respect to our history via the whistleblower website Jeffed during the 1999 Victorian election, it is sadly once again our solemn duty to call on Jeff Kennett to resign — from all public positions.
There have been many governance and foot-in-mouth snafus during the Kennett career, but his latest efforts on gender signal that it is time he bowed out of public life.
Some people just won’t give up. Hawthorn Football Club thought it was rid of Kennett when he retired after a lively six-year stint as chair that finished in 2011, most noteworthy for the poisonous relations he developed with super-coach Alastair Clarkson.
Alas, he returned as chair of the most pokies-dependent AFL club in Australia late last year and is out there once again pushing his beloved gambling industry and opposing any moves to tackle Australia’s world record gambling losses.
Even worse, Kennett’s old-school views on gender are emerging again, this time with a controversial claim yesterday that he’s pleased Hawthorn doesn’t have an AFLW side.
But that wasn’t nearly as bad as his intervention on the Melbourne Town Hall saga when he bagged Victoria’s Health Minister Jill Hennessy for even setting up an inquiry into the Liberal Lord Mayor’s alleged under-the-table groping at a Melbourne Health dinner.
Anyone who listened to the harrowing account of the evening given by “Carla” to ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine would surely beg to differ.
Even Jeff’s old mate Neil Mitchell, another dedicated Doyle supporter and sponsor, was trying to put some distance between himself and Kennett’s extreme views on the Doyle matter during this lively debate with Guardian Australia’s Gay Alcorn on 3AW yesterday morning.
Someone needs to explain to Mitchell that it’s not all about him, and just because he told the staff at The Herald in 1985 to stop chasing the female cadet journalists, doesn’t mean he should team up with Jeff Kennett to back Robert Doyle, attack the investigative process and undermine the credibility of complainants.
Doyle and Kennett were on opposite sides of the factional divide when in the Victorian Parliament together but developed a better relationship during Doyle’s time as lord mayor. This may well be in part because Doyle used the blokey Kennett playbook of governing through 3AW and the Herald Sun.
However, Doyle doesn’t know Kennett that well. I remember discussing Kennett with Doyle at Town Hall one night and he was praising the former premier for his great pro bono work at the likes of Beyondblue.
The lord mayor was astounded when I told him that those 17 years as chairman of Beyondblue had generated well over $1 million in director’s fees for the chairman, none of which was explicitly disclosed as the latest Beyondblue annual report demonstrates. And don’t forget that policy of all Beyondblue directors flying business class.
Jeffrey has been earning close to $2 million per annum in recent years and is always looking to maximise his earnings.
That’s certainly how things look at Seven West Media where he double dips as a non-executive director on $145,000, but then gets paid an additional $200,000 a year for political commentary, a related-party transaction that means he’s not an independent director.
And given the Amber Harrison saga, Seven West Media is an outfit that needs strong independent directors, but instead Kennett chose to do the bidding of Stokes and his protégé Tim Worner by launching public attacks on Harrison. Seven West will release its half-year results next Tuesday where it should become apparent if the Seven directors are planning to further extend Tim Worner’s contract when it expires on June 30. After five years in the job, Worner should be out, but he’s hanging on just like Barnaby Joyce — only because people like Jeff Kennett think that’s fine.
With shares in Seven West Media having more than halved to 48c since Kennett joined the board in June 2015, the former Victorian premier has overseen a destruction of shareholder value.
It has been a similar story at a number of other public company boards he has sat on such as DCL, Sofcom, National Telecom Group, Primary Opinion and Jumbuck Entertainment Group, as was outlined in this 2015 Crikey piece when he joined the Seven West Media board.
As the current chairman of six organisations — Hawthorn Football Club, listed company Equity Trustees, CT Management Group, cyber security firm Open Windows Australia, The Torch, pokies company Amtek Corp and LEDified Lighting Corp — it is hard to see how Kennett possibly has time to be one of Australia’s highest paid political commentators, a Herald Sun columnist plus a director of Seven West Media.
Yet, just five months ago, he assumed the role of chairman at Equity Trustees, a venerable public company capitalised at $400 million.
Kennett has backward views on gender, a poor record on governance and underwhelming financial performance. Surely in this era of #MeToo it is time that he retired from all public positions on his 70th birthday in two weeks’ time.