Sally Loane, Alan Jones and Tony Shepherd (Images: AAP/Supplied)

For years there has been no higher board in the land. The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust was the holy grail for ambitious corporate types and influence seekers looking to stamp their authority on Australia’s national sport.

Now the trust has merged with (or should we say taken over?) Venues NSW to form a super agency that oversees every stadium in the state. And this week the new body is at the centre of a decision to go ahead with the new year Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) during the latest COVID-19 outbreak — against the advice of many health experts.

The Test will see up to 12,000 spectators — a quarter of the SCG’s capacity — pile into the 143-year-old stadium when many parts of Sydney have been deemed hotspots. 

New board, same faces

The SCG Trust might have a new identity but it’s still dominated by some of the biggest names in business and media.

Among them are high-profile figures who have questioned the need for lockdowns and social distancing.

Although some former members — such as former News Corp chairman John Hartigan — no longer have formal positions on the board, others such as News Corp columnist Maurice Newman have kept advisory roles.

The trust has a track record of getting what it wants. In 2019 it convinced the NSW government to demolish and rebuild the Sydney Football Stadium at Moore Park at a cost of $800 million — a decision Premier Gladys Berejiklian was forced to abandon after COVID hit.

It has also successfully fought for light rail to the stadium.

So who’s on the new and powerful board, and what are their views on managing COVID?

Tony Shepherd

Shepherd, the one and only ex-Business Council of Australia boss and Mr Everywhere, has been the one on the phone to Berejiklian and Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres this week, hoping they’ll say yes to the Test.

The trust’s chairman and now chairman of the new Venues NSW board is also chairman of the AFL’s GWS Giants and retains positions on numerous other boards.

His political links are well known. He counts former prime minister John Howard and Berejiklian as good friends, and was appointed to head Tony Abbott’s slash-and-burn commission of audit in 2014.

In October he said lockdowns were “nonsense” and that the country would need to learn to live with COVID-19. After a decision to reduce spectator numbers on Monday, he told the AFR: “We have just got to convince people it will be safe and the pandemic is not spinning out of control in Sydney.”

Alan Jones

No merger could shake Jones from a board. The 2GB broadcaster has been a rusted-on SCG trustee for more than three decades and has retained his position on the new Venues NSW board.

The Sky News host has been surprisingly quiet (in public) about the Test, but has had a lot to say about the virus. In October he said there was “no evidence” to justify Victoria’s prolonged lockdown and enforcement of masks because the coronavirus curve “couldn’t be flatter” in Australia.

Rod McGeoch

McGeoch is best known for leading Sydney’s successful bid for the 2000 Olympic Games. The former chairman of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth has kept his position as the deputy chairman of the new board. McGeoch has reportedly been a trusted source of counsel to the premier as she navigates the coronavirus crisis.

Sally Loane

Loane heads the powerful Financial Services Council where she has pushed for company tax cuts as a way to help the economy recover from COVID-19. The journo turned corporate spinner also sits on the boards of Destination NSW and the NSW Waratahs. 

Erin Flaherty

Flaherty joined the trust board shortly before the merger with Venues NSW. She’s a member of the Future Fund board alongside former treasurer and Nine chairman Peter Costello.

Christine McLoughlin and Ian Hammond

McLoughlin and Hammond are both from insurance: the Suncorp board to be exact. Mcloughlin is also the new chancellor of the University of Wollongong.

Todd Greenberg, Amy Duggan and John Quayle

Representing the sporting field, Greenberg is the former chief executive of the NRL, and Duggan is a Matilda’s footballer turned media presenter. Quayle is a former rugby league boss.

Kim Curtain

The only public servant on the board, Curtain is a senior figure inside NSW Treasury and is deputy secretary for jobs, investment and tourism.

Maurice Newman (adviser, SCG Heritage)

Gone but not forgotten. News Corp columnist and former chairman of the ABC and the Australian Securities Exchange Maurice Newman has retained an advisory position on the Venues NSW board.

Newman has criticised lockdowns in his column in the Oz and has called the Australian Medical Association a “haven for left-wing activists”.

Interestingly, it’s the AMA that has been critical of the decision to go ahead with the Test at the SCG.