Why not address the obvious first? Denis Rogers must be sacked. In fact he should have been given the boot years ago; anybody unfortunate enough to have endured his buffoon-like, breathtakingly arrogant performances during the annual GBE hearings will recognise that Rogers is an individual hopelessly out of his depth in any corporate or senior management capacity.
But the news that the taxpayer-subsided corporation over which he presides is to randomly allocate $1.5 million to a football club should be enough to convince even the most hardened skeptics that something is wrong in Tasmania. Very, very wrong.
Let’s look at some governance issues first. Denis Rogers, for those who view sport as the domain of the intellectually challenged, has a long association with cricket - a strange pastime with declining attendance numbers, defined by author Bill Bryson a series of tea breaks interrupted by hours of tedious commentary. A previous chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, Rogers was integral to the push to spend $20 million of taxpayer funds improving the Bellerive Oval - despite the venue being geographically incompatible with large visitor numbers. But Denis isn’t just a cricket man. He loves his footy too - particularly when played on Hobart’s Eastern Shore. I’m told (but haven’t confirmed) he was once a football coach for a Howrah team, and retains an involvement with the Clarence club.
I have no issues with that. I have good friends who, for reasons that continue to escape me, enjoy watching both football and cricket. But they pay their own way.
I wonder if Rogers is a North Melbourne fan? If he were, or worse still, a member, that would be evidence enough for a public flogging in the corporate world.
As the part-time Chairman of TT-Line, Rogers is on a pretty good wicket already, not that you could tell from the company’s financial statements. Tasmania’s Government Business Enterprises set the bar pretty low when it comes to financial reporting, but TT-Line takes back of the envelope accounting to new depths. Let’s presume that Rogers and the rest of the Board are paid handsomely for their efforts; but he also picks up some money for chairing the Tasmanian Development Board, an exclusive lunch club for the Labor Party faithful.
So we have a sport-loving Chairman who can pay his own way, but one who in this instance appears to have completely disregarded his company’s legislated charter, which is to run a shipping business.
TT-Line, already totally reliant on the public teat to remain solvent, faces some challenges in years ahead. Ships don’t last forever, and although Labor has already backpedalled on replacing the existing ferries, it isn’t an issue that can be ignored for much longer. In the current economic climate, a strong Australian dollar makes the prospect of major capital upgrades feasible. When the A$ trends down, things will start to look ugly. Unlike last time when the taxpayer gave TT-Line a free ship thanks to windfall GST revenue, any replacement will need to be internally funded. That implies a forward-looking Board would be saving every last cent as it plans for a future investment of possibly $1billion. But instead, we get North Melbourne visiting Bellerive twice each year.
Rogers doesn’t like the term subsidy - he positively bristled when the term was used in parliamentary enquiry last year, and so the Federal handouts each year are hidden in the financial statements by including them with revenue from selling tickets to passengers. Make no mistake - if the subsidies were withdrawn, TT-Line would be insolvent within days. But the handouts roll on, and $1.5 million in the context of TT-Line’s annual subsidy, isn’t that great.
I’m not going to be distracted by the questionable economics of sponsoring football teams - plenty of fanciful analyses are already in the public domain and being kicked around by our parochial press. I will state that private business, usually a better judge of the merits of an investment than a gaggle of career public servants, doesn’t seem too enthused about backing football teams. We don’t have the Harvey Norman Wangaratta Lions or the Officeworks Cairns Penguins playing at AFL level.
But giving Rogers the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume that the decision to allocate $1.5m to footy followed a rigorous analysis of the benefits to his organisation, and followed due consideration from the TT-Line Board.
But wait - as recently as last Saturday, Premier Giddings was maintaining that Cabinet was yet to make a decision on a sponsorship deal with North Melbourne. And just 48 hours later, she’s dropped the ball, TT-Line’s picked it up and everybody’s happy.
Shareholders in listed companies get the opportunity to question Board members at least once annually. TT-Line doesn’t face anywhere near that level of scrutiny, and with Lara Giddings being one of two shareholders, they never will. But the public, who ultimately fund TT-Line through their taxes, deserve answers to some questions: Like was the decision to spend $1.5 million on football made by TT-Line’s Board? If yes, then Denis Rogers should be prepared to defend his hopelessly compromised position.
If the decision came from elsewhere, then we have a more tricky scenario. Government Business Enterprises have an obligation to manage their operations on a commercial basis without interference from executive government. When Governments can raid the coffers of supposedly independent entities to pay for politically motivated stunts, then we have a real problem. But perhaps I’m wrong and most Tasmanians won’t give a shit. At least they get two extra games of football each year.
“I am outraged by the way the state government has gone about this,” he told reporters in Hobart on Wednesday.
“I fully support Aussie rules being played in Hobart, but I do not believe there should be more public money invested to achieve that.
“I think the way the government has gone about this, by firstly saying there would be no public money, and then effectively bringing it out of TT Lines is the height of dishonesty.”
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