Ex-managing director defends his record

By Country News

I would like to correct a few points raised in media articles regarding my recent departure as managing director of Goulburn-Murray Water.

Sadly, much of the commentary was clearly biased, sensationalised and ignored the facts.

First it would have been much fairer to provide some perspective: Goulburn-Murray Water is Australia’s largest rural water corporation and operates Australia’s largest irrigation network.

It has 21000 customers and about 800 staff.

When I was asked to take over the helm it was plain to all parties that the corporation was facing a massive fight for its survival.

There have now been five different chairs and seven managing directors since 2012.

While management is repeatedly held up for ridicule, the system driving this remains unquestioned.

The great priority for me when first appointed was to confront head-on and without delay the serious financial challenges facing G-MW.

Throughout this whole process there has not been any suggestion that I did not approach this considerable task with anything but great diligence.

At the time of my appointment, I resided in Melbourne with my family.

The $20000 relocation expense offer was not proposed by me nor was it ever my preference.

However, I was entitled under my contract to spend it on establishment of my northern Victorian residence including its fit-out.

My acceptance of the chair’s offer and this structure saved the corporation and its customers some $70000 over five years.

In the private sector — where I’m widely experienced — salary sacrifice strategies, which meet tax office guidelines, are accepted practice and commonplace, motor vehicles being typical. A salary sacrifice living-away-from-home allowance together with the relocation expense allowance meant I had a reasonable arrangement covering the costs to establish in the region.

I note these arrangements are nothing new and also exist in the water industry.

However, the ombudsman and so the minister subsequently deemed this was not appropriate for a statutory authority, despite other corporations offering these arrangements, and decided that I should depart G-MW along with the former chair.

Executing the stabilisation plan for G-MW required liaising with an enormous number of stakeholders, customers, management and staff.

Hosting meetings, both formal and informal was very demanding — though invaluable in facilitating discussion, forging solutions and maintaining morale in a time of great change.

In stark contrast to the impression given by some reports, this was accomplished at very modest expense with lunches and breakfast barely $10 per head and dinners $60 per head.

All expense claims were work-related, in accordance with my contract, and therefore rightly approved by the chair with proper tax receipts for all claims provided, as reported in Country News.

In accordance with recent managing director practice, I approved or claimed alcohol for occasions such as board dinners, the occasional staff function or managing director-hosted dinners — this would total an average two to three standard drinks per head.

Hardly the salacious ‘‘bountiful booze’’ gleefully and sensationally reported by some other media.

Such unbalanced and misreporting has not only cast me in an unfair and damaging light, it has overshadowed the great strides that I have made in tackling G-MW’s challenges, looking after G-MW staff, helping to secure hundreds of Victorian jobs and delivering a sustainable future that is affordable to the customers of the nation’s largest irrigation network.

—Pat Lennon

former managing director

Goulburn-Murray Water