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Victorian Ombudsman slams rorts by Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Management Board

March 20, 2017

A newly released report from the Victorian Ombudsman into allegations of improper conduct by officers at the Mount Buller and Mount Sterling Resort Management Board has revealed that senior management spent more than $85,000 of public money on international family travel, entertaining friends and staff bonuses and prizes.

Tabled today in the Victorian Parliament by State Ombudsman Deborah Glass, the report reveals that Board of Management Chair Jennifer Hutchinson misused the Mount Buller resort by living in publicly owned ski accommodation and allowing family and friends to stay without payment.

In a further finding, it said the Resort Chief Executive John Huber used taxpayer's money to pay for flights for himself and his family to the United State for what was "primarily" a holiday.

Huber, whose salary package totals more than $200,000, claimed so-called "research and development" provisions in his contract to assist him with regular travel "to the US for holidays".

In a withering assessment of this claim, Glass stated “while the charms of a lake house in upstate New York are undeniable, Victorians do not pay taxes to fund public sector employees' private holidays."

Responding to the to a draft version of the report, Huber was reported by The Age as stating “the remuneration I receive as the CEO falls short of the remuneration I could command elsewhere."

The report said resort funds had also been used to pay for the resort property manager's family travel and accommodation in the French ski fields for "research and development" purposes.

Glass added “the resort sits on crown land and is managed on behalf of the minister.

"Mt Buller is no one's personal playground; it is public property and its management is the temporary custodian."

The investigation concluded that more than $30,000 of public money was spent on international family travel, entertaining the Huber’s friends, and the provision of prizes to staff including flights and accommodation to interstate tourist destinations.

In one email to a former business associate, quoted in the report, Huber insisted on offering a former business associate and his family free holiday accommodation.

The Age reported that the email read "I will be completely offended if you don't let us look after you.

"You tell me the dates that you want to be up and I'll lock something in for the clan. I have a range of apartments."

Responding to the Ombudsman’s report, Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio released a statement advising “as the Minister responsible I expect high standards of behaviour from Board members and senior executives in my portfolio. The actions and the lapses in judgement and oversight, detailed in this report, fall well short of the expected standards.

“I have been advised that for the sake of procedural fairness the Chair and all board members will need to show cause why they should not be removed from their current positions.

“I have written to them today to express my disappointment in their performance and have asked for responses within seven days. I will then consider the responses of the Chair and all board and take appropriate action, which may include their removal.

“I have also asked the Secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to write to all portfolio public entities to ask that they review their internal policies for compliance against whole of government policy and expectation.

“They have also been asked to provide assurance that relevant policies are in place, up to date, and are being properly followed.”

The Victorian Government is currently considering a new governance model for its Alpine resorts, with Minister D’Ambrosio advising that “the lessons learned from this review will be considered in shaping the new model.”

Minister D’Ambrosio has had to deal with a range of governance issues in recent months including the sacking of former Parks Victoria Chief Executive Bradley Fauteux as a result of "inappropriate behaviour" which the Victorian anti-corruption watchdog investigated and an external auditor having to investigate $2.2 million in credit card use by Parks Victoria staff.

Images: Mt Buller (top) and John Huber, Chief Executive at Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management (below: source LinkedIn)

20th March 2017 - MT BULLER INNOVATION CHANGES SNOWMAKING IN AUSTRALIA

23rd January 2017 - VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT TO REFORM MANAGEMENT OF VICTORIA’S ALPINE RESORTS 

9th January 2017 - PARKS VICTORIA MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR CREDIT CARD BILL UNDER INVESTIGATION

24th February 2016 - NEW BOARD WORKING TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR ALPINE RESORTS

10th December 2015 - VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT TURNS BACK MANAGEMENT OF ITS ALPINE RESORTS

31st March 2015 - MT BULLER GEARS UP FOR ‘HUGE’ 2015 SNOW SEASON

24th April 2014 - BELGRAVIA LEISURE TO MANAGE MT BAW BAW ALPINE RESORT

13th December 2012 - NEW HEIGHTS PLANNED FOR VICTORIA’S ALPINE RESORTS

24th August 2011 - MOUNT BAW BAW ALPINE RESORT EXECUTIVE UNDER INVESTIGATION

 

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