On drama, distractions and keeping a grip on the real world

1 May 2014 — Well isn’t the political picture looking more and more like a Shakespearean comedy. Or is it a Greek tragedy?

It turns out the unusually long Easter break that many people took was well needed. By the time people in NSW hit their desks again on Monday morning, it was clear the entire political structure had morphed and it just kept mutating as the week progressed.

But just when we thought NSW had invented a new genre of political entertainment, along come the feds with a whole new ball game.

Early in the week at the federal level the Twittersphere lunched scurrilous rumours that there was a leadership spill on the way (well old Canberra rituals are hard to shake) but you needed to take note that most of the people spruiking the rumours carried the titles of Sir, or Lady, or Baron ahead of their handles, which probably indicates their state of seriousness.

What spurred the rumours was the revolt from within the government ranks to proposals for a deficit tax and the generous paid parental scheme. One was amended (the PPS) and the other is still in holding pattern.

By Thursday arvo all that fuss paled into insignificance when the feds released the mother of all distraction, a diabolical plot worthy of Iago himself, the National Commission of Audit review that seemed designed to plunge the world as we know it straight back the Dark Ages.

Wholesale cuts range from decapitation of major government departments, outsourcing of agencies such as Defence Housing and even Comm Cars, cuts to industry assistance and a proposal that the states tax income and take over full responsibility for nearly everything.

There’s also a proposed scrapping of the national housing rental affordability scheme to be replaced by rental assistance, shifting the aged pension to 70 and including the family home in a means test for the pension as well as tapping its equity to pay for aged services.

The Property Council of Australia put out a list of the good and the bad bits of the review proposals in relation to the property industry but it’s hard to see their point of view on the good. Much of this “positive” was concentrated on hoped-for better efficiencies from the states that would flow from greater financial juice and more responsibility. Most of all from the possibility of all this leading to removal of the stamp duty, the Property Council’s holy grail. But the vision is of adolescents who’ve never had any responsibility suddenly getting the keys to the house and the car, all on the same weekend.

Let alone the vision – very blurry indeed – of how South Australia and Tasmania will get the “competitive federalism” thing. What? Drop their state taxes to zero to attract the hordes of businesses just waiting for the opportunity?

Well all this is one way of getting rid of serious looming structural problems that loom in the years ahead – handball responsibility to someone else. Which would leave the feds with… not much to do, except the job of keeping clean energy and anything sustainable or climate friendly at bay, and of course keeping an eye on foreign affairs and defence. Maybe that’s why they’ve ordered all the fighter pilots, to get out of here in quick order should the need arise.

  • See the gory details here or read about them in every other media outlet in the country.
  • See our summary of cuts relevant to the built environment and sustainability here

Meanwhile, in the real world, sustainability moves right along and ignores all this noise as best it can.

Jobs on offer right now and coming up won’t include the chief operating officer position at DEXUS after Tanya Cox departs soon to pick up on a board membership career. The position has been filled internally with Craig Mitchell, executive director finance for DEXUS, also taking on the COO role.

At a small drinks function at Green Building Council of Australia offices on Tuesday evening to farewell a founding GBCA board director and long-standing Property Council of Australia chief executive Peter Verwer, Cox mentioned she had recently been forced to knock back some good board roles that simply could not be fitted into her already tight schedule.

That’s understandable. In addition to her GBCA directorship, Cox is currently a director with Low Carbon Australia, Wheelchair Sports Australia and Disability Sports Australia.

Other recent roles have included the NSW Climate Change Advisory Council, the PCA national risk committee, NSW Women in Business Mentor Program. Cox also has a background that includes Rothschild Australia and Bank of New Zealand.

Not surprisingly, Cox had to head back to the office that night.

She wasn’t the only one. Coming out of a board meeting that took the best part of the day were several CEO or similarly senior leaders of some of the industry’s biggest property companies. After chatting amiably for a bit several of them were heading back to work. Among them Stockland’s Mark Steinert, who had to sign off on the not-too-small matter of third quarter reporting the next day. Plus fit in some tough questioning on Stockland’s Australand play on the ABC’s The Business program that evening, we noted.

GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew told The Fifth Estate the calibre of the current board was top drawer. What was impressive, she said, was how seriously these very busy directors took their role; they came having read wads of documents carefully, well briefed and able to ask some piercing questions, referencing documents to back up their queries.

It keeps the team on its toes, she said, but at the same time was reassuring.

Also leaving the GBCA board this week was Rowan Griffin, who is leaving his job as head of sustainability at Colonial First State Global Asset Management and heading to Lend Lease.

His role will be head of sustainability for the investment management division, reporting to Kylie Rampa, who replaced Carmel Hourigan who is now at GPT.

But don’t bother applying for Griffin’s old job. DEXUS in conjunction with Canada Pension Plan Investment Board at the end of last year made a successful takeover bid for Commonwealth Property Australia for which CFSGAM is asset manager.

Griffin starts the new job on 19 May and finishes the old job on 15 May.

So after 17 years, what’s his view on sustainability?

Griffin says the big thing to note is that sustainability is ever more accepted and integrated, even despite the setbacks of the GFC.

“Sustainability uptake has not been going backwards,” he said during a quick phone catch up on Thursday.

“I think it’s increasing; it’s more accepted and I’m delighted to be joining an organisation that’s got it embedded in its culture.

But he admits that during the GFC there was a blip, when the wholesale funds, ever nervous about performance and shareholder value, did drop the ball.

“The wholesale funds were looking for sustainability and output, driven by funds such as Vic Super. Then with the GFC they became so involved in performance and results for their super members that suddenly it didn’t feature as strongly and they dropped the ball in my view.”

This was about the same time the analysts who worked on listed vehicles were doing the reverse, “picking up the ball and saying, ‘Actually we should be acting on sustainability.’ Now it’s changed back again; and the super funds are back into sustainability again.”

Griffin points to the number of CEOs who now devote their time to sit on the GBCA board as evidence that sustainability is indeed back.

Big news from IAG

After being a leader in the field and then… ahem, dropping the ball somewhat, Insurance Australia Group now looks like it’s back in the sustainability game with its recent advertisement seeking a head of group shared value, which we hear has all the leading susty leaders in Sydney atwitter.

“An exciting opportunity exists for an action oriented, strategic senior people leader to take responsibility for our Group Shared Value across IAG,” the ad says.

The passionate folk say this external signal to the market is positive proof and it backs a lot of internal work we hear the group has been engaged in to get back on track.

The job description includes to “manage a team accountable for developing our shared value and sustainability strategy with a focus on helping communities to be safer, stronger and more confident”.

Good news from an outfit that previously employed leaders such as Sam Mostyn and Amanda Steele.

Other jobs

A quick roundup of other jobs on offer includes Sustainability Victoria, which is looking for a media adviser.

Emphasised for the job role is to help position SV as “a credible and authoritative voice on integrated waste management and resource efficiency”.

City of Melbourne is looking for a business development senior sustainability manager.

And at the Monash Sustainability Institute is on the search for a new director to replace David Griggs. The contact, Professor Edwina Cornish, is on +61 3 9902 9468.