Sally Capp and michael zorbas

The Property Council of Australia is on the hunt for a new executive director of its Victorian division after Sally Capp was elected Melbourne lord mayor.

Michael Zorbas, who was “locum” in Capp’s position during her campaign, has also been appointed as the Property Council’s group executive policy and advocacy.                     

Capp has held senior roles at KPMG, been chief executive of the Committee for Melbourne and chief operating officer for the Victorian Chamber of Commerce.

For Capp the new job comes with high expectations that she will mend the tarnished lord mayoralty position after the sexual harassment scandal around former lord mayor Robert Doyle.

The consensus seems to be that Capp has the diplomacy skills to do the job, with a strong reputation for working across opposing political factions. She’s held the agent-general role in London for Victorian under the Bracks/Brumby Labor government, and although she’s been a member of the Liberal Party, a recent article in The Australian pointed out she’s been encouraged to run for the new role by fellow councillor Nick Reece (a former senior adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard), former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, Reserve Bank board member Carol Schwartz, former Victorian Labor premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby, and current premier Daniel Andrews.

“It will be the biggest test of leadership in my career, there is no doubt about that,’’ Capp told the newspaper.

“Building a consensus amongst a group that has its own dynamic and has gone through a lot, it is a really big challenge. To me it goes back to how do you build trust and confidence?’’

A key challenge will be that Capp has been elected without a team.

According to Michael Zorbas, Capp will handle the role with ease. She is a “charisma machine”, he told The Fifth Estate on Monday afternoon.

And besides, Capp at least won’t have the battle with state government that has hounded Lord Mayor Clover Moore in Sydney, where the steady barrage of opposition has ranged from simple boulders and hurdles to outright booby traps, the latest of which misfired badly in council elections when the state government allocated double votes to businesses but Moore was voted back with a strong swing anyway.

Zorbas returns to the fold

For Zorbas the Property Council appointment is a return to the fold. He was previously its chief political lobbyist in Canberra before taking senior roles at Lendlease, Stockland and Grocon. In the new job, which starts Thursday, he will oversee work in the capital markets and tax area, residential development and retirement property, and Richard Lindsay’s government relations role in Canberra.

Elections looming

With looming elections in Victoria set for 24 November, and potentially an early federal election, there will be plenty of issues to keep Zorbas occupied on the political front where much of the Property Council work happens, but ahead of starting the job Zorbas would not be drawn on dominant issues. That was for a later date, he said.

What he was happy to discuss was the population issues facing Melbourne. Victoria has the highest population growth of any state, with most of the growth in the capital.

In Victoria at least, “That explains the state government’s infrastructure spend of about $10 billion a year – so the public transport of metro rail and the big train loop around the city and some of the more day to day congestion-busting programs such as level crossing upgrades.”

He would not be drawn on a view of the election outcome but he expected that the Labor government had a strong war chest with which to attract votes in a series of announcements.

Challenges would likely come from The Greens in areas such as Richmond, Prahran and Northcote that border already strong Greens stronghold.

But the outcomes are far from certain.

“You would never speculate on the Victorian election because no one in their right minds could have predicted the Baillieu win [in 2010] or Bracks [in 1999].”

Nor a number of other global elections, he added.

In the Victorian division of the Property Council meanwhile, deputy ED Matthew Kandelaars will be acting as Victorian executive director while a replacement is found for Capp.