33rd National Conference — Day 2 re-cap

This morning commenced with our Chief Executive, Steven Burrell, announcing the new President of Governance Institute of Australia for 2017 myself, Andrew Horne. I am honoured to be given the privilege to lead this wonderful organisation, and would like to take the opportunity to thank Simon Pordage for his tireless contributions and commitment to excellence over the past year. I will strive to build upon his successes in the coming year and do his legacy justice.

Day two opened with a session on the evolution of governance, led by Ewen Crouch AM, Chairman, Westpac Board Remuneration Committee. We heard valuable advice for directors in regards to the implications of the shareholder primacy theory for their governance responsibilities, the need to be future-focused, and the personal responsibility of the board and senior management to drive reform in workplace health and safety frameworks. An interesting remark was the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, and the reiteration of the discussion from day one on the importance of organisational culture from the top down.

Next we were treated to an impressive panel event — ‘Advocating the complexity of corporate law’ — moderated by Professor Michael Adams FGIA (Life). Douglas Gration FGIA (Life) provided his key insights to the art of writing minutes, and how in hindsight he recommends giving more colour and context rather than subscribing to pure resolution ’minimalist’ minutes.

Douglas highlighted the importance of writing minutes that can be understood with clarity several years down the track, rather than relying on the recollection of directors which is ’inevitably dismissed as faulty…and generally self-serving’. He was backed up by Dominique Hogan-Doran, Senior Counsel, who had direct experience of the James Hardie litigation to draw upon in this regard.

Michelle Painter, Senior Counsel, Nine Selbourne Chambers, noted the longstanding archaic hierarchies that exist within the legal profession, and the ongoing challenge to achieve gender balance. Michelle reaffirmed that studies have shown that diverse boards have wider perspectives and diverse talents and hence are proven to perform better than their counterparts.

The afternoon session focused on the pursuit of productivity, with the announcement that the white paper ‘Governance: Can you have too much of a good thing?’ was released by LexisNexis in partnership with Governance Institute.

The term ‘mumble in the middle’ was an audience favourite, with Simon Pordage FGIA reminding us all that communication is key, and company secretaries must liaise with executives to ensure quality information is making it into the board room.

Chris Gatford, Director of Hacklabs, taught us how vulnerable businesses are in the face of modern hacking and technology. His ‘white hat hacking’ knowledge was demonstrated, much to the amusement of the audience, who learnt simple lock-picking techniques and other astonishing ‘break-in’ capabilities that put companies at risk. The top tips? Security awareness training in person, and the use of password protection software.

The four concurrent sessions allowed for a ‘choose your own governance’ adventure, with the choice of Listed Matters, Risk Directions, All Things Not-for-Profit or GATE (Governance Accountability, Transparency and Ethics) talks.

The final session tackled the complex art of governing sport with Sal Perna, Racing Integrity Commissioner, Victorian Government, highlighting the need for a 24/7 Integrity hotline in an industry predicated on gambling and vulnerable to conflicts of interest and Peggy O’Neale, President of Richmond Football Club, noting that sports governance is different because of the emotional attachment of members to the sport – they think that being on the board is about bragging rights, rather than the best interests of the club and financial sustainability. Raelene Castle, Chief Executive, Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs Rugby League Club, also spoke to the complexity in sports governance, with boards not always understanding the line between the governing role and management.

The panel agreed that governing sports requires a diverse range of frameworks and structures, and while good governance does not guarantee sporting success, its absence almost certainly guarantees failure.

What an amazing two days! Thank you to all our delegates, speakers and sponsors who made our 33rd National Conference such a rewarding experience.

I look forward to seeing you all next year at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne, 3 to 6 December, 2017.

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