The benefits of working for the statutory body running the publicly-owned Mt Buller and Mt Stirling snow resorts in Victoria look very enticing. It’s just the Victorian ombudsman thinks you shouldn’t be taking them.
And the opportunity to work at a resort during the ski season is the least of the benefits, according to a report by ombudsman Deborah Glass.
CEO John Huber and chairman Jennifer Hutchinson have been under investigation since whistleblowers approached the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.
Details of the conduct of officers at the Mount Buller and Mount Stirling Resort Management Board are contained within a detailed the ombudsman’s report.
The Ombudsman found that senior management spent more than $85,000 of public funds on international family travel, entertaining friends, bonuses and prizes for staff.
“It is a truism that taxpayers’ money should not be used for personal gain,” the Ombudsman said.
“This should be ingrained into every person employed on the public purse, but as this, and so many other Ombudsman investigations in past years illustrate, it is not always the case.”
The ombudsman’s report has led environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio has given the board and chair seven days to show cause why they shouldn’t be sacked, and the Victorian government is looking at a new governance model for the Alpine sector.
The CEO, who gets paid $200,000 a year, spent $30,000 of public money on international family travel, the entertainment of his friends and prizes for staff.
He essentially used taxpayer money to pay for flights for himself and his family to the US for what was primarily a holiday.
“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,” the Ombudsman said.
When the CEO’s BMW needed snow tyres, the resort paid $1,580.
The investigation also found a number of people were provided with accommodation at the resorts, worth between $460 and $700 per night.
When questioned, the CEO said these were members of his professional hospitality and tourism network.
In 2014, a contact (not named by the ombudsman) emailed the CEO: “I’m putting together the family holiday plan for 2014 … so thinking about Mt Buller for the kids first snow adventure and some family fun time plus love to catch up with you.”
The dates mentioned were peak season.
The CEO emailed back: “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 and your [sic] first in best dressed just let me know what days you would like.”
And in 2011, the CEO provided six nights free accommodation at Huski Lodge to a real estate agent who is the letting agent at his apartment at an international tourist destination.
And he also looked after his staff.
Resort funds were used to pay for the property manager’s family travel to and accommodation in the French ski fields for “research and development” purposes.
The CEO also provided prizes for staff including flights and accommodation to interstate tourist destinations.
These ranged in value from $100 to about $1000 for flights and accommodation. Other prizes awarded by the CEO included accommodation for two at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne.
And $49,000 was spent on bonuses, shared between five staff, without adequate justification or transparency, the Ombudsman found.
The CEO engaged a catering company to host the end of season party at Mount Buller in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
One of the owners of the catering company is also in a business partnership with the CEO’s wife, organising events at Mt Buller.
At the same time, the Board chair was found to have misused the resort’s resources by living in publicly owned Mt Buller accommodation for the duration of the ski season and allowing family and friends to stay without payment.
“The resort sits on Crown land and is managed on behalf of the Minister,” says ombudsman Deborah Glass.
“Mt Buller is no-one’s personal playground; it is public property and its management is the temporary custodian.
“There is a sound argument that a publicly owned tourist resort should embrace the best of the private sector when appropriate.
“But it must also never forget that it is not a private business. It has a responsibility to the public when it comes to spending the public’s money.”
The CEO has since agreed to repay the cost of the US flights. The property manager has not yet agreed to repay the cost of the travel to and accommodation in France for his family.
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