16/03/2021 - 09:00

Crown directors face scrutiny

16/03/2021 - 09:00

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Ahead of the royal commission into Crown Perth we look at the changing cast of directors overseeing its WA operations.

Crown directors face scrutiny
Crown Perth has had a strong board of directors for most of its existence

After a year of upheaval, ASX-listed company Crown Resorts has just four people left on its board of directors.

The company that holds the licence for its Perth casino has even fewer.

Burswood Ltd, commonly referred to as Crown Perth, has only two directors, and one of them has been on the board for less than a month.

The governance of Crown Perth will be a major focus of the royal commission announced early this month by the Western Australian government.

The royal commission will investigate the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino gaming licence.

It will also investigate the regulatory framework for the casino.

It comes after the Bergin inquiry in NSW found Crown was not suitable to hold a licence for that state’s new casino.

That followed revelations Crown’s casinos had been used for money laundering and had links with organised crime groups running gambling junkets.

Crown’s local operations are governed by the Casino (Burswood Island) Agreement Act 1985, which states that the head office of “the Company” must always be in WA.

It defines head office as the place where central management and control are exercised.

In practice, that has not been the case for a long time.

John Poynton, who was a director of Crown Resorts and chair of Crown Perth until he was forced out last month, put it this way.

“The role of the board, and certainly the role of the chair since I’ve taken it on, is one I see of an ambassadorial or advocacy role,” Mr Poynton told the Bergin inquiry last October.

Mr Poynton also disclosed the group had done some preliminary work on collapsing the current governance structure – where separate entities in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney hold gaming licences – in favour of a centralised structure.

That kind of reform is sure to be looked at closely by regulators across WA, NSW and Victoria.

Crown Resorts started evaluating reforms after its governance standards came under closer scrutiny.

For instance, a Victorian government review in 2018 concluded as follows: “The duration of board meetings, the nature of the board resolutions, the frequency of meetings and so on … does not provide evidence that the Crown Melbourne board has an active role in overseeing the Melbourne Casino.”

Mr Poynton sought to lift the bar after he was appointed chair of Crown Perth in January last year.

He told the Bergin inquiry that meetings of Crown Perth were held more frequently, the duration of board meetings was significantly extended, and he asked the group chief executive to provide more detailed briefings.

For most of its existence, Crown Perth has had a powerful board of directors (see table).

It included former Crown Resorts chairman James Packer and senior Crown Resorts executives Rowen Craigie, John Alexander, Ken Barton and Barry Felstead.

Mr Poynton was a mainstay, having joined in 2004: the same year as Messrs Packer and Craigie.

Another long-serving Perth director was rich lister Tim Roberts.

He replaced his older brother, Andrew Roberts, who had a one-year stint on the board.

Other directors who served on the board prior to Mr Packer gaining control in 2004 included Gordon Martin, Fiona Harris, Bill Wyllie, Ian Hoad and Ron Cohen.

Messrs Felstead and Barton recently left Crown Resorts (and Crown Perth) after being strongly criticised in the Bergin inquiry.

Mr Poynton’s departure was a different matter.

The Bergin report concluded there were no real challenges to his credit or credibility as a director, however, the chair of the NSW casino regulator insisted Mr Poynton needed to resign because of his association with Mr Packer.

The two remaining directors at Crown Perth include Maryna Fewster, who is chief executive of Seven West Media in WA.

Ms Fewster is an experienced and accomplished business executive, while its also known that Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes is a close personal friend of Mr Packer.

The only other director on the Crown Perth board is Helen Coonan, who joined last month.

She recently became executive chairman of Crown Resorts and has been charged with rebuilding the group’s tattered reputation, despite having served on its board for the past decade, through all of the issues exposed by the Bergin inquiry.

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