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ACTEW chairman John Mackay resigns

Date

Noel Towell and Lisa Cox

ACTEW Chairman John Mackay faces Legislative Assembly investigation on April 3.

ACTEW Chairman John Mackay faces Legislative Assembly investigation on April 3. Photo: Jay Cronan

ACTEW chairman John Mackay says he resigned from Canberra’s water utility because of the “frenzy” over the under-reporting of Mark Sullivan’s salary.

But Mr Mackay said on Monday that he was not pushed by the corporation or the ACT Government to step down.

“I jumped,” Mr Mackay told ABC radio.

“I made the decision myself.

“I put that to the Chief Minister that I had made that decision, it wasn’t something I intended to discuss with her or anybody else, the same with my board colleagues.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has backed up his claim, telling Fairfax Media on Monday that he was not pushing into resigning, but that she did not try to convince him to stay in the position when he approached her on Friday.

Mr Mackay, whose resignation takes effect on June 30, said he had considered stepping down during the three weeks since it was revealed ACTEW had under-reported its managing director’s salary by $234,000 in its 2010-11 annual report.

The chairman said the flurry of front pages and radio and TV reports that followed had been “pretty rough” and he hoped that his resignation would bring an end to the “frenzy”.

“Obviously there were some pros in doing it [resigning],” he said.

“The main one of those is I think it may just help to stop the frenzy that’s gone on for the last three weeks.

“I looked at the decision and thought I’ve had 15 of the best years of my life in this show, there is now a frenzy on and there’s some concerns of the shareholders, maybe now’s the time to go before it gets worse and starts to damage my reputation, the corporation, other people’s reputation.”

Mr Mackay said the controversy over Mr Sullivan’s salary had “absolutely” led to his decision, but he also noted the disquiet the shareholders had expressed in December over Actew’s corporate sponsorships.

“So they were a bit uncomfortable about a few things, but just to be clear, I don’t think the salary scandal, so to speak, was a sackable offence or a resignable offence on its own,” he said. 

Ms Gallagher said on Monday afternoon that she believed "generational change" and "fresh eyes" were needed at the water corporation.

She also indicated that ACTEW would renegotiate the controversial $855,000 salary of managing director Mark Sullivan, put an end to  bonuses for executives at the corporation and make it subject to a full "structural review". She had also asked the board to consult the Remuneration Tribunal before setting executive pay at the utility.

Ms Gallagher said she had no doubt the controversy over the under-reporting of Mr Sullivan's wages had played a part in Mr Mackay's decision to quit.

"John came to me on Friday and indicated that he would like to step down as chair," she said.

"We discussed matters of recent past and I have no doubt that contributed to his decision.

"I didn't try to persuade him not to and indeed we spoke of the need for generational change and for fresh eyes to come into ACTEW.

"It's a very important appointment in the community and John has been there a long time and he has been a significant contributor as well."

Mr Mackay's resignation as chairman of ACTEW and its half-owned gas and electricity utilities ActewAGL is effective as of June 30.

The ACTEW board met Ms Gallagher and Mr Barr to discuss the controversy that has engulfed the water corporation during the past several weeks after the government announced that the salary of managing director Mark Sullivan was under-reported by $234,000 in annual reports and correspondence.

Ms Gallagher and Mr Barr are the two shareholders of the Territory Owned Corporation and the Chief Minister said in the wake of the revelation of the under-reporting of the salary that she was "furious" at being misled.

Mr Mackay had said on several occasions that there was no need for him to resign over what the corporation called a spreadsheet error and an honest mistake.

22 comments

  • John has done so much for Canberra, what we have not seen at all over the last few weeks is any mention of his involvement as chair of the arboretum, his involvement with the Salvation Army along with all of the other causes he has been a part of.

    You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, I hope ACTEW does not go back to the beige business it was.

    Commenter
    Cap Ahead
    Location
    Canberra City
    Date and time
    April 15, 2013, 3:34PM
    • Cap Ahead. Give us a break. I am fed up with these overpaid executives who spend so much of their empolyers time and money making themselves look wonderful. If the money and time spent being the mister wonderful came out of his own pocket you might have other thoughts. Take the $12,000 donation by ACTEW so honest John could enjoy being a caddy for some golfer. I have seen some of these wonderful people in action and one who shall at this time remain nameless at a fund raiser for the Canberra bushfire victims put up his hand for $100 "out of my own pocket" what a hero. Good at giving away other money but not so keen on dipping into their own pocket. Good riddance I say. Whose next

      Commenter
      derf
      Location
      Currently Alice Springs
      Date and time
      April 15, 2013, 5:15PM
    • Such sycophantic comments only make his situation look worse.

      Commenter
      Eudaimonia
      Location
      Location
      Date and time
      April 15, 2013, 5:34PM
  • Now that Mackay has resigned the next must be Mark Sullivan. A new broom is needed as ACTEW and ActewAGL need a fresh approach to managing what is effectively a monopoly utility. Neither have demonstrated the pre-requisite skills nor management capability to manage this multi billion business. Mark Sullivan should recognise that managing a business is fundamentally different to managing a government department such as DVA or FACHSIA

    Commenter
    Ian
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    April 15, 2013, 3:34PM
    • Now is the time for Gallagher & Co to grasp the nettle and bring much needed reform to ACTEW. The current board set-up is hugely out of step with public consensus. We want a utility that serves the public good, not one that lines the pockets of senior executives like some sort of jolly boardroom lotto with little accountability. Tear it down and make changes, especially bringing focus on appropriate remuneration.

      Commenter
      yumq
      Location
      Reid
      Date and time
      April 15, 2013, 3:49PM
      • Can I have the job please?

        Commenter
        Outraged of Palmerston
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 4:05PM
        • Given your ability to think and type at the same time you are far more qualified than the current bosses of actew. I dont mean that as a dig at you mr or ms Palmerston. I honestly would prefer you in the job!

          Commenter
          Joe
          Location
          Franklin
          Date and time
          April 15, 2013, 9:28PM
        • I would be honoured to take on the position and change ACTEW business practises and culture.

          When will they send for me? I can then be "Mildly Elated of ACTEW".

          Commenter
          Outraged of Palmerston
          Date and time
          April 16, 2013, 8:53AM
      • The Chair is responsible for the performance of the company - good or bad. He/she is accountable. Without knowing the ins and outs of what has occurred it's rare to see the Chair act in an accountable manner. I don't know the man but his actions also speak volumes.

        Commenter
        WorkingMum
        Date and time
        April 15, 2013, 4:17PM
        • Why is the Chairman taking the fall for the CEOs problem? as the Chief Executive he should be held responsible and sacked, he is driving ACTEW into the ground with his 'leadership' and getting rid of the Chairman isn't going to solve any of their $200 million worth of problems

          Commenter
          Frank
          Date and time
          April 15, 2013, 4:33PM

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