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NSW set to lose power in ARU shake-up

From government to governance ... former senator, Mark Arbib, will play an active role in the modernisation of the game in Australia.

From government to governance ... former senator, Mark Arbib, will play an active role in the modernisation of the game in Australia. Photo: Steve Christo

FORMER federal minister for sport and committed Waratahs fan Mark Arbib is awaiting directions from the Australian Rugby Union over his role in a major review that is expected to lead to a fully independent board and NSW losing its power base.

The ARU will announce at its annual general meeting on Friday that Arbib and Peter Cosgrove will conduct a review of Australian rugby's corporate governance.

Cosgrove, the chairman of the ARU's governance and policy committee, will run the review, while Arbib will be involved in discussions with leading Australian rugby stakeholders. One source said last night that Arbib will do ''the leg work''.

Arbib told the Herald he was delighted to be involved in the ARU review.

''I understand the ARU wants to modernise rugby union and look at different models for governance, but any more than that is a matter for the board. I'll await directions from the board on Friday,'' he said yesterday.

Arbib's involvement follows a recent direction that if sports did not comply with new Australian Sports Commission guidelines, which emphasise independent governance, federal government funding would be under threat.

While the AFL Commission is regarded as the benchmark in Australian sport and the NRL recently opted for an independent commission, rugby remains antiquated, particularly its voting system, which will be in operation at this week's annual general meeting.

NSW will have five votes at the meeting and Queensland three, while the other states and territories have one each. The NSW-Queensland dominance enables them to direct the vote on numerous issues, especially as decisions or changes require a 75 per cent majority.

The two states also have a considerable say on the ARU's nine-man board. NSW and Queensland have two directors each, while the ''other states'' have a representative.

The rest of the board is comprised of ARU chief executive John O'Neill, a Rugby Union Players' Association representative and two independent directors, who are appointed by the ARU board.

Suggested changes include all of the states having just one vote, which would end the NSW-Queensland domination, and an ARU board comprised entirely of independent directors.

Arbib's involvement is not surprising considering he has a great knowledge of sports governance and developed a strong relationship with the ARU while federal sports minister, which ended when he resigned from the Senate in February.

''I'm very happy to be helping out. I played rugby at school and colts level, I have been a long-time supporter of the Waratahs and rugby is a fantastic game,'' Arbib said.

''My understanding is that their [the ARU] board has already said there needs to be an overhaul and it needs to be modernised. That's sensible, because for many sporting organisations you always have to adapt with the times.

''It is a highly competitive sporting market place in Australia, and rugby is a sport that is growing, with enormous potential. Being involved in the Olympics gives rugby an excellent opportunity to take the next big step and I'm very happy to help them in getting their governance right …

''The really important thing for rugby is its inclusion in the Olympics … I really think rugby can be a powerhouse in the future.

''I'm looking forward to getting around and talking to the people in the rugby community, but I have to wait for the ARU board to determine exactly what they want me to do, the terms of reference and the processes they want to be put in place.''

The review is backed by the Rugby Union Players' Association - but it believes it should be more expansive.

Association chief Greg Harris said he ''welcomed this review, and anything which improves the standing of the game is to our advantage''.

''But there is a real need for this review to be broader,'' Harris said yesterday.

''It instead should be a review of the whole game, including talent development pathways, commercial viability … the whole box and dice.''

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