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Council CEO stood down immediately after internal probe finding on anonymous donation

Council CEO stood down immediately after internal probe finding on anonymous donation
Brendan Rees

City of Melbourne chief executive officer Justin Hanney has finished up in his role earlier than expected after an internal investigation found he should have declared an anonymous donation for a yacht race.

Mr Hanney made the shock announcement on October 19 that he intended to stand down in late December after four years in the top job.

It came after a probe into a fundraising campaign from which Mr Hanney received an undisclosed donation believed to be more than $35,000 to cover the cost of racing in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

At the time of his resignation announcement, the council said its internal CEO Employment Matters Committee had conducted a “thorough review” of the donation Mr Hanney received through the Australian Sports Foundation, before issuing a council statement saying it had “not identified any decisions that have been influenced by the donation” and had accepted his offer to resign at the end of the year. 

But in a backflip decision, the council announced Alison Leighton had been appointed as acting chief executive effective immediately on October 27, and “thanked Mr Hanney for his dedicated service to the organisation”.

The subsequent statement said the council had considered a confidential report of the CEO Employment Matters Committee on the anonymous donation, which found “the donations should have been declared as part of City of Melbourne’s personal interests return process”.

However, it found “no evidence to indicate that Mr Hanney intentionally or recklessly lodged returns that were false or incomplete”.

The CEO Employment Matters Committee began undertaking a review in August, which is currently being led by independent chair, Jude Munro AO, and has access to independent legal advice and other necessary resources. 

The council said it would advise Local Government Victoria of the need for “strengthened guidelines” in the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 relating to CEO personal interest returns and issues relating to joint ownership of assets, and requested that action be taken to address these shortcomings. 

Mr Hanney, whose leadership has been lauded for navigating the council through the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledged he should have declared the donation.

“As I have previously acknowledged, I should have nominated the Australian Sports Foundation donation as part of my personal interest declaration process, and this was an oversight,” he said.

Mr Hanney co-owned a yacht with Nick Foa, the former head of transport services at the Department of Transport. He too resigned in September following a government investigation into his role over the donation investigation.

Cr Capp thanked Mr Hanney for his unwavering service, saying he was a
“dedicated champion of the municipality and has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of its residents and business owners”.

 

“Justin has transformed the culture at the City of Melbourne, strengthening its focus on performance and achievement, and this will be one of his legacies,” she said.

 

“Melbourne is a marvellous city which is bouncing back following some of its toughest times and Justin’s outstanding leadership has contributed to this.”

Mr Hanney was reappointed as CEO for a further four years in June, with his contract term due to end on June 30, 2026.  

He has been praised for his implementing an ambitious reform and revitalisation plan to help the city recover from the pandemic after being the most locked down city in the world. 

Mr Hanney also led a new neighbourhood planning process and a council-wide commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. •

 

Caption: City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney speaking at a Residents 3000 meeting in April. He has stood down from his position immediately. 

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