Alpine leaders created personal playground with public purse

Monday 20 March 2017
Mt Buller and Mt Stirling senior management spent more than $85,000 of public funds on international family travel, entertaining friends, bonuses and prizes for staff, a Victorian Ombudsman report revealed today.
Tabling the Investigation into allegations of improper conduct by officers at the Mount Buller and Mount Stirling Resort Management Board, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass outlined how the alpine resort’s funds and government-owned snowfield apartments were misused.
“The Resort sits on Crown land and is managed on behalf of the Minister. Mt Buller is no-one’s personal playground; it is public property and its management is the temporary custodian,” said Ms Glass.
The investigation found more than $30,000 of public money was spent on international family travel, the entertainment of the CEO’s friends, and the provision of prizes to staff including flights and accommodation to interstate tourist destinations.
It also found the resort’s CEO used taxpayer money to pay for flights for himself and his family to the United States for what was primarily a holiday. 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.
A further $49,000 was spent on staff bonuses without adequate justification or transparency, the investigation found.
The investigation began after the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission referred in total, four protected disclosure complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman regarding allegations of the misuse of public resources by senior management.
A subsequent allegation also raised concerns about the conduct of the Board Chair at the resort. The Board Chair was found to have misused the resort’s resources by living in publicly owned Mt Buller accommodation – meant for short stays by Board members on official business such as Board meetings – for the duration of the ski season and allowing family and friends to stay without payment.
The Victorian Ombudsman made 11 recommendations including:
  • the Victorian Government review governance arrangements of publicly-owned resorts, and amend travel guidelines.
  • the CEO repay the cost of the US flights, which he has agreed to do.
  • the Property Manager repay the cost of the travel to and accommodation in France for his family, which at this stage, he has not agreed to do.
“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,” Ms Glass said.
Due to the nature of protected disclosures, the Ombudsman is not available for interview.
Media contact: Rory Cahill Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 
Further information: Tel 03 9613 6222 | Regional 1800 806 314 | | Follow @VicOmbudsman