CEO adds cruise to gifts list


MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire CEO Carl Cowie has now listed a Mediterranean cruise he and his wife took as guests of businessman Lindsay Fox on the shire’s gifts register.

Mr Cowie has previously maintained that he did not need to register the cruise as it was made during his annual leave and at no cost to the shire.

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon Mr Cowie repeated that he attended the seven-day cruise in July 2016 “in a private capacity”.

Mr Cowie and his wife were guests aboard the liner Seabourn Odyssey as it sailed from Athens, Greece, to Venice, Italy.

Widely recognised as Mr Fox’s “conception party” in July 2016, the cruise came months before Mr Fox’s 80th birthday which was celebrated in April 2017 at Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove, Red Hill South.

Mr Fox – generally regarded as one of the peninsula’s most high profile property owners – chartered the Seabourn Odyssey.

The ship costs about $200,000 a day to charter and can carry more than 450 passengers. Mr Fox’s guests included actor Hugh Jackman, TV personality and Collingwood Football Club president Eddie McGuire, retail billionaire Solomon Lew and his Premier Investments CEO Mark McInnes, mining magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest, former Crown Casino boss and horse breeder Lloyd Williams, the Pratt family and politicians Bill Kelty and Jeff Kennett.

Several of the cruise guests own property on the peninsula.

The shire’s Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality policy states: “Gifts, benefits and hospitality received must not create a real or perceived sense of obligation that may lead to a perception of preference or conflict.”

Written in the third person, Friday’s “Statement from the CEO” said: “From the outset, [Mr Cowie] has been transparent about the trip.

“In addition to releasing further details of the cruise in January this year, he has now also declared the activity on the shire’s gifts register.

“Mr Cowie is completely satisfied that accepting the invitation to travel on the cruise has not compromised his position as chief executive officer and will not compromise his position in the future.”

The statement also quoted the mayor Cr Bryan Payne as praising Mr Cowie’s decision “for formally listing the cruise on the gifts register as being consistent with the chief executive officer’s responsibilities under the Staff Code of Conduct”.

While Mr Cowie has previously called publicity over his trip “a distraction”, Cr Payne saw it as “a real topic”.

A former municipal CEO himself, Cr Payne told The News earlier this year that he would not have accepted Mr Fox’s invitation.

In Friday’s statement Cr Payne said he “accepts Mr Cowie’s reasons for deciding to declare the cruise on the gifts register and looks forward to continuing to work alongside the chief executive officer delivering services to the local community”.

When contacted by The News Cr Payne said he did not know if Mr Cowie gifts register listing included an estimate of the value of the cruise.

“I’ll be interested to see myself,” Cr Payne said.

Mr Cowie’s decision to register the cruise comes just over a month before councillors decide whether or not to advertise the $400,000 CEO position.

Mr Cowie’s contract ends in November and under its terms he must be told six months’ ahead if the job is to be advertised.

Revelations in The News about the Fox cruise led to councillors making the gifts register available to the public and reviewing the “definitions” of words used in the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy “to ensure that any ambiguity is addressed in a clear and meaningful manner”.

Earlier this month councillors hired a consultant to help with their review of Mr Cowie’s performance and pay.

The gifts registers are publicly available by contacting the shire’s governance team on 1300 850 600 to arrange an appointment for inspection.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 24 April 2018


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