Switkowski steps down from RMIT to focus on new Crown role

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Switkowski steps down from RMIT to focus on new Crown role

Incoming Crown Resorts chairman Ziggy Switkowski has stepped down from his role of chancellor at a prominent Melbourne university after claims his new role was in direct contradiction of university values.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the high-profile businessman said that the former Telstra and Optus boss announce he would leave RMIT at the end of October, just days after the union for Australian tertiary education staff called for him to resign over his appointment as chair of Crown two weeks ago.

But Dr Switkowski said that a perceived clash of values was not raised in discussions with RMIT’s governing council.

He said he only resigned because the role at Crown required a significant time commitment as the $6.6 billion group tries to retain its casino licences for Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

“There was never a time when my joining the Crown board was debated…other than the fact that I would have to step down in order to have the time to attend to Crown’s issues,” he said.

Dr Switkowski, who also chairs the government owned NBN Co, said he had agreed at a council meeting on September 1 that he would step down after 11 years in the role.

A National Tertiary Education Union petition and open letter calling for his resignation was circulated a day later, on September 2, saying Crown was a “socially destructive force” and it was untenable for Dr Switkowski to continue to lead the university.

Crown appointed Dr Switkowski as its new chairman two weeks ago to replace former Howard government minister Helen Coonan, as the group undergoes a governance and management overhaul following a string of high-profile scandals that put its future in jeopardy.

Victoria’s royal commission into Crown will deliver its findings by October 15 on whether it is fit to hold the licence for its flagship Melbourne casino.

The inquiry exposed a string of legal and ethical breaches including its cavalier approach to gambling harm.

The licence for Crown’s new Sydney casino is currently suspended after a public inquiry in NSW in February confirmed reports that Crown had facilitated money laundering and had been infiltrated by organised crime syndicates.

A separate royal commission into its Perth casinos is underway in WA.

Dr Switkowski, who was reappointed for another five-year term at RMIT in January 2020, said it had been a “pleasure and honour” to serve in the role and he would leave with “a great sense of pride at what was achieved in that time”.

Coonan resigns from Crown board

Helen Coonan, who became Crown boss in February 2020 after joining as a director in 2011, said it had been a privilege to serve on the company’s board, following her resignation in late August. 

The former Howard government minister added that her aim had been to drive a “transformation” of the company after its reputation was left in tatters by the inquiries in NSW, Victoria and WA.

“Crown is firmly on a pathway to rebuild trust and positioned for success over the long term,” Coonan said.

She also welcomed the appointment of Switkowski and said a smooth succession was critical for Crown.

Coonan became the focus of intense scrutiny at the tail end of Victoria’s recent inquiry into whether Crown could retain a licence for its Melbourne operations.

Coonan’s exit from Crown, flagged in early August, comes after Steve McCann replaced Xavier Walsh as chief executive officer.

Walsh, the inquiry revealed, knew Crown Melbourne underpaid millions in Victorian gaming taxes for three years but did nothing about it until the day after the royal commission was announced.

In his closing submissions to the Victorian inquiry, the counsel assisting, Adrian Finanzio, said neither Walsh nor Coonan could be the “credible face of change” that was needed.

“Their mutual failings underscore the cultures still at play at Crown,” Finanzio said.

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