THE QUEST for a cure for ill-directed company boards and management systems has received a huge injection of support with more than half a million dollars set aside to fund an innovative three-year research program into corporate governance.
Lawyers Weekly can reveal that the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS’s) newly established Centre for Corporate Governance will be supported by a public/private sponsorship program valued at approximately $600,000 over the next three years.
Centre director and UTS School of Management professor Thomas Clarke confirmed that around half the amount was being supplied via a grant from the Australian Research Council, which is controlled by the Commonwealth Government.
Its contribution is being matched almost in kind by the university in combination with the centre’s principal sponsor, national law firm Dibbs Barker Gosling.
First flagged in September 2002 to address weaknesses within the corporate sector that have led to a spate of spectacular collapses of late, including HIH and One-Tel, the centre was officially launched in March this year.
Its already-growing profile will receive another boost next week when Justice Neville Owen, HIH Royal Commissioner, gives the first of a series of free public addresses on corporate governance and fiduciary duties.
Clarke acknowledged the centre’s aim, essentially to closely examine the behavioural and cultural norms of Australia’s largest 100 companies, was ambitious, but labelled current funding as “adequate”.
“Everyone is rightfully saying a tick box approach won’t make for better corporate governance,” he said. “We need to look down a few levels into the behaviour and values of companies.”
To achieve that end, the centre is calling for the big end of town to cooperate with researchers. In exchange for their commitment, participants will be privy to all data — excepting information of a commercially sensitive nature — uncovered during the study.
Although many would like to forget the HIH experience, Clarke said blinding oneself to the lessons of the past could be a recipe for future disaster.
“What worries me most is that after the terrible shock of HIH, Australia’s largest bankruptcy, people will just want to forget and put it to the side,” he said. “It’s a nightmare people cannot afford to repress, otherwise it may recur.”
The centre will publish its findings in the form of working papers on a range of different topics as they are finalised. It will then consider responses of both public stakeholders and subject companies before publishing a book.