PERTH, AAP – Crown’s departing executive chair Helen Coonan has defended the company’s management clean-out while facing a West Australian royal commission.
Ms Coonan, who will step down by the end of the month, has also backed a stronger West Australian presence on the Crown Resorts board as the state inquiry considers whether the company should retain its Perth casino licence.
Appearing remotely before the Perth Casino Royal Commission, Ms Coonan was grilled about the departure of chief executive Ken Barton in February.
His exit came after the damning NSW Bergin inquiry found he was “no match for what is needed at the helm of a casino licensee”.
Ms Coonan insisted it had been a mutual agreement for Mr Barton to resign, attributing it largely to issues stemming from the Bergin report.
“We accepted that Mr Barton wished to resign … his reasons were well-known to us and we didn’t resist,” she told the inquiry.
Asked whether the board had shared Mr Barton’s views, Ms Coonan replied “I’m not entirely sure what was in his head”.
Days later, Mr Barton formally entered into an agreement to provide services to Crown including assisting the company with implementing recommendations from the Bergin inquiry.
Counsel assisting the commission Patrica Cahill asked if Mr Barton’s resignation was simply “window-dressing”.
“It’s not window-dressing, it’s a fairly conventional way of separating,” Ms Coonan replied.
“When Crown has on its plate multiple issues that it has to work through, you do need to be able to call on people’s recollection and understanding of how things occurred and who may have been involved.”
With Crown still looking to regenerate its board, Ms Coonan said it was important that the company hire more West Australian directors.
She told the inquiry extensive steps had been taken to find a new chief executive of the Crown Perth business.
“It may come as no surprise that with issues to do with managing inquiries, royal commissions and other regulatory matters, it is a difficult issue to attract suitably qualified directors,” she added.
“But the search goes on and we will be successful.”
Ms Coonan said she hadn’t decided whether to informally maintain involvement with Crown after stepping down from the board.
“The events of the last few months have been so intense and have required much of my attention, so that I haven’t yet had an opportunity to consider that,” she said.
“I wouldn’t rule it out but it’s not my current intention.”