A Vice-Regal Stitch-up? How the great, the good and the consultants fell in with Governor-General Hurley’s fave charity

by Jommy Tee | Jul 4, 2023 | Government, Latest Posts

When the Governor-General’s man knocks, you open the door. Simple. Jommy Tee shines a light on the many avenues of influence used in the making of the $18m taxpayer-funded Australian Future Leaders Foundation. 

When your charity has the GG’s David Hurley’s imprimatur – even at “arms length” – state governors offer up their official residences as “class rooms”, management consultants line up to develop your ideas and one of the country’s top bureaucrats becomes your go-to confidante. You also invite influential people to dinner with the then British monarch’s daughter (the current King’s sister) and if you like, have Stan Grant as your master of ceremonies.

This was the life of Chis Hartley, the well-connected, one man-band charged with making the Governor-General’s Australian Future Leaders Foundation (AFLF) come alive, starting in earnest in 2021 and into 2022.  Lucky for him, on the way to pulling in $18m of public funds from the Morrison government to underwrite the foundation, Hartley had an Access All Areas pass, with a vice-regal stamp of approval.  

First, ask a consultant

FOI documents show that to get the ball rolling in early 2021, a McKinsey consultant (whose name has been redacted in the FOI) introduced Hartley to Peter Woolcott, the then head of the Australian Public Service Commission.  The commission’s job is to make sure the APS is fit-for-purpose; in Hartley’s interpretation, that meant handing over a public servant for three months to work on the foundation’s initial stages.

McKinsey wrote glowingly of Hartley, telling Woolcott that he was working on an exciting leadership program for Australia to: “be led by the Governor-General – called the Governor Generals (sic) Australian Future Leaders program”.

“This program aims to cover 120-150 young people (in their 30s) per year, selected and approved by the GG and a multi-state board and provide leadership development”. 

The GG and his office has steadfastly insisted they were to have no involvement in the foundation’s day-to-day running or funding arrangements. They were “at arms length”. But they nonetheless seemed to have pulling power. 

An ‘announce-able’ for the Prime Minister and GG

Back to the email to Woolcott, with a flourish the redacted McKinsey consultant added: “I will let Chris do a much better job of describing this program and also the progress he has made on behalf of the Governor General, including gaining the support of the PMO [The Prime Minister’s Office].”

Hartley wasted little time in contacting Woolcott, updating on March 19 him by providing a brief and links to two videos on how the foundation was tracking. 

With a nod to things to come, Hartley advised: “They are not for public consumption.  We haven’t released the name of the program in order to give the PM/GG the courtesy of an “announcement”.  The Governor-General and the Official Secretary are totally committed to the program and tell me the PM and Treasurer are in agreement”. 

Take it to the states

It appears this was a government program EVERYONE could agree on. From an early stage, the offices of the state governors – the ceremonial state-level equivalents of Hurley –  were well briefed on the foundation. The state governors were, it appears, briefed by the His Excellency (HE) the Governor General himself. 

In his opening email to Woolcott, see above, Hartley writes:  “I brief the Official Secretaries next week (HE having briefed their Principals) and have parcels of work with [redacted] and McKinsey. [Redacted] have been very helpful with contacts and advice and may join the anticipated ‘Selection Board’”.

Official secretaries were apparently keen to help. Various official government houses across the country were at one point to be used as “classrooms” for the hand-picked “digital native” cohort of aspiring leaders.

There were to be:

3 days at Admiralty House, Sydney

4 days at Government House, Canberra

1 day at various state government houses

Then another…3 days at Admiralty House, Sydney. 

Maybe this is no surprise, given we know that David Hurley’s own residence can be used for all manner of things, weddings, parties, anything — well, at least for the GG’s family.  So why not face-to-face chats about leadership? 

Simply add more consultants

The whole shebang was rife with elite management consultancies: not only did McKinsey help out Hartley, BCG, Accenture and Deloittes were all in on the act at various points.  The foundation was built with substantial input from McKinsey & Co, BCG, Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte and M&C Saatchi.  

According to Hartley, the initial budget was created by McKinsey, then validated by Accenture.  The budget as then forwarded to KPMG for further input.  

M&C Saatchi provided branding advice.  McKinsey were “commissioned to expand the working governance model and Accenture added further detail in the governance review.”

Accenture, McKinsey, BCG, and M&C Saatchi provided facilitation services at the two roundtables the Governor General held in May 2021 “producing 49 pages of typewritten notes, ideas and contributions”.

KPMG were to be involved in running 12 national focus groups, and were to be the auditors and “performance partner”.

There would have been nothing “arms length” about their involvement, that’s for sure. 

How about dinner with a Princess?

On April 10, 2022, Hartley hosted a private dinner for Princess Anne and a selection of the nation’s finest at the Sydney Royal Yacht Squadron at Kirribilli, just down the road from the GG’s Sydney residence.

Who dat?

Stan Grant, the  MC, introduced the speakers who were the Indigenous human rights and social justice campaigner Professor Tom Calma, who talked of leadership through a 65,000-year lens, the Princess and the Hartley in reply to her. 

The invited guests included then chair of the Comm Bank Catherine Livingstone, the former head of the Reserve Bank Glenn Stevens, then head of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens and, of course, Woolcott.

A standing grace was delivered by the Rt Reverend John Stead, from the Mission to Seafarers.

While it is not entirely clear what was said at the sparkling event, we know the Princess, who was accompanied by her hubby Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence, had a good look at the Squadron’s silverware with Hartley in tow. The trophies on display included the King’s Cup, a subject of a previous MWM story involving both the GG and Hartley.

The King’s Cup is dead. Long live the King’s Cup! (Er, but where is it chaps?)


As for the night with Princess Anne, we know what the guests should and shouldn’t do because they were kindly sent a Q and A before the event.

Here are some of the highlights:

What do I call Her Royal Highness? ‘Your Royal Highness’ at first meeting. Ma’am (as in ‘jam’) if you refer to her again in conversation. As in “It is a pleasure to meet you again Your Royal Highness, we met once before, Ma’am, in..”

Do I speak first? The convention is that Her Royal Highness opens conversation and then you respond.

Do I have to bow or curtsey? There is no obligation to do either. A nod of the head is a polite acknowledgement but no offence will be taken if you decide not to do so. Extra points will be awarded to those who curtsy but this will require prior practice.

Do I shake Her Royal Highness’s hand? Only if it is offered first.

What do I say? Please think about this beforehand. Obviously be civil but ideally interesting also.

What do I call Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence? Either Admiral Laurence or Sir Timothy.

Will I definitely meet and talk to Her Royal Highness? Probably not.

When can I share my brilliant story with The Princess Royal? Only on request.

What do I do when the bell rings? Please stand up.

What do I do when the bell rings again? Please stand up again.

When do I sit down? When the top table sits down. At the start of the dinner this will be following a standing grace from the Rt Reverend John Stead of Mission to Seafarers. Follow the others and you will not go wrong.

What happens at the end of the dinner? The bell rings, you stand up, Her Royal Highness leaves and then you go home.

Why is there a bell? It is a nautical thing.

And so it went.

After the dinner, Hartley got straight back to GG business. On April 16, he sought Woolcott’s take on the event and his reflections on Princess Anne’s words. It is not clear what, if anything, Woolcott replied.

As previously noted, the current Federal government ended funding to the G-G’s favourite charity. It now has to catch and kill its own.

The most recent information on The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission shows it with revenues of about $2.2m (the vast majority comes from donations or bequests) and expenses of $645,605, almost 90 per cent of which is deemed employee expenses.

Given the Foundation had one FT employee — guess who? — one PT and one casual employee, it is fair to say that Hartley gained most of that cash.

But what is it being spent on? 

But what is it being spent on? 

When asked about the Foundation’s activities in Senate Estimates in May, Paul Singer, the GG’s official secretary, admitted that as far as he was aware the foundation had no active program. (He also stressed he was not at Estimates to “represent the operations of that Foundation”.)  

As Senator David Shoebridge asked, was the $645,000 of expenses spent by the Foundation for nothing? 

Singer replied: “I wouldn’t necessarily characterise it that way.”

Indeed — there are other words for it.

David Hurley’s arms need a ruler: how the Governor-General’s favourite charity got “top of the pile” treatment

Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.

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