The new Minister for Land and Property, Steve Kamper, will soon have to deal with the mess of Sydney’s cemetery sector bequeathed by the former NSW government. The cemetery operator is in disarray, with a damning report looming over the heads of its executives. Callum Foote reports.
Sydney’s public cemeteries are running out of space with no plans to purchase more land and hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance liabilities yet unaccounted for.
Mike Goddard, the chief financial officer of OneCrown, the NSW Government’s cemetery operator, has just resigned after a reported blowup with its administrator Lee Shearer, according to sources close to the organisation. His resignation marks the 27th executive or senior employee to have resigned from the entity in the 18 months it has been operating.
Among these resignations, Goddard has been the third CFO to depart. There have also been three CEOs to leave, one Chief Information Officer, one Chief Operating Officer, two marketing and sales executives and a strategy executive who have all found their way out the door.
In a statement made through a spokesperson, OneCrown told MWM that “Staff attrition is an unavoidable outcome of any amalgamation, due to the consolidation of functions throughout the business. This impacts both executives and the workforce. A key component of the OneCrown initiative is to reduce operating costs and create organisational efficiencies, both of which will assist in the delivery of affordable end-of-life services for all faith groups.”
The spokesperson also referenced Harvard Business Review research which indicates executive turnover is a result of amalgamation.
MWM reported recently that former CEO Robert Pitt had wide-ranging frustrations with the management of OneCrown last month.
Pitt, a 20-year veteran of the industry, was only at OneCrown for four months before resigning, told MWM:
Having had more than 20 years of experience in managing public cemeteries, I can only describe my four months’ experience as the CEO of One Crown as highly unusual, if not bizarre, unprofessional, and an immensely frustrating experience.
According to Pitt, OneCrown had failed to properly account for over $300 million in uncovered maintenance liabilities which may require taxpayer funds to cover them if OneCrown’s management doesn’t address the accounting shambles.
OneCrown is also fast running out of burial space. If it does, the market will be left to private operators such as InvoCare and the Catholic operator of public cemeteries, who have both resisted calls to turn over the care of public assets to the government.
OneCrown not yet a legal entity
As MWM revealed in January, the NSW government has not yet legally established OneCrown as its own entity. It was established to amalgamate the four separate operators of public cemeteries in Sydney to increase efficiencies and pool resources to purchase more burial land.
OneCrown administrator Lee Sheerer has confirmed that the three entities are still operating as individual organisations. “The three Land Managers must continue to operate as separate entities until the NSW Government makes a final decision on the operating model,” Shearer told MWM. “The work we have progressed has identified and implemented many efficiencies and improvements, including settling one budget, while maintaining separate finance functions across the entities,” she said.
Shearer is purportedly on a salary of $600,000+ and lives in Newcastle. When in Sydney, Shearer stays in a $565 per night room in Sydney’s exclusive Circular Quay Arora hotel, at taxpayer expense. OneCrown’s offices are in North Ryde.
Shearer has also previously held the role of Central Coast Co-ordinator General in 2019, and was an NSW Police Assistant Commissioner before then.
She was first appointed administrator of OneCrown in May, 2021. Her tenure was extended last year until 27 May, 2023.
At the reported insistence of senior management, an independent enquiry was undertaken into the leadership capability and organisational culture of OneCrown.
Consulting firm O’Connor Marsden & Associates (OCM) was contracted for this purpose. The initial report was handed down in December of last year, but was not made publicly available by the former minister for Lands and Water, Nationals MP Kevin Anderson.
According to sources close to OneCrown, the advice handed down in the December report was damning of OneCrown leadership. The report underwent significant rewrites following the December advice, ballooning from 15 pages to more than 50.
The initial advice was reportedly rewritten following pushback from OneCrown management.
When MWM approached OCM for comments regarding whether OneCrown had input into the report following the initial advice, managing partner Pamela Robertson-Gregg replied that “We are very concerned in relation to the tone of your queries raised and advise that should any publication occur that is defamatory in nature to us, we shall have no hesitation in issuing proceedings for defamation, and/or injurious falsehood, if appropriate, against any publication and you personally”.
According to sources close to the report, the government may release a sanitised version within a few weeks. Steve Kamper has been asked whether he will make the original December advice from O’Connor Marsden public, but has not yet been able to comment given his swearing-in today.
New premier Chris Minns’ office has told MWM that their policies on cemeteries don’t differ greatly from those of the Coalition.
Lee Shearer has not responded to questions put to her about making the December advice publicly available.