COSBOA accusations a “storm in a teacup”, former chair says

A former chair of the Council of Small Business of Australia has spoken out saying the accusations levelled against the organisation and its executive director Peter Strong are largely unfounded and have been blown out of proportion.

Institute of Public Accountants chief executive Andrew Conway resigned from the role of COSBOA chairman last week, alleging “potentially serious breaches of the law” and poor governance.

But Geoff Fader, the current chairman of the Tasmania Small Business Council and former COSBOA chair, told SmartCompany the majority of members were 100% supportive of Peter Strong.

“I’m disappointed in the turn of events. My small business council has been a member basically since COSBOA’s inception and totally supports the executive officer Peter Strong,” he says.

“It’s no more than a storm in a teacup. In a week or so it will be on with business and the vast majority of membership totally support the work which has been done and totally support the executive office in his role. That support is based on performance, the only reasonable measure.”

Fader’s sentiments mirrored those of another current member who wished to remain unnamed.

COSBOA directors Yolanda Vega and Jackie Zelinsky also resigned last week.

Last week, Vega told SmartCompany she resigned because COSBOA “consciously fails to establish policy objectives” and “knowingly supports an executive officer that refuses to be accountable: fails to deliver financial documentation and board meeting minutes, is incapable of writing reports and deliberately ignores his fiduciary duties”.

However, she also said she did not want to be involved with an organisation which accepts financial support from the tobacco industry.

Conway gave members a report of his findings and concerns at a COSBOA meeting last week, but members say they filed a motion for Conway and the board to step down.

“The members put forward a motion saying the dysfunctional board should resign and be replaced…But the chair, or now former chair, did not allow that motion to be voted on and closed down the meeting,” Fader says.

“Less than a week later he’s resigned. He didn’t enjoy the confidence of the membership.”

This claim was supported by another member who also attended the meeting.

“The underlying feeling at the meeting, which was put to Andrew, was that there was no confidence in the board or in Andrew’s running of the organisation,” the member says.

“It will be disappointing if Andrew’s seen as a whistleblower when most members called for him to stand down.”

The member also says if corporate governance is an issue, scrutiny should be directed toward the board.

“The board needs to carry a lot of responsibility for where it finds itself. Members have been kept in the dark,” the member says.

“I’ve been a member of COSBOA for two years and since then there have been two boards with different chair people. There’s been lots of finger-pointing toward Peter Strong, but the board needs to carry a huge amount of responsibility because a large part of their role is governance. They should be questioning why they didn’t they get onto the issues earlier and why didn’t they give Peter the resources and support he’s needed?”

IPA general manager of media and communications Wayne Debernardi told SmartCompany on Fridaythat Conway entered into the role with the “full intention of driving the focus of small business” but discovered a “whole range of things impeding the mission”.

In a letter to members explaining his decision to resign, Conway alleged there had been numerous examples of non-compliance and a director had obstructed the “business of the board” for their own financial benefit.

Strong told SmartCompany on Friday the accusations were “appalling and wrong”, but he’d contacted the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and informed it of the allegations.

Fader says from his perspective the only substantiated evidence of non-compliance was some board minutes which had not been signed by a previous chairman.

“Any other accusations are totally without foundation,” he says.

“In a performance sense, COSBOA has never been so successful as in recent years and the leader of that has been Peter Strong.”

Fader says COSBOA has been particularly effective in the past two to four years in its lobbying capacity.

“It’s grown to a 30 member group organisation and during my time I worked with Peter Strong, meeting with then opposition leader Tony Abbott, discussing the importance of a small business minister and cabinet and supporting Bruce Billson in that role,” he says.

“COSBOA has worked on superannuation in terms of making it simpler and easier, pushed for red tape removal and supported the appointment through the previous government of the Small Business Commissioner and emerging initiatives which are minimising the reporting requirements for small companies.”

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