Crown chair Coonan keeps ties with Ho

By William Brown Updated
Crown chair Coonan keeps ties with Ho

Helen Coonan has no intention of stepping down as chair of the public affairs and lobby group hired to represent Macau gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho in his bid to buy a 20 per cent stake in Crown Resorts, despite her appointment as chair of the ASX-listed Crown.

The Australian reports that Ms Coonan replaced John Alexander as Crown Resorts chair last month, as an inquiry was getting under way in Sydney that is examining whether the planned buyout of the Crown stake by Mr Ho’s Melco group raises probity issues.

The former federal communications minister told The Australian at the weekend that she would be reviewing all of her commitments and would adjust some roles and step back from others following her Crown appointment.

But The Australian revealed that her chairmanship of prominent lobbyist firm, GRACosway, will not be among her roles to be culled.

“Ms Coonan is a non-executive chair of GRACosway and has no role in the day-to-day operation of the business. Appropriate disclosures of interest are made in accordance with her obligations as a director of Crown,” a Crown spokeswoman said.

Mr Ho, the son of Stanley Ho – one of the founders of Macau’s casino industry – recruited GRACosway in August last year.

The appointment came three weeks after the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority announced an inquiry into Melco’s intention to buy a 19.9 per cent stake in Crown from James Packer’s private investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings, for about $1.76 billion.

Coonan is a recent Crown addition

Ms Coonan was a director of Crown as well as GRA’s co-chair at the time.

She became sole chair of GRA in November last year after her former co-chair John Dawkins was banned from holding a directorship for two years over his involvement in collapsed training college Vocation.

GRA has been assisting Melco in its preparations ahead of the investigation, which was established to examine the alleged “criminal infestation” of Crown Resorts’ casino operations, both in Australia and abroad.

The authority said it was required by law to ensure the “management and operation of a casino remain free from criminal influence or exploitation, that gaming in a casino is conducted honestly and controlling the potential of a casino to cause harm to the public interest and to individuals and families.”

The Australian is not suggesting that Ms Coonan has engaged in any wrongdoing.

She told The Australian she would adjust some roles and step back from others to focus on the inquiry and ensure Crown’s $2.4 billion Barangaroo project in Sydney finishes on time and on budget.

At Crown’s annual meeting last year, shareholders criticised her many directorships, which include chairing the Minerals Council of Australia, the federal government’s Australian Financial Complaints Authority, and Place Management NSW, previously known as the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

“Some roles I have required four meetings a year and are easily accommodated. Others may require some adjustments or stepping back,” she said.

“I will review all roles but the important point is that Crown will receive the attention from me that it needs.”

Ms Coonan said at the time of her elevation to chair that the move aligned with “contemporary governance practices.”

“The Crown board has been working for some time to consider and to implement a governance structure that is more in line with the traditional model, with a non-executive chair – a position that I am very honoured and privileged to have been asked to hold – and a separate chief executive officer,” she said.

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