RACV Board elections: does anyone care?

If you are one of 2 million Victorians who are RACV members then you would have received one of these packages in the mail a few weeks ago: the paperwork for this year’s board elections.

RACV Board elections: does anyone care?

If you can’t find it then you’ve probably thrown it in the bin, just like the majority of RACV members. In the 2010 board election there were approximately 1.6 million members eligible to vote, but only 55,000 or so chose to do so. This apathy isn’t a one off, as Crikey reported the same low turnout back in 2005

More than 50,000 votes for the RACV election have already been received but the inflow has slowed to less than 1,000 votes a day ahead of Thursday’s 5pm close of polling. The biggest rush saw 11,000 ballots arrive on one day, but this was just after RoyalAuto arrived in more than one million letter boxes across Victoria four weeks ago.

However, it’s fair to say that Victoria is not gripped by RACV election excitement. The voting hotline, 1300 365 699, has been averaging 3 calls a day but we did get it up to 10 on one day after urging the Crikey army to call through and ask for another ballot paper if the RoyalAuto had already been binned.

The RACV is managed by a board of 15 independent non-executive directors, along with a managing director – so why bother voting for them? Most people join the RACV for one reason only: to get bailed out when their car gets a flat battery, or to get back into the car after locking their keys inside. As long as the RACV saves your bacon and you don’t pay through the nose for your membership, does it really matter?

This apathy is what the incumbent board counts on come election time, as there are two types of RACV memberships:

  • Service members are the majority, made up of everyday people who pay for roadside assistance,
  • Ordinary (“Club’) members are in the minority, numbering just over 27,800, and pay $290 to $500 a year to use the facilities of the RACV, including the RACV City Club at 501 Bourke Street, the RACV Healesville Country Club in the Yarra Valley, and reciprocal rights at 150 clubs around the world.

Different levels of membership might not be a problem by itself, but in the case of the RACV it is used to deny representation to service members: they can only vote for 6 specific non-executive directors, while ordinary members vote can for all 15. This situation cannot be changed by outsiders, for reasons given by this Crikey article from 2005:

The 17,000-member Club has a vice-like grip over the entire RACV because surrendering its clear majority of nine out of 15 directors would require a constitutional change approved by 75% of those voting at the AGM and only Club members can vote. That’s how disenfranchised service members really are.

One might call the RACV board an old boys club and you would be right: for years it has been dominated by 60-something blokes who have sat on the board for an average of 14 years. It was not until 2006 that the situation was shook up, when the fourth contested election in 34 years saw a record three female directors win seats on the board, with two having been voted on without board endorsement. (article from The Age). This may had had something to do with the involvement of shareholder activist and Crikey editor Stephen Mayne, as his wife Paula Piccinini was one of the outsiders to win a seat. In the 20 years prior only three candidates had won without board endorsement.

Even with a few outsiders winning seats on the board, the odds are still stacked against them on the ballot paper, as the two incumbents receive an enormous black asterisk beside their names, guiding the votes of people who don’t care enough to research the candidates. The same incumbent-favouring ballot paper design is in use this year, as seen below.

Ballot paper for the 2011 RACV Board election

So who are the candidates this year?

  • Suzanna Sheed is a lawyer from Shepparton, an incumbent RACV board member since 2003, and a RACV Club member (8 years) and RACV Service member (35 years).
  • Thomas Houlihan is a farm owner and property manager from near Horsham, and a RACV Service member (23 years).
  • Marcus Wigan is a transport academic from Melbourne, and doesn’t appear to be a RACV member.
  • John Slattery is a farm owner and company director from Geelong, an incumbent RACV board member since 2011, and a RACV Club and Service member.
  • John Bailey runs a real estate agency in Wangaratta, and is a RACV Club member and a RACV Service member (26 years).
  • Fred Tonelli is an architect and sessional lecture from Melbourne, and a RACV Service member.

[Edit 2011/10/04] I’ve added the duration of each candidate’s RACV memberships.

Of this year’s field, there are two candidates who have their own websites, as well as Twitter accounts: Marcus Wigan (http://www.mwigan.com / @MarcWigan) and John Bailey (http://www.baileyjws.com.au / @johnbailey52)

For me the stand out candidate is Marcus Wigan (and it isn’t because we share the same first name!) – as well as his long history of transport and planning involvement in academia, he is also a member of Bicycle Victoria, the Motorcycle Riders Association of Victoria, Electronic Frontiers Australia, and the Australian Privacy Foundation.

The 2011 RACV board election closes on 5.00pm Thursday, 13th October 2011 – if you are one of those people who turfed their package, you can order another using this form. It’s your chance to make the RACV something other than an old boys club.

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11 Responses to “RACV Board elections: does anyone care?”

  1. john slattery says:

    Dear Marcus,

    I thought you might at least have given me a wrap since I also hail from Geelong, and farm just out of Geelong. also, I can hardly be described as an “old boy’ having joined the board just this year. And if you look at my platform you will see I am a strong advocate for safer roads for cyclists, motor cyclists and other road users in addition to motorists.Finally I am one of the service member representatives.

    Kind regards, John Slattery

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Hello John,

      Thanks for stopping by, I have gone ahead and expanded the details of candidate’s RACV memberships, and the period of time they have been on the RACV board. You are correct about being a new member of the board: the other incumbent up for re-election (Suzanna Sheed) has held a seat for 8 years, and the reminder of the current board has experienced some turnover since Crikey published their article – 7 new members have joined since Ms P Piccinini was appointed in the 2006 election.

      As for seeing what candidates stand for, the RACV website only says the following:

      Q. Where can I find information about the Candidates?
      A. Candidate CV information can be found in the ‘Candidate Statements & Voting Instructions’ document included in your Election Pack. This information is also available for download in PDF format by clicking here.

      Additional information concerning the Candidates’ campaign platform (what they stand for) can be obtained by contacting the candidates directly. The contact details for each candidate can be found on the ‘Candidate Statements & Voting Instructions’ document.

      The CV information mentioned is the document I linked to earlier, but the RACV failing to publish candidates’ statements is a notable omission. Publishing lengthy essays in the RoyalAuto magazine might be hard to justify, but publishing them on the RACV website with the rest of the election material should be no trouble.

      To me the RACV omitting to publish candidate statements comes across as a move intended to keep voters uninformed: the average person won’t bother to contact a candidate to find out more, and it would be unfair to expect candidates to place them online themselves.

      Regards,
      Marcus

  2. Daniel says:

    Bravo on this post, it raises some important issues. With hundreds of thousands of members, many of whom join only for the service, but don’t necessarily agree with every statement the RACV makes in their name, this could be handled a lot better, with people having a genuine say in how the organisation is run.

    (Amusingly I briefly, and much less thoughtfully, pondered similar things in a very old post years ago… check the bottom section of this: http://www.danielbowen.com/1999/06/06/the-long-and-winding-freeway/ )

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The management of the RACV is an interesting topic – it would be hard to find a Victorian motorist who is not a member, but no one ever seems to think about who is in charge and where the money goes. In my family it is pretty much a given that when you buy your first car, you buy a RACV membership to go with it.

      From a quick look online the last time the RACV board has come up in Melbourne’s print media was in 2006 – small public companies manage to wrangle more column inches in the business pages. In this case the only reason the election was considered newsworthy was that Paula Piccinini was one of the candidates – she is more well known as the wife of Stephen Mayne, shareholder advocate and serial corporate board candidate.

  3. Marcus Wigan says:

    Good to see some commentary here!

    I was severely constrained in the information grid.. and included other club memberships rather than the RACV ones(as you cant stand unless you are one!). Although I have only been an academic for about 8 years of my life, and am currently devoting time as an Honorary of the University of melbourne in several areas, its a part of my longer term (and a lot wider) experince I am proud of, as the mix helps me understand a much wider range of people and fields than I would have otherwise.

    Ive been a member of the Service RACV side since 1977.. about 34 years that makes it.. and yes,m I too am standing as a Service Member because I was asked to by a range of people anxious to get someone with my mix of solid policy, transport, and community service in the policy, information, computing, safety and transport areas etc etc experience onto the Board..

    I have had considerable difficulty getting my Candidate Policy statement out to people, as it had to go through a lengthy approval process through the Returning Officer.. and by then no advertisments were being accepted by RoyalAuto, no inclusions in the election package were permitted.. and a cost exceeding $20,000 was demanded just to get a mailing list of all service members..let alone the actual mailing that was a quite separate cost….

    My candidate statement (which was constrained by the RACV ByLaws as to what I could say) is on the front page on my website, and can be directly downloaded from here: http://www.mwigan.com/mrw/Welcome_files/RACV%20Letterhead%20Wigan%20Flyer.pdf

    I do help that helps in the information stakes to members. Ive had a considerable number of complaints from RACV members complaining about my apparent lack of a candidate statement, and I have explained the barriers to getting one out, and a number have contacted the Company Secretary ([email protected]) requesting that the reinstatement of candidate statements be made in the information sent out to members in future elections. I hope that at least one of these are taken up by the Board for at least a constructive comment on at the AGM next month.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Hi Marcus, I noticed that your entry in the grid was rather full, and I was unsure whether the omission of your RACV membership details to save space – when comparing the candidate profiles single things like leaving out something as small as ‘length of membership’ stands out.

      After reading all of the difficulties you have had distributing your candidate statement to members, perhaps I should come up with a template email for people to send to the RACV, asking them to include the statements in future election packages!

  4. [...] Following up from my RACV board election post from back in October 2011, here are the results! Turns out they were released a few months ago, [...]

  5. [...] A few months ago the RACV Board elections came and went without me noticing – last year I discovered that of the 1.6 million members eligible to vote, only 55,000 or so chose to do so, so I’m [...]

  6. john says:

    Racv election 2013 seems to have dedicated site RACVelection.info this year.

    john

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Running a WHOIS on the domain name says it was registered on July 05, 2013 by a Melbourne design agency.

  7. […] Board Election arrived in my mailbox along with the monthly issue of RoyalAuto magazine. I’ve written on the topic before – while being Victoria’s largest non-government election, it is also ignored by the […]

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