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.
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.
- 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.