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Local Government

PETROL POWER: Local government good governance boss denies nepotism and favouritism claims

RobspencemavVictoria’s local government good governance crusader, the Municipal Association of Victoria has been embroiled in internal conflict, insiders say, because of claims of nepotism and favouritism involving its most senior officials.

Under Victoria’s previous Labor government, mostly seen as doing an appallingly reactive job on local government, even banning electorate officers and political staffers from serving on councils in a manner unlikely to survive legal challenge, the MAV was even given a role in the enforcement of the local councillor code of conduct. Some councillors have told VEXNEWS the MAV’s role in this process is putting up people in judgment of councillors who have an unrealistic and harsh perspective on the matters before them.

The MAV is in fact a creature of statute, with its own Act of Parliament. In the world of local government, it’s a big deal, perhaps considered more prestigious than active.

At the apex of it is its CEO, the long-serving, mostly well-regarded ex-local council bureaucrat Rob Spence, who was recently reappointed to another four year term after initially getting the job in 1997. Spence is a smooth dude, by all accounts, and has managed the egos of those appointing him (councillors elected from across the state) for fifteen years. A task beyond non-superhumans.

It’s in that context that revelations that the very long-serving official’s son Cameron is also working at MAV as its Procurement Manager are causing a stir in Victoria’s tight-knit and gossipy local government sector.

Adding fuel to the fire is widely circling speculation that the Spence family has taken advantage of its powerful position in the government agency.

On Cameron Spence’s Facebook page, the motorsport enthusiast appears to be unwisely and stupidly boasting about MAV’s sponsorship of his racing car.

As you can plainly see, in response to the suggestion from a friend “Good to see our council rates at work” (under a picture of the car), Spence appears to boast “Yeah…Making a difference!”

This was perhaps not the wisest response for a Procurement Manager of MAV to make in a public forum.

As it turns out, the Spence family are patriotic motorsport enthusiasts, surely making them freedom-loving freaks among the world of chardonnay-sipping leftish local government cardigans, and Rob Spence has emphatically denied, on the record, that any public or MAV monies were used in sponsorship of the Formula Ford car bearing the MAV’s insignia.

He explained to VEXNEWS:

“In 2008, we moved into national Formula Ford racing with television coverage. Given that I did not have sponsorship and did not intend to chase it because of the sensitivity with my job, I took the decision not to waste the space on the car and badged it “Local Government – making a difference”. I did it in the interest of raising the profile of the sector. (It was) low cost to me and (I thought it) might raise the sector profile in a different demographic.”

What Formula Ford fans made of the assertion that Local Government makes a difference isn’t known. One could only speculate.

At the time, the MAV’s popular President Dick Gross tried to hose down concerns about it with his customary good grace and humour:

The use of the sector-sanctioned slogan and a nationally applicable website is expected to surprise and positively influence spectators to consider any misconceptions of the sector they may currently hold.

He used humour and inner-city put-downs to manage the fall-out over what appears to have been a unilateral and controversial call by Spence:

For those of you who know and love Robbie our CEO, appreciate that he has one serious weakness – he is an unreconstructed and unrepentant petrol head. He runs a race team that is going national this year with his kamikaze son Cameron at the wheel. Robbie has donated some space on the side of his car as a national promotional activity to raise the level of awareness of local government and to engender positive associations with the sector.

But Spence was most emphatic about the zero cost to ratepayers:

So to answer your question, there has never been any sponsorship from the MAV.

We suppose he means financial sponsorship because the photos do suggest otherwise.

And he pointed out to nosy parkers from VEXNEWS that even though he could wangled a tax-advantage here and there out of the inherently loss-making labour of love, he and his son chose not to go that way, applying their own after-tax dollars to the hobby of champions. Fair enough.

Even VEXNEWS would struggle to judge a zero-cost arrangement too harshly although councillor critics of MAV wonder whether the same liberal standards would be applied to them if they used MAV’s branding for their own personal enterprise. One suggested they might seek MAV’s non-financial sponsorship for a tournament of dwarf-throwing to test whether they could get the same deal.

Others have told VEXNEWS that motor sport is inconsistent with MAV’s do-gooding policies on climate change and so on. VEXNEWS of course supports the right of every petrol-head to rev up in the name of free people everywhere. We don’t think sour-faced Greens Lee Rhianon or Christine Milne or her local government equivalents should determine how fast people can drive on a racetrack.

None of Papa Spence’s innocent account explains Cameron Spence’s curious musings on Facebook, where he appears to have been adding to speculation that public monies were used. Not smart. You might think the Procurement Manager of MAV would be alive to the sensitivities of such boasts.

When we pressed Papa Spence for answers on that, none were forthcoming despite a generally open and frank response to comprehensive questions that we couldn’t otherwise fault.

The other delicate issue raised by VEXNEWS sources was the circumstances of how a local government statutory body charged with championing good governance in local government came to be employing the kamikaze son of its long-time boss.

Nepotism is a serious charge in this world of the precious, and when we asked Spence about it, he provided a lengthy explanation and justification of the arrangement, essentially saying he had nothing to do with his son getting a senior role in charge of procurement in the organisation and that he had no role in managing him:

Cameron commenced employment at the MAV in September 2009. The job was publicly advertised and he was recruited through an independent transparent recruitment process with full Board knowledge and agreement.

I did not have any involvement in the process and his appointment has been well publicized within our sector.

Cameron is paid the same amount as all MAV managers. He reports to another executive at the MAV.

So that’s good news, everything’s above board and nothing to see here.

Generally, we’d have no issue with the bloke giving his son a job, as long as he could do perform the duties, but when those involved are involved in unleashing sanctimony on local councillors, they would want to be maintaining the highest possible standards of probity themselves.

In fact, Papa Spence has put it to VEXNEWS that the arrangement has been a Godsend for ratepayers and the Victorian public:

By the way, the MAV procurement team of four are doing a great job providing significant benefits to Councils and ratepayers by reducing the cost of council purchases. MAV Procurement is a not for profit with an annual revenue of $600k with all benefits going back to the members. Our Board took the decision to enter the procurement area following the State’s Ernst and Young Report which identified potential savings for Victorian local government of a minimum of $350 million annually through improved procurement practices.

Spence raises a good point. VEXNEWS recalls seeing City of Melbourne budget papers around ten years ago that recorded the proposed price to be paid for a desktop computer to be at least double what the prevailing price was for a computer with exactly the specifications as advertised in the once-popular Age Green Guide. Not sure what was going on there, but it appears Mr Spence Jr has plenty of work to be going on with.

Other elements of widespread local government speculation that Spence was keen to dispel included claims about town that his trusted lieutenant Alison Lyon was white-anting his leadership, perhaps hoping he would have moved on rather than seeking and getting another four-year term in charge of MAV. He insists they have a “close and trusting working relationship.” Good to hear.

“She’s a real b*tch,” one local government insider told VEXNEWS “so he’d better watch his back.”

Good advice for all high office-holders with impatient deputies milling about.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. The family used its own time, efforts and dosh to go racing (should be more of it) and in the meantime promoted FREE-OF-CHARGE local government, right? Bugger it, give ’em all a medal. God help us if anyone is actually found doing something wrong in this state, like (insert name here).

    Posted by Jeez-Chill-U-Lot | June 5, 2012, 10:45
  2. I have no love for Mr Spence and question the weakness of the MAV under his leadership especially in the area of Vision Super, with Spence also being on the Board of that organisation that could not run a chook raffle. However to go after his Son for a slogan on a racing car is a bit rich, Spence Senior has other issues to answer for.

    Posted by Digger | June 5, 2012, 11:26
  3. Hahaha…!! Of all the bollocks I’ve ever read!

    So you’ve “found out” that this guy’s job was “publicly advertised and he was recruited through an independent transparent recruitment process with full Board knowledge and agreement.”

    And then your take on that is: “that’s good news, everything’s above board and nothing to see here.”

    So… “nothing to see here”.

    However… we’ll still write an article about it!

    Quiet day at the office? Get a tip-off from one of MAV’s competitors perhaps? Sounds like you guys are clutching at straws. Again. Then again we’d expect that from anything associated with Andrew Landeyou wouldn’t we.


    Posted by Yaaawn.... | June 5, 2012, 14:17
  4. I gather from the lack of snide comments that no one wants this guy’s job…

    Posted by safe | June 5, 2012, 15:36
  5. shit, i’ll give you snide comments. who the fuck do the MAV represent? They act in the interests of councillor parasites and against the interest of the community. God fuck them all

    Posted by chris | June 5, 2012, 16:33
  6. The diatribe as reported above on the MAV and its CEO is nothing short of defamatory. As a former MAV President who actually led the appointment of Rob Spence to the role in 1997, l continue to hold him in the highest esteem as does all who have known him.

    He is widely respected by all political parties and carries the support of the vast majority of local government Mayors, Councillors and staff as well as the MAV Board.

    He actually saved the MAV from oblivion following the amalgamation of councils in the 90’s.

    I know for a fact that he had nothing to do with the appointment of Cameron Spence to head up MAV Procurement. Cameron brings a strong management background to his role.

    If Rob has been reappointed to his role for a further term, it will only guarantee stability and continued unity within local government as an important sector of community governance within our state.

    Brad Matheson
    MAV President (1997 – 2004)

    Posted by Brad Matheson | June 5, 2012, 20:18
  7. Lord Spence would be well advised to employe a food tester and a watchful eye on. Lyn Allison. Her term of office at the City of Melbourne was highly controversial including having spent over $65,000 to try and aid public disclosure of the 1999 council election results. A cost that was disproportionate to the cost of compliance ( estimated at $1.00)

    Lyons was so desperate to not disclose the results that she had the City Council oppose an application under the Freedom of Information Act. So flawed was Lyon’s advice that VCAT Deputy President Mr McNamara ordered without reseverving his decision ordered the Council to publish the detailed elections results.

    Lyon’s also actively sought to deny members of the public and rate payers access to details on the costs paid to Councillors. Cost that often were not accounted for or went hidden and not disclosed on the it’s Accounts. needless to say the City Auditors were not happy with her advice nor the City Council

    Lyons was moved on and Dick Gross was too kind to offer her a position with the MAV.

    Needless lto say our advise to DIck was watch his back and seek alternative advice. Lyons could not be trusted and her advise was seriously left lacking merit or substance.

    Posted by MelbCity | June 5, 2012, 20:56
  8. Was not Brad Matheson dismissed from the MAV having bought it and himself into disrepute?

    Posted by Lord of disputation | June 5, 2012, 21:25
  9. Will the Ombudsman investigate ?

    Posted by Anonymous | June 5, 2012, 23:27
  10. No l wasn’t dismissed from the MAV. I resigned voluntarily as President.


    Posted by Brad Matheson | June 6, 2012, 0:01
  11. Soooo, stepping through this morass of graft and corruption;
    1) Man buys stickers for his racecar.
    2) Man applies successfully for job.
    3) Woman anonymously called bitch.
    Really? You write this? I read this? Faaaark. What garbage.

    Posted by Walkley judge | June 6, 2012, 0:39
  12. Walkley Judge you are sooo right!

    Posted by Brad Matheson | June 6, 2012, 0:52
  13. Rob Spence is a decent enough bloke, his only downside is his continual support for the CEO of the most dysfunctional local council in Victoriaa, the City of Casey, Mike Tyler. Rob should use his excellent negation skills and have a sly word to Mike and convince him for the good of local government he should resign qietly befor the Ombudsman Report comes back on Tyler’s sexuall Harrasment case.

    Posted by Anon | June 6, 2012, 18:15
  14. Rob you are a good guy but for this

    you must resign

    Posted by Jack St Clair | June 6, 2012, 18:26
  15. Liberal per-selection on tonight at Clyde, for the seat of LaTrobe. A five horse race with former member Jason Woods as the front-runner.

    Posted by La Trobe | June 6, 2012, 21:08
  16. Round tables have just finished. Keane performed well.

    Posted by La Trobe | June 6, 2012, 21:10
  17. I am the man for Deakin, I am not the sharpest tool in the rack but it is mine.

    Posted by Phil B | June 6, 2012, 22:00
  18. Now counting first round of votes. 140 people turned up. 153 eligible. Nasty set of questions during the speeches component. Some attack on Wood, who did not respond well. Most likely still a two horse race between him and Keane, the John Roskam supported doctor.

    Posted by La Trobe | June 6, 2012, 22:27
  19. Final round: Wood v Vershuur (the Dutch businessman who used to be a member of ALP)

    Posted by La Trobe | June 6, 2012, 22:39
  20. Once beiing a member of the ALP never stopped me winning Liberal Party preselection

    Posted by The Undead | June 6, 2012, 22:51
  21. Wood won. No matter who won tonight Smyth is the loser.

    Posted by La Trobe | June 6, 2012, 22:52
  22. Does this mean that there is a race for nomination as LNP candidate in Melbourne Ports? Margin 5.3%

    Posted by MelbPorts | June 6, 2012, 23:06
  23. QUOTE from Brad Mathesion”

    No l wasn’t dismissed from the MAV. I resigned voluntarily as President.

    What was the reason for your “jump before being pushed” resignation? I f I remember it was a front page scandal

    Posted by Lord of disputation | June 6, 2012, 23:15
  24. Finally Andrew a real exposé on corruption in the local government sector. Rob Spence even had the audacity to over ride the independent interview hurman resources process by intervening and making the board personally appoint his son.

    Posted by Bob | June 6, 2012, 23:19
  25. Rob spence has burnt all the good expletive. He’s a appalling individual. Burns good people for no good reason. Don’t fall for the no dollars used by MAV. He has asked s
    Onsors of corporate events to caught uk

    Posted by Anon | June 7, 2012, 0:06
  26. I am bemused by constant articles from the Universityof New England local government studies unit – all supporting maintaining over 150 local governments in NSW – how much financial support do local governments give this research body?

    Posted by the Insider | June 7, 2012, 10:12
  27. Sorry to disappoint you Lord of Disputation – My resignation was voluntary – I wasn’t pushed and could have stayed on.

    Posted by Brad Matheson | June 7, 2012, 17:21
  28. Yes, the misuse of resources by Cr Peter Hemphill was atrocious!

    Posted by Hobsons Bay Resident | June 7, 2012, 17:36
  29. Lord of disputation (a rather delusional and grandiose name to give oneself!!), as a matter of fact – the council review into my resignation found that l had not misused any council assets or resources nor did it make any finding of illegality. I didn’t break any state law, local by law, policy or even guideline. Google it – its there for everyone to see.

    Posted by Brad Matheson | June 7, 2012, 18:32
  30. Peter Hemphill in Hobsons Bay has kept very dubious company in the past and is still racking up the legal bills in multiple stoushes with the current Mayor

    Posted by Hobsons Bay Resident | June 7, 2012, 19:01
  31. Why publish this “story” when you have apparently provided answers to all of your own questions?

    Vexnews, pursuing the underhanded motives of faceless cowards since 2008.

    Posted by Not news, Vex news | June 7, 2012, 23:01
  32. The Bob comment on 23:19 June 6

    “Finally Andrew a real exposé on corruption in the local government sector. Rob Spence even had the audacity to over ride the independent interview hurman resources process by intervening and making the board personally appoint his son.”

    This comment is worthy of further investigation. It is well written, knows about the independent interview process. If true, definitely makes the whole story have far reaching consequences.

    Posted by Not News Not | June 8, 2012, 10:30


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