Ms Helen Bird

Why the cover up is worse than the Crime:  Recent Australian corporate governance scandals & what they tell us about corporate behaviours under the constant lens of social media.

Location: General Meeting to be held at the Alexandra Club.
Date: August 30, 2024
Time: 6.30 pm – 11.30 pm
Dress: Lounge suit

Helen Bird is a law and corporate governance expert, appointed as an Industry Fellow in the Law School at the Swinburne University of Technology and occasional senior lecturer in corporate governance at the Deakin law School.   Her research focuses on regulation, enforcement and corporate governance as the program leader of the “Regulation and Governance” research program run by Swinburne’s Social Innovation Research Institute.  Helen is also a panel member of the ASIC Corporate Governance Panel, a member of the Law Council of Australia’s Business Law Section Corporations’ Committee and a non-executive director of Market Forces Ltd, a non-profit climate activist company.  As part of her research translation work,  Helen is also a regular media commentator on corporate law and governance issues for ABC TV, Radio, Ausbiz TV, the Australian Financial Review and the Age newspapers.   Helen’s recent research has focussed on technology and corporate governance, workplace sexual harassment and corporate governance and ASIC enforcement patterns.

Channel 9, Country Road, Qantas, Optus, Star Casino, the ASX Limited, Tabcorp, PWC, ANZ Banking Group – are all Australian publicly listed companies that unfortunately share something in common.  In the last twelve months, each company has been the subject of major media attention for poor conduct – be it allegations of sexual harassment, poor customer relations, money laundering, technology failures, breaches of confidentiality arrangements, poor regulatory relations and/or bond trading manipulation.  In each case, the “story” started as a single instance of poor behaviour that quickly metastasized into a major governance scandal for the corporations involved, many of which are ongoing to this day.


While the misconduct in each case is scandalous, there is a greater concern at work here than the misconduct itself.  It concerns the way that these companies and many like them typically respond to allegations of misconduct.  Faced with allegations of misconduct, companies all too often favour the knee jerk response of “deny, deny, deny”.  When denial does not work, they fall back on the “few bad apples” defence. Only in the face of complete public humiliation, do they admit to a systemic or cultural problem within their corporation and forthwith commission their own “independent governance inquiry” into the matter.  When one takes account of the bad publicity, reputation loss, cost of lawyers, crisis managers and PR consultants, resulting executive departures and government inquiries, there can be no doubt that the cover up is far worse than the original crime.


Sadly, none of these behaviours are novel or new.  Australian corporate governance scandals repeat well-worn patterns of brazen governance.  Why is that the case and what is the impetus needed for corporate behaviours to change?  In this presentation, drawing on many years of experience in observing, analysing and teaching corporate governance, Helen will traverse recent Australian corporate governance scandals, identify their common behavioural patterns, examine their underlying causes and suggest why investors (shareholders) already hold the keys to driving improved corporate governance in Australia.