Senior public servant linked to council CEO’s yacht fundraising

Key points

  • Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport, is described as part owner of the yacht Protagonost in a $35,000 personal fundraising campaign that City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney launched to sail in the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race.
  • Hanney launched a fundraising campaign through the Australian Sports Foundation’s website to cover “equipment, crew and costs” for the 2020 race and raised $35,855, which included two anonymous donations worth $4545 and $9090.

A second senior public servant has become embroiled in a controversy over a fundraising campaign to crew and equip a yacht to sail in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Nick Foa, head of transport services at the state government’s Department of Transport, is part owner of a yacht which was given $35,000 through an internet fundraising drive to cover “equipment, crew and costs” for the 2020 race.

The fundraising page on the Australian Sports Foundation’s website.

The campaign was launched by yacht co-owner and City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney and included two anonymous donations worth some $4500 and $9000.

Both men are bound by strict government codes of conduct, which require the declaration of any significant gifts.

Former senior public servant Stuart Hamilton, director of integrity lobby group the Accountability Round Table, said disclosure was the bare minimum required of all public officers, whether federal politicians, local politicians or senior public servants.

“They should disclose,” he said. “It is not for them to decide it is irrelevant, it is for them to disclose. If it was disclosed, then it is up to [the authorities] to decide whether there is a conflict. It is a disclosable matter, there is no doubt about that.”

The Department of Transport’s head of transport services, Nick Foa.Credit:Penny Stephens

Hanney launched a fundraising campaign through the Australian Sports Foundation’s website to cover “equipment, crew and costs” for the 2020 race and raised $35,855, which included two anonymous donations worth $4545 and $9090.

The foundation’s donations page notes “Nick Foa and his crew from Samskara introduced me to yacht racing. Last year we purchased Protagonost, a Benteau first 40 to compete in a S2H yacht race. In five years time, Nick and I plan to race in the Melbourne to Osaka race. The funds raised will be sued [sic] to support equipment, crew and costs associated with the S2H”.

The 2020 race was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns and there is no record of a yacht called Protagonost, but event records indicate Hanney registered to take part in the 2021 competition as the co-owner of the similarly named Protagonist, a 12-metre yacht manned by a crew of nine. Protagonist is registered to Foa.

Foa has been at the Department of Transport since 2020 and was previously the chief executive of the Suburban Rail Loop Authority and interim chief executive of Visit Victoria. Hanney’s wife, Natalie Reiter, is a deputy secretary in the Department of Transport.

Chief executive of the City of Melbourne Justin Hanney was appointed to the role in 2019.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The Department of Transport’s policy on gifts, benefits and hospitality requires all offers valued at $50 or more to be registered immediately.

A department spokesman declined to comment on whether Foa was aware of the fundraising or had registered the campaign.

“The Department of Transport has clear policies for the declaration of interests, gifts, benefits and hospitality for all staff,” the spokesman said. “The fundraising activity is not in any way connected to Mr Foa’s duties or responsibilities as a department official.”

Foa is currently overseas on leave, so the department was unable to get in contact with him for comment.

Hanney, who is also overseas on leave until the end of July, was appointed chief executive of the City of Melbourne in 2019 and signed a new four-year deal on July 1 with an annual salary of $534,000.

The code of conduct for local government employees states that gifts to council officers of more than $500 require authorisation from the chief executive or general manager, but it does not state how the chief executive should disclose gifts.

Hanney said he did not declare the yacht funds to the City of Melbourne because he believed his interest in sailing and the race team were unrelated to his role as chief executive.

“I intend to update the information as soon as I return from leave,” he said. “I will return the funds raised to the Australian Sports Foundation to remove any doubt about the seriousness with which I treat issues of probity and accountability.”

On Tuesday, Hanney’s fundraising page on the foundation’s website was still accepting donations.

The foundation removed the page after it was contacted by The Age.

“The ASF has not received any direct contact from Mr Hanney but the project has been removed from our website pending any instructions from him,” a spokesman said.

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