The Examiner, 27 Nov 2012; Rosemary Bolger
TASMANIA’S embattled branch of the RSPCA is fast becoming better known for political infighting than fighting cruelty to animals.
The charity has sacked its past two chief executive officers, and each sudden departure has involved ugly disputes with the board played out in the public arena.
Tomorrow the messy saga continues as Ben Sturges, dumped as chief executive officer earlier this month, enters into conciliation with the board. If that fails, as appears likely judging by each side’s public statements, the next stage is a Fair Work Australia hearing.
At the same time the organisation is struggling financially. Last year’s financial statements revealed that it has lost more than a million dollars.
The connection between the disputes and the alarming bottom line is not hard to make out.
Every allegation and counter- allegation is doing further damage to the charity’s brand, and that means fewer donations and drives away potential sponsors. Who wants to think their precious dollars are going towards legal fees instead of cat food? Which business would want to be associated with an organisation that appears to be cannibalising itself?
It’s no wonder that the national RSPCA body has refused to comment on Tasmania’s problems. Despite working behind the scenes and negotiating with the state branch to provide some assistance, RSPCA Australia is wise to stay silent and avoid tarnishing the broader RSPCA with the bad publicity.
The only person who seems unable to recognise the link is RSPCA’s Tasmanian president, Paul Swiatkowski.
Throughout the falling-out with Mr Sturges and accompanying public relations nightmare, he has repeatedly appealed to the public not to give up on it. He has doggedly resisted calls for his dismissal and defended the board’s conduct.
Dr Swiatkowski may think the board has done nothing wrong because it has not broken any of the rules of the charity’s constitution and believes it is followed correct procedures. That’s missing the point.
Something has gone seriously wrong when an organisation usually associated with cute and cuddly kittens and puppies is struggling for public support.
Last week Dr Swiatkowski told the media: “There’s nothing more important to the RSPCA than its core animal welfare business and its respected brand.”
If that’s true, he should walk away now and preferably take the remaining two board members with him.
The RSPCA is not alone in trying to deal with damaging internal problems creating a public relations disaster. In May, the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was forced to make an embarrassing revision of its financial situation due to some accounting anomalies and undisclosed transactions.
A few months later, with five of the old board members gone and a new chief executive officer and new chairman in place, its rebuilding phase is well under way. As new chairman Andrew Heap said in August, a “new TCCI” had to be created with a new direction. “It’s not as if it could be patched up. We have to start again,” he said then.
It’s time the old RSPCA realised the same thing and let others get to work on creating a “new RSPCA” too.