After 10 years as president of Actors Equity Australia, Simon Burke has stepped down from that post.

Geoff Morrell was elected acting president by the national performers’ committee (NPC) yesterday, pending union elections to be held in the next six months.

Burke’s resignation co-incides with his 40th anniversary as an Equity member: he joined when he was 12 after landing the lead role in Fred Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground.

The actor told IF he first considered relinquishing the job a couple of years ago but postponed his decision when Simon Whipp quit as Equity director.  "I wanted to step down when we had the right person leading the union,"  Burke said from Melbourne, where he is about to start rehearsals for La Cage Aux Folles. 

Presented by Jeanne Pratt's The Production Company, the musical co-starring Todd McKenney, Gary Sweet and Rhonda Burchmore will open at the Victorian Arts Centre on November 21.

Morrell has indicated he will run for president when nominations open at the end of November.  "He was happy to step in at the NPC's invitation," Burke said. "He's the right bloke for the job."

Ïn his statement Burke said, "My time as Equity president has been one of the greatest honours of my life,” he said. “I am so humbled by the opportunities that I’ve had to lead, to give, to learn, to share, to work hard for the interests of my fellow performers and our industry as a whole. But leadership is also about knowing when to go, and as a performer, timing is everything. It’s time for someone else to step up and make this wonderful position of Equity president their own.”

Burke paid tribute to Equity director Zoe Angus, who succeeded the since-departed Sue McCreadie, and to the 32 members of the NPC.

Don Hany performed with Burke in Matchbox Pictures’ Foxtel-commissioned Devil’s Playground, which Burke executive produced. Hany said, “ He has led the way and inspired a generation of performers. I was fortunate enough to have worked with him during efforts to protect the Australian television industry and then again on the first of many television series I hope he will produce.”

Equity NSW president Tina Bursill said, “Simon's leadership has been brave and tireless and always with the deepest respect for performers. With his grace and voice of reason, obstacles have become gateways and with his warm sense of humour, at times troughs have been highs. A kind and compassionate man who brought us all together."

The outgoing federal secretary of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance Chris Warren said, “Actors Equity is what it is because of Simon Burke. He has made many personal and professional sacrifices to be a leader and a champion for Australia’s performers over the last decade. He could not have given any more of himself in his capacity as president. On behalf of MEAA and Equity staff, who consider Simon a close personal friend and colleague, I sincerely thank him for all he has done.”

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