Crikey’s Sydney correspondent, Crullers, was at the NRMA special general meeting and reports on all the colour, which certainly leaves the very subdued RACV looking dull by comparison.
The NRMA’s Special General Meeting ended in high farce – something not at all foreign to the NRMA – as new president Ross Turnbull pulled up stumps half an hour into the meeting due to the inadequate capacity of the venue.
There were so many shambolic aspects to the meeting that it’s hard to know where to start.
The venue is the obvious place. The main room for the meeting catered for around 1,500 and that was easily filled, so the extras spilled into other rooms at the Sydney Convention Centre.
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Registration was a joke.
There were about a dozen staff working flat chat signing people in.
If you arrived around half an hour before the meeting started, you got in without too many problems.
If you arrived – as the vast majority did – around 15 minutes before the meeting started, then you joined a queue with quite literally hundreds upon hundreds of increasingly angry punters.
At 4pm when the meeting was due to start, there would have easily been 500 members milling around waiting to register and get in.
One poor sod had to deliver a message to the angry crowd waiting outside, saying that the law required the meeting to start on time but no vote would be taken until everyone was inside.
Nobody really knew what the law required – I’ve certainly seen other meetings delayed in these circumstances – but whatever the case, either the NRMA didn’t follow it or their man was telling porkies.
Unbeknown to those outside, the meeting was in fact being delayed by 20 minutes.
And, contradicting their spokesman again, a vote was taken before everyone had gone inside, albeit merely the procedural motion to give the chair to Sir Laurence Street.
Those who arrived around 15 minutes before the meeting was due to start got in a good 45 minutes late, by which time the meeting had just about been wound up.
Another quirk was the notice of meeting – hopelessly out of date because of the dramatic comings and goings that have beset the board recently.
Because the NRMA boardroom revolving door recently spat out former president Maree Callaghan, the first resolution – to remove the Whitlam acolytes – still included her name.
And because a deal had been brokered before the meeting to let Sir Laurence Street assume the chair, this hadn’t been included in the notice of meeting either.
New president Ross Turnbull, who in yet another trademark NRMA throw-the-rulebook-out-the-window manoeuvre became top banana after only 5 days on the board, then had to move a procedural motion to allow Sir Laurence Street to assume the chair.
Because he couldn’t see all of the people in the various rooms, he decided to adjourn the meeting for five minutes to take stock.
Five minutes later, Turnbull came back to adjourn the meeting until a date to be advised.
All the while that this was going on, there was constant and loud jeering from the members.
Sure beats a pedestrian corporate AGM!
Turnbull’s decision seriously cheesed off the already seriously cheesed off members. Turnbull seemed to have a bit of support as being someone who might have united the organisation, but whatever goodwill he might have had prior to the meeting has probably evaporated after this clearly unpopular decision.
When the call went up for speakers on the motion that Sir Laurence assume the chair, there was one speaker in favour and seven against.
About the only “normal” thing about this meeting – and this is indeed an indictment on the NRMA – was that it included a trademark rant from the Corporate Terminator, Jack Tilburn.
Tilburn, with a bundle of copies of the definitive text on DIY corporate governance under his arm, opened up with a typically fiery spray against Sir Laurence.
Jack had his nose out of joint having read that Sir Laurence, along with Maree Callaghan and a few other Whitlam stooges, had signed a deed approving the NRMA paying Whitlam’s legal fees.
These are the fees that the dear departed former president will be incurring to challenge the recent Federal Court decision stripping him of company directorships for 5 years… The one Naughty Nicky said was all a political conspiracy because of his surname.
This one irked plenty of members, with hundreds happy to hold up the signs that were being handed out saying “Make Whitlam pay his own legal fees”.
It’s rare at company AGMs for anyone to hold up a placard – rarer still if that someone is not Jack Tilburn.
So in yet another NRMA “what the…?” moment, we had a sea of supporters ready to behave more like a one day cricket crowd, ready to flap their fins whenever a firebrand tear-away quick like Tilburn walloped a helpless bunny like Sir Laurence with a perfectly aimed throat ball.
All we needed to set the scene was an MCG Bay 13 drone – “Till – ee… Till – ee…”
Another charming quirk about the NRMA is that its board tends to attract a lot of celebrity types – your Channel Ten newsreaders, your retired sporting greats and so on.
Because you get directors who aren’t from your typical big business background, you get some very atypical statements from the directors in the notice of meeting, like rugby league great Geoff Toovey referring to the NRMA’s “legendary services”.
I must say that’s the first time I’ve seen that word used in a notice of meeting!
The NRMA’s notice of meeting is littered with statements from the directors that – how can we put this delicately? – haven’t been subject to the same standards of grammatical rigour that your typical company director might apply.
Try this on for size from Mark Coyne: “I was elected as the third highest vote in NRMA history in 1999…”
We think we know what Mark is getting at, but perhaps your company director from central casting might have been a bit more linguistically elegant.
And from the “gee I regret saying that” file comes this beauty from Maree Callaghan, who fell on her own sword last week: “As a former eight-year Mayor of Cessnock, I am accustomed to getting on with the job and making tough decisions…”
Just what that job is, nobody quite knows, but it certainly isn’t the job of leading the NRMA any more.
But as we said, the meeting never got over the first hurdle.
In his anti-Street burst, Jack Tilburn blasted him as being an “unsatisfactory choice” and being “full of Whitlam bias and prejudice”, citing as evidence the clandestine deed approving the NRMA paying Whitlam’s legal fees.
On a show of hands, the split was perhaps 50 – 50 in favour of Sir Laurence assuming the chair.
Interestingly, none of the “anti-Whitlam” group on the board raised their hands in favour of Sir Laurence assuming the chair, so there seemed to be some substance to Jack’s allegations of bias.
After the show of hands proved inconclusive, Ross Turnbull advised the meeting that it was open to him as chairman to adjourn the meeting if the venue was inadequate, which he did, saying that it was adjourned until “a date to be fixed”.
This was indeed a sad example of how a meeting should be run.
At a cost of $2.4 million to members to stage this meeting- and probably the same cost or more to stage the next one – the financially crippled NRMA needs another farce like this like my old HQ Kingswood needs a blown gasket.
As the meeting was disbanding, someone in close proximity to a microphone commented “this is a joke”. You’re not wrong pal – and good on you for having the presence of mind to audibly broadcast it throughout the auditorium!
The cost and inconvenience of this joke wasn’t just slated home to the NRMA. Plenty of members had travelled long distances to attend – one from McLean near the NSW – Queensland border.
As a coda, one member I spoke to after the meeting put forward an interesting little branch-stacking theory.
He pointed out that the NRMA is open to members as young as 16 years and 9 months and membership fees for these junior rev-heads is waived.
This member’s gripe is that there is nothing about this in the latest terms and conditions of membership that was sent to members, so those “in the know” could sign up their kiddies and grand-kiddies at no cost and get their votes.
It’s a little far-fetched to think that this would affect the vote materially, but it illustrates yet another NRMA irregularity.
This member had complained to ASIC about the matter, but they wouldn’t take the matter any further because they couldn’t find any technical breach of the law.
Thankfully they were able to find one when it came to Nick Whitlam and his proxy monkeyshines.
But while the NRMA appears on the face of it to be rid of him, his legacy of farcical meeting chairmanship lives on – much to the chagrin of the fuming members.