Spending an hour talking to 40 Victorian mayors at a training
weekend last Sunday was fascinating, but there’s no rest for the wicked
as the coming weeks will see another four interesting debating sessions that are worth sharing with the Crikey army.

Apologies in advance for not filing any Crikey stories on Tuesday or
Wednesday next week, but I’ll be locked away for three days at Mirvac’s
luxurious Heritage resort in Victoria’s Yarra Valley at this Future Directions forum discussing challenges for the nation. Chanticleer referred to it in The AFR today and doesn’t it all sound oh-so lofty?

The guest list is said to be fascinating and the idea is to gather
about 90 people aged around 40 to thrash out key issues that will
confront Australia over the next 15 years. Several CEOs and politicians, a Howard Cabinet member, union
heavyweights, various community and environmental luminaries, law
enforcement types and a couple of journalists will literally be locked
away to create the so-called island effect.

All delegates had to provide a 500 word statement on the key changes
they would like to see in Australia over the next 15 years and these
are currently online but only accessible by other delegates on a
password protected website.

After being released back into the community next Wednesday, I’ll be heading to Sydney Thursday for the Patrick Corp AGM, but
that night there’ll be an interesting forum back in Melbourne which is being put together by a new Australian version of the legendary Churchill Club, the
biggest business and technology forum in Silicon Valley.

I’ll be moderating proceedings on a panel seeking to answer the
question: “How to put together a killer board.” Drop us an email if
you’ve got any advice on this. For instance, a lot
of people say they’ll never go near a board that has a dominant
founding CEO or is too top heavy with venture capitalists.

After that, there is an interesting full-day seminar at the
Melbourne University Law School on February 24 called “Corporate Governance – Managing
Risk and Driving Value”.

I’m the light entertainment over lunch, but the really interesting
session features Macquarie Bank investment banking boss Nicholas Moore
on a panel with corporate governance kingmaker Dean Paatsch, sceptical
fund manager Anton Tagliaferro and Peter Doherty from Capital Research,
the firm which clobbered the Babcock & Brown share price last year
with a report saying it was hugely over-valued.

Finally, we’ve got separate functions in Melbourne and Sydney on April 5 and 6 for
Chartered Secretaries Australia who are hand-wringing about the
appallingly low level of debate at public company AGMs. Their flyer includes the
following:


Is the AGM Dead? – New directions that
will breathe life back into shareholder engagement

The AGM is not dead, but following another sometimes frustrating
AGM season, many in the business community are concluding that AGMs are not
achieving their purpose and are therefore a waste of time. The AGM seems to be
just going through the motions rather than being an important annual forum for
companies and shareholders to engage in a meaningful exchange.

It would seem that change is long overdue; however, there is
a strong reluctance among companies, shareholder groups and investors
to invest
in “fixing something that ain’t wholly broke.” There are some proposed
“solutions” to the current problems, but there are those who perceive
them as
increasing the complexity of engaging with shareholders and adding new
and
additional obligations, rather than simplifying the process. Others
note this
hesitation could be due to legislative and regulatory reform fatigue,
whilst
others suggest that the proposed solutions will increase shareholder
participation and clarify the exercise of shareholder rights.

Peter Fray

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