Michael Pascoe writes:
The AWB single-desk brawl within the Coalition is based on a false premise: that the wheat farmer shareholders
pulling the Nationals’ strings are worth listening to.
The AWB’s leaked farmer opinion research in
the Fairfax Sundays showed the wheat growers are either
hopelessly conflicted or simply too stupid to be worth listening to.
Incredibly, 58% of them “said the controversy
had not, or only minimally, affected the board’s standing in their eyes”. Nearly two-thirds continue to have a positive
opinion of the board while only 20% said their opinion of the board had
been lowered “a lot”.
The AWB research of course appears more
than a little self-serving as it tells the Nationals to back the corporation
because it still has the support of the Nats’ core constituents. But it also either says something about the
farmers’ understanding of what the board should and shouldn’t do, or their own
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The board’s performance was shot to pieces and
its wholesale cleanout made inevitable on Friday with the evidence that
the board knew about the fraudulent Tigris deals back in December
2004 – and yet appears to have done nothing about them or the executives
The Cole inquiry heard that non-executive
director John Thane observed that AWB was tainted by the deal and that the
board would be labelled a “James Hardie classic” if the details leaked.
Well he was right about that. What’s most
incredible about it though is that although the board knew it was going the way
of James Hardie, it appears to have done nothing except hope their
guilty little secret stayed just that.
A board worth feeding would have set about
putting its house in order, holding its own inquiry, coming clean to the
government and sacking the executives responsible. Instead, like a bunch of
either guilty or simply scared and silly schoolboys, the board tried to stay
hiding in their cupboard with their eyes shut, hoping it would all just go
The James Hardie board’s biggest mistake
was to let their problem get away from them and turn into a commission of
inquiry. And that’s just what the AWB board did too.
Thus they have destroyed hundreds
of millions of dollars of shareholder value and will lose the single-desk
monopoly. If the majority of their farmer shareholders still have a good
opinion of them, they deserve each other.