Chartered Secretaries Australia is hosting what should be an interesting governance symposium
in Melbourne and Sydney next week posing the question, “Is the AGM
dead?”

My gig is to assess the role of special interest groups at AGMs,
particularly the threat of greater union agitation given their reduced
power in the new federal industrial relations environment. Here is an
attempt to list the ten most attacked Australian companies over the past
few years:

Gunns. Cops it in the neck from greenies at every AGM and The
Wilderness Society even got an EGM up in 2003. However, the
tree-lopping Tasmanian cowboys don’t help themselves by being
bull-headed and banning the press.

Boral. Green groups and the Transport Workers Union have got up
several resolutions over the years and Greens Senator Christine Milne
ran for the board in 2001. Labor’s Stephen Conroy attended the 2003 AGM
and blasted Boral for supposedly squashing shareholder democracy when
his attacks were more motivated by concerns his old union, the TWU, had
about changes proposed for Canberra lorry drivers.

Rio Tinto. Attracts the most diverse range of special interest
groups spanning unions, greenies and campaigners for the likes of West
Papuan independence. The unions got up two resolutions in 2000 which received surprisingly strong support.

BHP-Billiton. Like Rio Tinto, attracts all sorts ranging from
Jack Tilburn to Andrew Denton, who tackled chairman Don Argus at the
2003 AGM over BHP’s desire to extract nickel from Indonesia’s Gag
Island.
The unions were particularly prominent at the Billiton merger EGM in
2001 and 100 signatures were gathered for a special shareholder
resolution over Ok Tedi in the 1990s.

ERA. The Rio Tinto-controlled company has never suffered an EGM
but the AGMs are usually full of ferals due to the Ranger Uranium mine
in the Northern Territory.

AMP.
Used to be the world’s fastest land-clearing company
through its ownership of Stanbroke Pastoral, so the sale of this
business in 2003 should have calmed things down but AMP has still had
outside board candidates in three years since 1998. Combined with GIO
and the $5 billion loss in 2004, AMP AGMs have been very lively over
the years.

Coles Myer. When you add up Solly Lew stooges (1995 and 2002),
the Rodney Adler-funded attacks by Laurance Gruzman QC in the 1990s, a
s249p statement from the ASA in 2002 and nine outside candidates, our once
biggest retailer has dealt with plenty of drama over the years.

Telstra. 25 outside board candidates at nine AGMs constitutes plenty
of agenda pushing with the CEPU union leading the charge given secretary Len Cooper’s six board tilts. The ASA also
got up a s249p statement in 2001 and plenty of regional campaigners
have spoken up in the past, dragging a typical Telstra AGM out to more than four hours.

Wesfarmers. Agreed to an EGM in 1999 requisitioned by more than
100 greenies who each owned just one share. The attacks have subsided
since the exit from its WA forestry business to Gunns in 2004 although green
groups still take aim at its booming coal division.

IAG. Whilst the majority of factional agitation has taken place
at the still mutually-owned NRMA, IAG faced an EGM in 2001 attempting
to limit director payouts. James Strong’s replacement of Nick Whitlam
as chairman in April 2001 was the key event that settled things down as
the 2000 AGM was very feisty.

We’re also going to work up a list of individual AGMs that were
supposedly hijacked by so-called special interest groups. If you’ve got
any suggestions please email [email protected]

Peter Fray

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