The evidence of AWB officers back before
the Cole inquiry isn’t just putting pressure on Lord Downer’s career – the Oz now officially wants him sacked – it’s also challenging the future for all the
AWB board members.

Whatever stupidities and arrogance Downer
might be guilty of apply in spades to the AWB board. Chairman Brendan Stewart
should already have completed a plan to “do a Graeme Kraehe” and completely
clean out the boardroom, perhaps leaving just one or two of the last to join
the stinking ship.

Most of the directors are wheat farmers
thanks to AWB’s M. Mouse semi-mutual gerrymander. They will be gone as
anonymously as they have served. But several others have higher profiles. St
George Bank chairman John Thame is only the most obvious former AWB NED who
might feel the ripples.

If the AGL-Alinta takeover battle gets
nasty, AGL might start pointing out that Alinta chairman Tony Howarth is a
director of a company involved in the biggest Australian corporate scandal
since the last one. That would be a little cheeky though, as Howarth only joined
the AWB board in March last year. They might have stopped paying kickbacks by
then. Indeed, Howarth might be called upon to stay on for the clean up, though
Alinta shareholders might question their chairman’s judgement or lack of due
diligence in walking into the mess last year.

John Schmoll, a former Coles Myer CFO, also only joined in March 2005 and might also
have a role in any recovery program. He is a director of Housewares
International and Gold Circle. Until the Woolworths takeover, he was chairman of pubs and pokies
outfit, ALH. Like everyone involved in the ALH float, he will always have a
question mark about whether he knew Macquarie Bank was being a bit misleading
in the float and why he didn’t inform the market.

Peter Polson also was on that ALH board.
And he’s been on the AWB board since March 2003. Like Thame, he was part of the
board that let the outrageous Tigris deal go through to management. And he’s chairman of Challenger
Financial Services Group Ltd, part of the Packer orbit. Challenger investors
and shareholders no doubt hopes he is doing a better job for them.

And there’s Robert Barry, the deputy
chairman of AWB who has been around ever since the old Australian Wheat Board
days. He’s more than a farmer though – a former CEO of Dominguez Barry Samuel
Montagu – and is presently chairman of Snowy Hyrdro Ltd which just happens to
be going through a very large privatisation by the various governments that own
it. Does that inspire confidence?

The AWB annual report informs us that there
is a formal review of the performance of the AWB and AWB(I) boards’ performance
“in meeting shareholder and other stakeholder expectations” every 18 months to
two years. The next review is scheduled for this year. It should be hilarious.

Peter Fray

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