A couple of hacks who turned up to
yesterday’s “Is the AGM dead?” symposium in Melbourne warned Telstra’s
regulatory boss Phil Burgess that he was about to get a public flogging
from yours truly when we shared the podium with Lateline host Tony Jones for 90 minutes.

As
it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth. Phil either
hadn’t read or didn’t mind being called Telstra’s “regulatory lame
duck” in Crikey last week as we ended up getting on so well that he
asked for a card and suggested we catch up some time.

Quite a
few of the delegates in Melbourne seemed almost stunned by Phil’s free
wheeling approach as he gloated about his “intentional” tactic of
running the “I wouldn’t tell my mum to buy Telstra shares” line to draw
more attention to the regulatory regime supposedly hobbling Telstra.

He
also said Telstra was spending 80% of its budget on managing
communications it couldn’t control (ie an army of spindoctors to
influence media coverage) but this was now being reduced as the focus
shifted to controllable, more direct forms of contact with shareholders.

To this end, Phil went into quite a rave about Telstra’s new nowwearetalking website with its open dialogue, cartoonist and various bloggers.
He
even bragged that site visitors had jumped from 4,600 to 5,800 last
month (38,000 if you include all the visits to the blogs). Given that
Crikey had 848,836 visits in February, I suggested Phil rename his site
nooneisvisitingus.com and offered to give him a helping hand through a link.

Let’s
see if the Crikey Army can make Phil’s month by doubling the visits to
what is clearly a unique web offering by any Australian company.

The
really big man was quite derisory of the Howard Government for being so
precious about the criticisms of regulation by Sol Trujillo and his
team. And he made a very interesting point that Australia lacks “third
party engagement”. The lack of a consumer or shareholder culture of
pressure is something that Crikey has been banging on about for years
and good ole Phil Burgess agrees.

When it came to the 15-point
plan that I circulated for improving AGMs, Phil came out agreeing with
many of the suggestions, such as keeping proxy voting open until the
day after an AGM to eliminate the “dead rubber” effect and keep boards
on tenterhooks during the public debate.

Poor old Phil has been
black-balled by the Howard Government so he’s now merely a rather
expensive (for Telstra) and active participant on the talk circuit who
is having great fun stirring the pot. And he’s not bad at it either.
We’re repeating the double act in Sydney today so we’ll let you know
how it goes tomorrow, plus link to the extended version of his
controversial paper when it is finally posted on the web.

Peter Fray

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