By Stephen Mayne

The Federal Government yesterday
announced a controversial move: making the distribution of annual
reports by listed companies voluntary. The change will probably save
almost $100 million a year spread across the 1,600-plus listed companies
and the two biggest losers will be PMP, Australia’s biggest printing
company, and the government itself through Australia Post.

the moment, companies must send out hard copies of the annual report
unless a shareholder expressly asks not to receive it. Now the default
option will be not sending it unless you inform the company you want it.

the holder of Australia’s biggest small portfolio – 100 different
stocks worth $69,768 after the partial sale of eight small stakes yesterday
– at one level, I should be outraged that the annual reports won’t
automatically be sent out. However, my experience is proof positive of
the enormous environmental waste because our PO Box regularly overflows
with company missives that usually just get binned.

News Ltd’s
Terry McCrann was on the money in lauding the move today as “one small
step for mankind, one huge win for trees”. However, there’s a certain
irony about McCrann’s criticism of laws that still require companies
“to waste millions putting meaningless rubbish in their annual reports”
and then spend even more sending them to an overwhelming majority of
shareholders who turf them “straight in the bin”.

So what would be
the next obvious move to save trees? How about cutting back on all
those meaningless supplements that pad out newspapers these days? And
what about giving residents the choice of opting not to receive
Rupert’s suburban give-aways across the nation? Many people never look
at the local paper but in Victoria, alone Rupert’s Leader Newspapers
group dumps 1.43 million in letterboxes without permission every week.

let’s hope this change stops the practice of struggling companies
forcing small shareholders to sell up against their wishes as a cost-saving measure. An ERG shareholder explains:

Have you seen ERG’s latest? I had a letter today telling me that small
shareholders are costing it a lot of money in administration, therefore
they are invoking rule 5.5 of their constitution which empowers them to
sell up these shares no doubt at current prices. In my case this means
that my initial outlay of over $4,000 (with no interim dividends) is now
worth less than half through their bad organisation and they are about
to rip me off of any chance to make a profit if they come good. I think
it is outrageous.

Indeed. David Koch’s old outfit Palamedia is still yet to do this to me
even though the original $200 investment is now down to just $2. Still,
it’s interesting to read the annual report each year.